Thursday, 31 December 2009

2009: the good, the Bad, and the Ugly

So, I have lots of books lined up to start reading tomorrow, but there's no way I'm going to finish the book I'm currently reading by the end of today, so this will be the final post of 2009, and I thought I'd use it to summarise what I've read this year - the good books, the bad books, the surprising finds, and the ones that have finally been read after sitting on the shelf for years.

The Good:
Samuel Beckett; Waiting for Godot
Edmond Rostand; Cyrano de Bergerac

I just noticed that these are both plays. Oh well, that wasn't intentional, but is' not a bad thing either. They're both very, very good plays. I read both of them quite close to the start of 2009, and I have to say, it feels like a lot longer than a year since I read them.

Waiting for Godot needs little introduction. In it, two tramps await the arrival of their friend Godot, who will make all their troubles cease. The play comprises their dialogue as they wait for him. It has a very dark sense of humour which I find quite agreeable and is, I think, quite a humbling play in the sense that you read it or watch it, and come away thinking, "I know there is more to understand in that play than I understood just now." It lets you know you haven't quite got it, and entices you to read it again, to think about it harder, to put a little more effort in to try and understand it. At the same time it makes a mockery of those who just want to pretend they understood it all - it gives them a beaming smile and says 'ah, how great thou art!' whilst turning to the more humble reader with a wink and saying 'who is the real fool here?' 5 stars.

Cyrano de Bergerac is a play about a fine soldier who writes brilliant poetry but has a large nose. It's witty, funny, moving, and sad all in turn, and each aspect serves to accentuate the other aspects - the funny partspake teh sad parts more poignant, the sad parts make the funny parts all the more funny. Cyrano is a larger than life character, and you can't help but love him, nose and all. 5 stars.

The Bad:
George Mann; The Affinity Bridge
Richard Lederer; The Revenge of Anguished English

The Affinity Bridge is poorly written, badly thought out and a paltry offering to the detective genre. It follows Sir Newbury, supposedly one of England's best detectives (which you'd never realise without being told) as he tries to discover the cause behind the recent crashing of an airship, and whether it is linked in anyway to the ingenious new automatons that have started to appear in London.

Oh the problems, where to start?
Mann is clearly trying to write about characters who are smarter than he is, and as such, has no idea what to write or make them say to make them look smart - because he's just not that smart himself. The "mystery" is pathetically simple, and you will have solved it 100 pages or so before the characters do. Every plot twist is blatant and can be anticipated, completely removing any effect. And finally, the biggest problem is his statements of what he has written just don't match what he actually has written. For instance, he will say things at the end of a chapter such as "she had endeared herself to the ladies quite successfully" when in the actual text, she does no such thing. It's just poor. 1 star.

The Revenge of Anguished English isn't quite as bad as The Affinity Bridge, but it gets old and repetitive pretty quickly. it's a compilation of bloopers made by various people - students, children, politicians - whilst attempting to use the English language. The first two sections are funny, and then it starts to get old. The section on double entendres is far longer than is funny, and some of the quotes are misrepresented, (pray tell, how do you justify the idea that Groucho Marx had no idea of what he was actually saying when he said, "I don't want to belong to any club that will accept people like me as a member"?) as well as being so famous that I can guarantee you will have heard them before. It can have 2 stars.

The Pleasant Surprises:
Dickens; A Tale of Two Cities
Christopher Logue; Kings

A Tale of Two Cities
is so well known that it probably isn't surprising to anyone else that it's actually good. But I had bad experiences with Dickens when I was 10 or so, and it put me off him for a long time. I just couldn't see what anyone saw in him. Probably because very few 10 year olds are going to understand Dickens' subtle irony or wit. I only read this because someone bought me a copy after insisting I read it and... well, I didn't want to see rude. The story is set alternately in London and Paris during the time of the French Revolution, and concerns a Frenchman living in London and how he is affected by the revolution. As I have said before, Dickens is a master of characterisation. His characters are individual, unique, and real and therefore, you really care about them and what happens to them. The plot is tight, with no superfluity, no unnecessary detours that have no purpose other than dramatic effect. In short, Dickens is very obviously a master of his craft and many modern rambling authors who don't realise that irrelevant detail is boring could learn a lot from him. 5 stars.

Kings is a modern poem based on the Iliad. It's not just a translation, it's a re-telling. I thought when I picked it up that it was a going to be an article on the first two books of the Iliad, so I was certainly surprised when I opened it and found a poem. But since the book was so short, I decided to read it and I'm very glad I did. I loved his style and technique and I think he does a very good job of making the poem accessible to a modern audience, without removing any depth. 5 stars.

Modern Gems:
Phillip Reeves; Mortal Engines
Dan Simmons; The Hyperion Omnibus (Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion)

Since I spend so much of my time reading classics, and so little of it reading books that have been published in the last 20 years, I thought it worth mentioning the best of those modern books I have read. The first, Mortal Engines is a children's book. Most would probably call it "young adult", but I, in my stubbornness, maintain that 19-25 year olds are young adults - not 11 year olds. They're still kids. Regardless of that fact, like any good kids book, it can be enjoyed by adults as well. it's premise is joyfully fascinating - the cities of the world have mobilised after some great war in the past that devastated most of the land - now they roll around looking for other cities to eat for fuel and resources. The story follows Tom; who has been cast out of London by his hero after witnessing and assassination attempt in his idol's life, and Hesther; the assassin. It's not patronisingly simple or over explanative - it's engaging, thought-provoking and complex. It raises moral issues and lets you think about them rather than providing black and white answers. It has lots of intertextual references that add even more layers of meaning to the text. If I were a teacher, I would study this book with my kids - it would make a great introduction to textual analysis. There's just so much going on in it. 4 stars.

The Hyperion Omnibus comprises the first two books of a quartet. Well. I call it a quartet, but really, it reads as two pairs of two. You could quite happily stop reading after The Fall of Hyperion and have all the closure and sense of completeness you needed. These are sci-fi books, set in a future where the human race is now spread over a vast range of planets. On one of these planets, Hyperion, are a group of mysterious monoliths known as the Time Tombs. And something odd is beginning to happen around them.

These two books are gripping, engaging and again, full of intertextual references that make geeks like me squeal with joy - Chaucer, Keats, Yeats, Plato - they're all there. So I would say that you'll definitely get more out of this book the more you've read of various classics. But the book is perfectly enjoyable without getting those references - it was recommended to me by someone who's never read Keats and therefore hadn't picked up on certain facts - such as the titles of the books being named after the two long poems Keats wrote - Endymion and Hyperion. 4 stars.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Dickens; The Mystery of Edwin Drood

At the start of this year I'd never read any Dickens (I was put off him as a small child when forced to read some of his work at school). Now, I've read two of his works: A Tale of Two Cities and this, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Because after read A Tale of Two Cities I realised that actually, he's really good. And then I picked up a book by Dan Simmons called Drood. Having read another of Simmons' books which had been heavily influenced by Keats, I realised how important it was to read the Dickins Simmons was basing his book on to be able to appreciate it fully. So: to prepare myself to read Drood by Dan Simmons, I decided to read The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Dickens. That's the official excuse anyway. Not that you really need one to read Dickens.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood is one of Dickens' least known books. Probably because he died before he could complete it. The tale is one of the disappearance of one Edwin Drood, and how this affects those whom he had known and loved. It is unsure as to whether Drood is dead or not, as no body is ever found, and this remains a mystery even today - Dickens notes do not reveal what he intended to be the climax of this novel.

There is obviously always going to be some frustration in reading a whodunit or murder mystery, or just general mystery when you know that the central mystery itself will never be solved because the book is unfinished. Equally, it also adds a certain allure - because it really is a mystery what happened. And speculating as to who you think did it can be quite entertaining in itself. In this book the fact that you don't find out the main mystery surrounding Edwin Drood isn't a huge problem - the key joy of this book is Dickens' humour and his excellent skills of characterisation - that's what keeps the story going. That's what sustains it.

Many of my friends have heard me rant and no doubt will hear me rant again, that one of the problems with many modern authors is that their characters just don't have any... character. They lack personality. Their lines could be said by any other character in the book because there is nothing individual about them. Dickens, along with Dumas, and several others, is a master of characters in that regards. All of his characters within one book have unique and individual personalities. So that if someone gave you a list of quotes from different characters in the book, you could quite confidently assign them to the correct character based not on what the quote might reveal about its context, but purely on the manner of speech - on how it is said, rather than what it says. The Mystery of Edwin Drood is worth reading for that alone. Add in Dicken's usual subtle and intelligent wit and insight into human nature and society and you're left with very little excuse not to read it.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Maria Edgeworth; Castle Rackrent

"Castle Rackrent may well be one of the most famous unread novels in English" begins the introduction to this book - the unread part I don't doubt is true, but I do feel that it is perhaps unread because it is not that famous either. I'd certainly never heard of it before, and I picked it up purely because it was an Oxford World Classic with the old style cover, not knowing anything about the book itself.

The problem with reading classics - or at least, my problem (I'm sure others do not share it) - is that you know you are reading a book that a great many intelligent people have considered worthy in one way or another. And therefore, if you do not like it, or do not see the value in it, you assume that this is because of a failing on your part - through lacking either the necessary literary or historical knowledge, which would reveal the depth of the book in question.

Castle Rackrent is (for those uncultured people like me, who had never heard of it before ) a portrait of the lives of four consecutive heirs of the Rackrent estate, as told through the eyes of the faithful servant Thady, with all of his personal bias laid open to the reader and adding to the charm. The four heirs are as varied in personality as is possibly imaginable and - here my problem beings - are taken to satiric extremes in their characterisation. Why is this a problem?

I'm really, really not a fan of satire. Too many students and just plain bad writers use it as an excuse to cower behind when someone criticises their writing. One of my student newspapers at my University is supposedly satirical and is, I believe, a travesty against the genre. It's just so crudely done. Thus my experience of bad satire has given me a slight bias against it - though I continue to read satirical novels in the hopes that one day I will find one that makes me yell for joy and say "This! This is how you do it. This is good." And whilst the satire in this is miles beyond the paltry student papers that attempt it, it's not enough to completely dispell my disliking for the genre. There just seems something incredibly crude and unsubtle about it. Again, I stress that this book is far beyond the usual attempts at satire I read, and only pushes the boundaries of belief rather than leaping whole-heartedly beyond them. But still, that was an element that just didn't sit entirely comfortably with me.

I'm certainly glad I read it, as I am glad to read most every book, but I did come away with the distinct feeling that this book has more historical value as a portrait of Irish life, and as the beginning of certain genres in literature than a great literary value as a triumphant example of the highest quality of those literary genres. Perhaps I simply don't know enough about the history of Ireland to appreciate the full breadth of it's qualities, but then, I suspect that this would be true of anyone else who was not particularly well-up on their Irish history. So if it has piqued you interest to read it, I would recommend reading the introduction, and putting in some time reading about Edgeworth's Ireland to be able to appreciate it more fully (or at least more fully than I perhaps did).

Saturday, 12 December 2009

H. Rider Haggard; Allan Quatermain

I was determined to finish this book before going home for Christmas so I could return it to the person who lent it to me. The reason he did so in the first place, was because by one of those strange coincidences, having never heard anyone mentioned H. Rider Haggard before, this person mentioned it a few days after I had finished reading King Solomon's Mines.

Haggard is an easy-going, read-in-a-day author, with a simple style, and who knows how to tell a story simply and effectively - in the hands of many modern authors this book would likely have been twice as long (and certainly more boring).

The problem I had with it is the vast similarity of its plot to that of King Solomon's Mines - adventurers set out, discover previously uncontacted civilisation, succeed, one of their party becomes king after a bloody civil war. The plot is not hard to guess, there are a few dead-give-away details that are hardly difficult to spot that tell you exactly where it's headed - add the fact that the plot is so similar to the previous book, and... well, it can be a little boring in places. There are a few variations that help keep up interest when they arrive, but there were definitely parts that made me think '... I've read this before. I know how this goes.' Obviously, within this genre of writing, there are going to be unavoidable similarities between books - people going off on adventures into the unexplored, and discovering new civilsations. Sure. But they don't always have to establish a new king wherever they go, or help win a civil war to do so.

It's an alright book, I think probably not his best, but unless you read some of this other Quatermain books and absolutely loved them, I would recommend either reading King Solomon's Mines or Allan Quatermain, not both (there is a chronological order to them, but one does not have to have read the previous books to be able to understand what is going on at all). Personally, I preferred King Solomon's Mines, but that may be more to do with my personal interest in Solomon.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Christopher Logue; Kings

This was a really pleasant book that I picked up thinking it to be a commentary or discussion of the first two books of the Iliad - it's not, it's part translation, part interpretation, part innovation. And it's really interesting.

It's anachronistic, it's language is interesting, how he describes things is fascinating - almost as a script writer, he doesn't just describe a scene and let you imagine it, he tells you how you should imagine a scene - looking at a fire whilst hearing words, seeing the silhouettes of figures through a tent, etc.

His choice of words is very clever - at one point, he calls refers to the "sea-dark wine" - "The wine-dark sea" is a famous Homeric phrase, at another Hector repeats a phrase which is pretty much Horace's famous dulce et decorum est pro patria mori. In another place he describes the fall of Hephaistos with "words so fair they shall forever be quoted in Paradise" - as in Paradise Lost and Milton's description of Hephaistos's fall. O intertextuality, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways...

The language makes a very interesting point in itself, there's something "primitive" about how the people speak - in a way you'd expect to find more in H. Rider Haggard's Zulus than Ancient Greeks. It makes you think about what we class as civilised and what barbarian, and about specific words in particular - the use of "she" constantly instead of 'woman', how Achilles addresses his mother as 'O Source'.

It's also fascinating how his perspective jumps about, how at one point he can say 'we' and be referring to the Greek army, and at another point to a personal experience the anonymous narrator had, and yet can still show scenes within the walls of Troy.

In short, the whole thing is fascinating, and I'm truly glad to have stumbled across it. Even if you've never read the Iliad, this would, I think, make a very good introduction to it. Kings is only part of the poem, the whole of which has not been published yet.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Terence; Phormio and Other Plays

The other plays being The Girl from Andros and The Self-Tormentor.

The main staple of Roman comedy is something like this: 'boy meets girl, boy wants to marry girl. Father disapproves. Much trickery ensues to try and allow boy to see/marry girl. In the end, we discover that girl is the long lost daughter of another character, and thus the marriage is now okay. Everyone rejoices. Not that all Roman comedy follows that basic plot, but these three do with slight variations on setting and details. Of the three, Phormio is the best, I think. It has the best developed plot with no irrelevant extra scenes or actions, and it has the soundest logic in its plot - it is the least contrived (which is one of the things I don't like about some of Shakespeare's comedies - they seem so contrived, in that there is no other reason for even x to happen other than that humour will ensue), and the most memorable character - Phormio himself.

I would love to see productions of some of these plays, though (alas, I decided to produce The Bacchae this year, instead), as the comedy comes through more in the actual production than in a reading of the script. From reading the plays, the main thing that comes across is the cleverness of the construction of the plot. Which is fine, and they're worth reading just for that, but it would be nice to hear and see it.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Richard Lederer; The Revenge of Anguished English

With my dissertation and Metamorphosis essay finally out of the way, I can finally get back to some of the books I've had to put on hold for the past two weeks. So, whilst I was round at Domi's house waiting for lunch-time before going home (the food for lunch was at his house, not mine), I finished off The Revenge of Anguished English, a book that I'd started about a week ago.

The book is a compilation of language bloopers made by students, children, politicians, advertising companies, etc. ranging from typos, to mixed metaphors and malapropisms. He starts with a section or two of comments made by kids and students which are genuinely amusing and mostly laugh-out-loud funny. Some of them look like they could have been written (with a few corrections) by Oscar Wilde or Jerome K. Jerome. Unfortunately, they're the funniest the book gets, and from there it goes down hill.

Maybe the effect would be staved off somewhat if you read it over several days, only reading one chapter at a time, but by the end of it I just wasn't finding it funny anymore. There are only so many double entendres you can find amusing in one go. But it was obvious he was running out of material too, quotes from earlier in the book started popping up again. And obviously, they're not as funny the second time around. Also, his introductions to each chapter start to get really tedious towards the end - not that they were particularly funny or witty at the start of the book.

My other problem with it is that one section, called 'fuzzy logic' is presented as comprising only bloopers of logical accidentally made. But the 'hall of fame' section at the end of the chapter lists famous comments by Groucho Marx, Oscar Wilde and Woody Allen, who are all obviously making intentional jokes and witticisms (the fact that he had to resort to using these incredibly famous quotes instead of the material submitted by his diligent readers emphasises my point that he's really running out of good material by this point).

In short: a good start, a bad end. If you're going to read it, I would advise reading the first few chapters and then stopping - you've read all the best stuff by that point, I promise.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

A-Z Reading Challenge 2010

This is a personal challenge of mine, that I decided upon after rearranging my bookshelves to try and fit my newest purchases in somewhere. The Challenge is to read one book per author for 26 author's whose surnames begin with all the different letters of the Alphabet - so one book by an author who's surname beings with 'A', one by an author whose surname begins with 'B', etc. In the case of Ancient authors, using the first name is fine since that's the name that appears on the cover. If anyone else sees this and wants to try it, they're welcome to join me. Or, if you see it, and know someone else who's hosting the same challenge, tell me, and I'll probably sign up to their challenge.

A - Aristophanes; Lysistrata and Other Plays
B - Buchan; The Thirty-Nine Steps
C - Crane, Stephen; The Red Badge of Courage
F - Freud; The Interpretation of Dreams
G - Gardiner, Patrick; Kierkegaard: A Very Short Introduction
H - Hurlburt & Schwitzgebel; Describing Inner Experience?
J - Jung; Four Archetypes: Mother, Rebirth, Spirit, Trickster
K - Kierkegaard; Fear and Trembling
L - Longus; Daphnis and Chloe
M -Mackenzie; The Man of Feeling
O - Orwell, Why I write
P - Paine, Thomas; Common Sense
R - Racine; Iphigenia, Phaedra, Athaliah
S - Stevenson, Robert Louis, Treasure Island
T - Theweleit, Klaus; Object-Choice (All You Need is Love...)
V - Voltaire; Letters on England
W - Walpole, Horace; The Castle of Otranto

Saturday, 28 November 2009

100+ Reading Challenge

Another challenge: The 100+ Reading Challenge, hosted by J. Kaye is again, rather self explanatory - try and reading 100 books or more in 2010. Since it's something I'm going to try and do anyway, (for my own small and informal reading challenge over at Elftown - poor name I know, but a great community for fantasy & sci-fi lovers) I thought I'd sign up. Extra motivation and all that jazz. I'm trying to manage it this year, too - so far I've read 75 books. It'll be tight, but I'm hoping I can plough through quite a few after term ends.

1. Thomas Paine; Common Sense
2. Longus; Daphnis and Chloe
3. Walpole; The Castle of Otranto
4. Mackenzie; The Man of Feeling
5. Racine; Iphigenia, Phaedra, Athaliah
6. Jung; Four Archetypes: Mother, Rebirth, Spirit, Trickster
7. David Malouf; Remembering Babylon
8. Patrick Gardiner; Kierkegaard: A Very Short Introduction
9. Kierkegaard; Fear and Trembling
10. Freud; The Interpretation of Dreams
11. Klaus Theweleit; Object-Choice (All You Need is Love...)
12. Greek Lyric Poetry
13. Buchan; The Thirty-Nine Steps
14. Hurlburt & Schwitzgebel; Describing Inner Experience?
15. Aristophanes; Lysistrata and Other Plays
16. Orwell; Why I Write
17. Radcliffe; The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne
18. Tacitus; The Agricola and The Germanicus
19. Juvenal; The Sixteen Satires
20. Voltaire; Letters on England
21. Tom Holland; The Vampyre
22. Anonymous; The Book With No Name
23. Verne; Journey to the Centre of the Earth
24. Kipling; The Jungle Book
25. Robert Louis Stevenson; Treasure Island
26. Stephen Crane; The Red Badge of Courage
27. Anthony Hope; The Prisoner of Zenda
28. Christopher Tyerman; The Crusade: A Very Short Introduction
29. Scarlett Thomas; The End of Mr. Y
30. Samuel Butler; Erewhon
31. Pratchett; Thief of Time
32. Pratchett; Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents
33. Philip Reeve; Infernal Devices
34. Wladyslaw Szpilman; The Pianist
35. Prachett; The Wee Free Men
36. Pratchett; A Hat Full of Sky
37. Pratchett; Wintersmith
38. Kundera; Immortality
39. Alcott; Little Women
40. Charlotte Bronte; Jane Eyre
41. Douglas Adams; The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy
42. Douglas Adams; The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
43. Douglas Adams; Life, The Universe, and Everything

New Author Challenge 2010

The New Author challenge, hosted by Literary Escapism is rather self-explanatory, really. The challenge is to read books by authors you haven't read anything by before. Hopefully this will encourage me to get round to reading some of the classical authors I've been avoiding - Jane Austen, Victor Hugo, etc.

I set my goal at 50 new authors since that seemed reasonably and manageable. We'll see how it goes. I love challenges, but I don't want to take on too much, I have a habit of always biting off more than I can chew, which is great because it means I push myself to new levels, and bad because it means I'm often disappointed by not being able to meet my ludicrous expectations. But I seem to work best/be most productive when I'm stressed so...

1. Thomas Paine; Common Sense
2. Longus; Daphnis and Chloe
3. Walpole; The Castle of Otranto
4. Mackenzie; The Man of Feeling
5. David Malouf; Remembering Babylon
6. Klaus Theweleit; Object-Choice (All You Need is Love...)
7. Buchan; The Thirty-Nine Steps
8. Hurlburt & Schwitzgebel; Describing Inner Experience?
9. Radcliffe; The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne
10. Tactius; The Agricola and The Germanicus
11. Juvenal; The Sixteen Satires
12. Voltaire; Letters on England
13. Tom Holland; The Vampyre
14. Kipling; The Jungle Book
15. Stephen Crane; The Red Badge of Courage
16. Anthony Hope; The Prisoner of Zenda
17.Scarlett Thomas; The End of Mr. Y
18. Samuel Butler; Erewhon
19. Wladyslaw Szpilman; The Pianist
20. Kundera; Immortality
21. Alcott; Little Women
22. Charlotte Bronte; Jane Eyre
23. Douglas Adams; The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Pushkin; The Queen of Spades and Other Stories

The 'Other Stories' being The Negro of Peter the Great, Dubrovsky, & The Captain's Daughter. I actually started reading this book in September, but then I had to put it down for a week or so at the start of the university term. For some reason I just didn't get round to picking it up again until this week. Probably because I keep buying new books and like the small child that I am, I want to play with the new shiny toys.

The first two stories (The Negro of Peter the Great & Dubrovsky) were, for me, an exercise in frustration - in a good way. Pushkin sets the scene, builds the plot, gives depth to his characters, and then- the end. Unfinished. If you're not expecting that, it's frustrating because your interesting in the characters and plot has been built up so well - you want to know what happens next, how conflicts will resolve, etc. I knew The Negro of Peter the Great was unfinished, but I didn't realise Dubrovsky was, too. Perhaps it would have been better if they'd put Dubrovsky at the end of the book, to split up the frustration of the unfinished stories. But unless you have a pet peeve about unfinished stories, they're still worth reading.

The Queen of Spades - the story which made me pick the book up in the first place - is a short, (and thankfully complete) cunning little story with a hint of the gothic and the chiller. It's short, simple, and sweet. Like most good short "ghost" stories, it doesn't give you every detail, nor explain every point, so it leaves you thinking about it well after the story is over, wondering (in a non-frustrating way) why certain things happened.

The last story, The Captain's Daughter interested me a lot more than I thought it would, once the plot really got going. Again, it has a few small elements of the gothic that work really well in setting the mood of the story, and the unpredictable characters keep the suspense and tension high when they're on the scene, and the main character develops throughout the story very well and realistically.

I've ended up reading quite a lot of Russian literature so far this year (I'm reading another Russian novel right now), but I still have very little knowledge of the context in which they were written - I know Pushkin was censored and that I've therefore probably missed some of the political undertones of his stories (except for the obvious ones in Dubrovksy and The Captain's Daughter). There are probably some Russian Literature experts out there crying at my lack of deeper understanding of the texts, but they read well and are enjoyable even for those who, like me, don't know much/anything about Pushkin and his life and times. If you're interested in reading some Russian literature, but don't know where to start, and are put off by the length of War and Peace, or the philosophy of Crime and Punishment, Pushkin is a good place to start.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Sophocles; Electra and Other Plays

The 'Other Plays' being Ajax, Women of Trachis, and Philoctetes. I preferred The Women of Trachis and Philoctetes over Ajax and Electra - I find it hard to see Ajax as a tragic hero because he had such murderous intents, of which he never repents - one feels far more for his brother Teucer and Odysseus than for Ajax himself. My problem with Electra is that I like Clytemnestra. Obviously, in this version she is portrayed as completely without virtue to allow the audience to sympathise with Electra. But I don't have the ability of the Ancient Greeks to set aside everything I know about a character and only focus on what I am told in the partcular version I am reading/viewing. And modern audiences are, I think, more sympathetic to Clytemnestra than Ancient audiences would have been. It is far easier to sympathise with Deianeira as a tragic heroine, bringing about the downfall of herself and her loved one through an accident, or with Philoctetes and Neoptolemus - who at least has a moral dilemma over whether what he is doing is right or not. I think I prefer both Aeschylus and Euripides to Sophocles - but I don't mean to imply I don't like Sophocles, or don't like him all that much - I like all three a lot, I just like Aeschylus and Euripides that little bit more. That might be because I've had a chance to study plays by Aescylus and Euripides in depth, but never any of Sophocles' plays.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Spike Milligan; A Dustbin of Milligan

This is the final book that I read on Monday, and I read it purely because I needed an hour to kill whilst he carried on working before we headed over to mine. I didn't want to start anything big, because I already had two or three books that I was reading at mine, so I wanted something that would only take me that hour to read:

The book is a collection of poems, letters, short stories, and fairy tales and is mildly amusing throughout. Some passages may contain mild peril.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Jean-Dominique Bauby; The Diving-Bell & The Butterfly

This is another book I read yesterday, whilst not doing work. For those who don't know it, it's a biographical account of a man suffering from locked-in Syndrome - he is fully paralysed but still mentally aware, and can only communicate through blinking. And through blinking, he dictated this book. Obviously, it's not very long - but really, if it takes you five minutes to write one word, you're hardly going to attempt to write War and Peace.

It's interesting, but I thought it was quite guarded. He doesn't talk a great deal about how he feels, or about his life - by the end of it, you don't really know him as a person. You get the impression that there are a lot of emotions and memories he doesn't want to share - or perhaps he doesn't have the time to share. Perhaps the limits of his condition have made him ruthlessly edit his work down to the essentials of what he wants to communicate. I also got the impression that he'd written some of it to say either 'thank you,' or 'screw you,' to some of his nurses and doctors based on how they'd treated him - which is fair enough, in my books. If you've treated the man as if he's a vegetable, sub-human and not bothered to try and find out if he's comfortable, etc. because you're too afraid to look him in the eyes then you should be shamed, and he should be allowed to tell the world how you behaved - he can't complain how most of us normally would, so I don't have a problem with him complaining in the book - the frustration of not being able to talk and in taking 5 minutes to say anything at all must be frustrating beyond levels most of us can imagine. Good-bye witticisms and snappy retorts, and all but the most essential communications. As Tolkien's ents point out - when it takes a long, long time to say something, you don't say it unless it's worth taking a long, long time to say.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Oscar Wilde; Lady Windermere's Fan

So, taking the day off from work due to a bad cold, I found myself stuck in my boyfriend's house (I'm too achey too walk round mine right now) having finished the only book I brought with me. I have others at home that I've already started, so I wanted a quick read to keep me occupied for a few hours until I plucked up enough will to stumble home. Luckily, his housemate had a copy of Oscar Wilde's Lady Windermere's Fan which I proceeded to read with much enthusiasm. I don't think Aristotle could have found single fault with this play - the reveals, and lack thereof, the reversals, are all perfect - he would have approved entirely of the use of the fan. The plot is constructed perfectly, it's ups and downs keep you in suspense and the ending is wholly satisfying.

And that's not to mention his majestic use of wit and irony, in the characters, their speech, actions, and in the construction of the plot itself - simply masterful. From small matters to large, the irony is all pervasive and put to wonderful effect and use. Wilde is universally acknowledged as a master of witticisms, but they have so much more force when read in their proper context than when listed as one among hundreds on some internet site listing funny quotes. It takes an hour to read, and it's wonderful - funny, heart-breaking, heart-warming. A thoroughly enjoyable read.

The Upanishads

Actually, the title is misleading - it should be 'selections from The Upanishads' Since it's not all of them, and of the ones that are in the book, it's not even always all of those. At 143 pages it's a pretty short book (especially if you don't read the introduction, which takes up about 45 of those pages) but still worth the read. It's interesting to compare to Christian teachings, or even those of Plato, or other early philosophers. I would, perhaps, though, recommend reading a short introductory book to Hinduism first, unless for some reason or another you already happen to know the basics of it.

Books like this are not books that you can only enjoy if you agree with their teachings - you can engage with the content whether you agree with it or not - perhaps even more so if you don't agree with it. I am not a T/Daoist, but I enjoyed reading the Tao Te Ching/Dao De Jing, and my copy of it is heavily annotated in places (usually with quotes from Blake, comparing and contrasting his Proverbs of Hell from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell with the text). I think everyone should know a bit about the major world religions, regardless of which religion you follow, if any at all. And this book is good for that - it certainly beats wikipedia hands down.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Petronius; The Satyricon & the Fragments

The fragments attest that the Satyricon should not be taken simply at face value - as does the fact that Petronius was writing in the times of Nero. Unfortunately what we have of the Satyricon is fragmentary - they are significantly long fragments, true, but still only a small portion of the whole work. This makes it hard to decide what exactly to make of it - I know it has more than face value, but what that other value is, I'm not quite sure of. Is he being ironic? Satyrical? And if he is, what, exactly, is he satyrising? I don't know. The story is amusing, a little shocking in places (don't give it to your 10 year old to read). His portrayal of Trimalchio is fantastic. But I can't really imagine recommending this to anyone who didn't have a decent knowledge of classical literature/culture already - the humour would likely to be mostly lost. I can't even really comment on his skill as a poet, since I read it in translation and half of the genius of Latin poety simply does not translate into English.

Short review, huh?

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Kierkegaard; The Concept of Irony

A slightly more hefty volume than my last few reads - 342 pages of concentration-demanding analysis of irony and Socrates (the full title being The Concept of Irony with Constant Reference To Socrates). This I read because my philosophy dissertation demanded it - my title being 'Socratic Irony'. It took me a while to get through, and I think if I wanted to understand all of it properly, I'd have to read it through again. Alas, I don't have time for that, and I understood most of it well enough for my purposes. The last 30 or so pages, however, are dedicated to irony in three authors with whose work I am unfamiliar, so they were mostly lost on me. I ploughed through them, however, partly from a stubborn refusal to put a book down 30 pages from the end simply because it appeared to have stopped being relevant to my research, and partly because I have learned that relevant insight and information can crop up even where you don't expect it.

The problem with many 'continental' philosophers, I find, it is that they make no attempt to make themselves clear. Whether this is through a stylization that simply came naturally to them, or through a conceit that 'if you're not smart enough to understand my style then you're not good enough to understand my philosophy' I know not. Perhaps it is neither, and I simply find their style overly verbose because I'm not familiar with it (my University's philosophy department focuses on the analytic philosophical tradition, not the continental).

Either way, it's not an easy read though easier than others , such as Nietzsche, or Kant. But that point momentarily aside, he has an interesting conception of Irony, which, though I'm not sure I agree with, provokes one to think about how you would define the concept yourself. His idea of Socrates was, for me, refreshing. But unless you have an overwhelming interest in Socrates and in particular his irony, then I'm not going to be recommending it to anyone. That's not to say I won't try reading anymore Kierkegaard - several of his other books seem quite interesting to me. But I won't be starting them in the next few months.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Jerome K. Jerome; Three Men in a Boat & Three Men on the Bummel

How cool is his name? Jerome Klapka Jerome. I'm sure he got annoyed of being called 'Jerome Jerome', and having to introduce himself as such, but I still think it's pretty damn cool.

Anyway, I, (Or I should say 'we') have been reading this book for a while. The reason it has taken so long, despite only being 340 odd pages long is because I've been reading it aloud to my boyfriend - the Domibear. We started reading a copy that just contained Three Men in a Boat but just as we were nearing the end we found in a charity shop a copy that contained both stories, so we bought that, and swapped to that version instead.

They're funny books. Full of witty observations about life, dogs, tourists, married life and language; as well as funny anecdotes about Uncles, DIY, bicycle repair and German drinking parties. Both of the above, are of course, combined with amusing incidents that befall our three protagonists as they wind their way along the Thames or cycle through Germany.

The humour I most appreciated, being the student of irony that I am, is the main character, J., innocently revealing his naivety on certain issues, with great ironic effect. Of the two, I preferred Three Men in a Boat. I felt it struck a better balance between witty observations, anecdotes and actual events. Domibear, being German, preferred Three Men on the Bummel (where they go for a bicycle tour in the Black Forest) for its observations on the German people. Being written in the 1890s, this is, of course, prior to both of the world wars, and therefore one cannot help but hear the cry of cosmic irony in some of his observations about the Germans being obedient people, willing to follow any command given them by a superior.

The endings to both books are rather abrupt and tend to catch you off guard. But on the whole, they are good, and we are sorry that they are over.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Alexander Solzhenitsyn; One day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

I noticed this book whilst perusing the list of '1001 books to read before you die', namely, because it was Russian, and I have a soft sport for Russian writers (and another for French playwrights). It came to my attention again when my housemate, with whom I share several literary tastes and often swap book recommendations, told me he had read it and thought it was rubbish. I know the 1001 list is hardly perfect - for starters they have no Greek authors on there and only one Roman author - and he not even the best. (I thought at first that might be because they wrote in poetry, and therefore didn't count, but then I noticed that Ovid had previously been on the list, so now they don't even have that excuse for their poor taste in any literature written pre 1700s). And then they have Ann Rice on the list. Urgh. I don't read many bad books because I spend so much time reading classics but Interview with a Vampire is one of the dullest books I've read, and has, to my mind, not a single likable character.

But, back to the book at hand. The fact that my housemate, whose opinion I value thought that this nobel-prize winning book was rubbish piqued my interest in it, so when I saw it in a charity shop a few days later for 50p, I picked it up.

At 143 pages it's another short, easy read. I certainly didn't find it as dull and repetitive as my housemate did, but I perhaps focused more on the emotions it generated than on trying to find interest in the plot. The title is fairly self-explanatory - the book tells the story of one day in the life of Ivan Denisovich (or Shukhov) as he works in a Siberian Labour camp, working off a ten year sentence on a false charge of him being a spy, the fate, apparently, of many escaped Russian prisoners of war.

It was fascinating to read how the prisoners could work together and against each other, against the guards and with them, subconsciously changing or expanding their allegiances as the situation called for it. You see the men work for themselves, then how they work for their team and its members, and how the whole camp can unite in one spirit to shout abuse at the guards - previous enmity between then momentarily forgotten. To read how the dealt with the harsh life-style thrust unfairly upon them, and how the could come to think of the days that were slightly less awful than others as 'good days'. In short, it's not a book you read for the plot. It's a book you read for insight into how humans deal with suffering. And as such an insight, it's far from boring.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Vonnegut; Cat's Cradle

The biggest problem - the only problem of being both an avid reader and an undergrad is that I've had to compromise on my principle of reading every book I pick up through cover to cover. You just can't do it. I've read a lot this week, but I haven't managed to read a single book cover to cover - as much as I would have liked to, because they just weren't relevant to my essays/dissertations. It hurts, but if that's my biggest problem with academia, I think I'll survive.

Anyway, I finally managed to finish reading Cat's Cradle which is the first of Vonnegut's books I've read, shamefully. So, where to start? I loved the humour. It was delicious - my sort of humour through and through. I laughed out loud several times, and ended up reading little excerpts aloud to my domibear.

Apart from the humour it was interesting and an intelligent comment and criticism of religion and society. But no one needs me to tell them that. It's a short and easy read - Vonnegut certainly does not indulge in purple prose. I would say that it's thought provoking - if you let it be. I have a feeling that someone could read the book purely for the plot without forcing themselves to think about it any deeper, simply finding Bokononism a quaint and amusing idea - but I'm equally sure that they would get the distinct feeling they were missing something.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Apuleius; The Golden Ass

Considering that the alternative titles of this book is "The Transformations of Lucius" and, as I have already stated, my unit of study this year in classics is "Metamorphosis", then it's hardly a surprise I read this book. I happened to find a copy of it in a second-hand bookshop right at the start of the year, and since it was the first time I'd seen it in a second-hand bookshop, I picked it up. Then I later discovered that it was on the reading list for my Met. unit anyway. Perfect. I have to read a book I wanted to read, and I get to count it as work.

Obviously, because I was reading it from a metamorphic perspective, I picked up on that aspect of the writing a lot more - who appears in disguise, changes shape, who they think has changed shape, etc. And since last year I audited a unit on Magic the Greek and Roman World, I had particular interest on those parts to do with witchcraft, too.

It was interesting. Apuleius uses the event of the character Lucius being turned into an ass, and his subsequent travels to tell many stories - not just the ones Lucius is himself involved in, but also stories which he overhears in the places he stays, and from the people he travels with. He who had been a member of the upper class is now reduced to being a beast of burden for the lower classes, and as such, many of the tales reveal details of what life was like for peasants. It's witty and tongue-in-cheek for the most part, but the change in tone in the last two books threw me, and I wasn't quite sure what to make of it. Perhaps Apuleius meant the nature of the earlier books to heighten the nature of the last two by their stark contrast. But for me, the absurdity and lack of seriousness in the first books simply dragged the last two down to their level, and since there is very little humorous nature in the last two, I found that rather than sounding profound they simply fell flat. So the ending, for me, was deflated and slightly baffling. Perhaps I shall toddle off and find a commentary or two, to see what other scholars have made of the ending.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Richard Buxton - Forms of Astonishment: Greeks Myths of Metamorphosis

This year my one and only taught unit in Classics is called 'Metamorphosis' and is, unsurprisingly, a unit that looks at the theme of metamorphosis in Greek (and occasionally Roman) myth and literature. It is taught by Richard Buxton. So imagine my pleasure at finding in our library, apparently undiscovered by anyone else, the presence of a book, by him, published this year, about the very subject he is lecturing on. Unfortunately, my discovery didn't stay secret for long and a few days after I had withdrawn the book, it was requested back to the library. I was about halfway through the book at that point, so I decided to finish it quickly before handing it back in.

The wonderful thing about having been taught by Richard Buxton is that, because he writes in the same style that he talks, you can hear his voice in your head narrating the text as you read it. He is a wonderful lecturer - the sort who you don't mind if he overruns by ten minutes or so, and actually, you'd be quite happy to listen to him talk for another hour anyway. His enthusiasm for his subject is intoxicating (if I were wittier I would make some passing joke about Dionysian intoxication which only other students of his would understand, but there we go), and nearly everything he says - including the frequent, but always related tangents (in fact, especially those), is highly interesting.

Anyway, on to the book. I found it an easy, interesting and informative read. at 252 pages it's another fairly short volume, but hey, if you can say all you want to say in 252 pages, why use more? Unsurprisingly the book deals with myths of metamorphosis, with a particular focus on how they are portrayed in literature and art, and how they are reacted to - are they portrayed as miraculous, astonishing and completely out-of-the-ordinary, or are they more mundane, played down, and hardly a thing to bat an eyelid at? It was informative as an intelligent and scholarly introduction to the subject, for those who have not studied myth from the point of view of metamorphosis, though whether it was ground-breaking in many of its claims I know not - I am merely and undergrad, and simply am not qualified to say.

As I was reading it I found myself wondering whether others, even more ignorant in the subject of classics than I, would find the book as easy to read as I. I tried to imagine whether they would be confused by references to myths they didn't know of (though many of the myths he references of examples are outlined briefly), and by authors they hadn't heard of (does the normal reader know who Pausanias is?). Alas, I found it very hard to put themselves in my shoes, so I have no idea how hard a normal reader would find it to understand the text, so I can only speak as an amateur classicist when I say that it was engrossing, written in a very readable style, and gently prods the reader to contemplate the ancient texts of metamorphosis from a new angle, and in a new light.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Books to Read Before I Die Challenge - 2010

The challenge, by Bibliophilebythesea may be found: here.

1. Dumas; The Count of Monte Cristo
2. The Mabinogion
3. Dostoevsky; The Idiot
4. Tolstoy; Anna Karenina
5. Saint Augustine; Confessions
6. Spenser; The Faerie Queene
7. Flaubert; Madam Bovary
8. Popper; The Poverty of Historicism
9. MacIntyre; A Short History of Ethics

10. Walcott; Omeros
11. Stendal; The Red and The Black
12. Austen; Pride and Prejudice

Freud - Civilization and its Discontents

First review: oh my.

Firstly, I am not a psychology student. I read this simply because I wanted to, rather than because I had to - and because it was cheap (I purchase most of my leisure books in second-hand charity book shops).

I have read some Freud before, but not much. I rarely find - and this was certainly the case in the later half of this particular book - that I agree with him on psychological issues. But I still find him incredibly thought-provoking: perhaps even more so precisely because I disagree with him. I end up spending a lot of time thinking about why I disagree with him, and if his proffered explanation of the origin of trait X is unsatisfactory, then what is its origin? This, for me, is always a good thing. I like to think, and so I like books that make me think.

The first few chapters of the book lurk in the grey area between philosophy and psychology (there exists such a grey area between any subject and philosophy), and though the outlook of these chapters on human happiness was pessimistic and cynical, I found myself agreeing with a lot of their content. It may be depressing to think that humans are, by their very nature, self-defeating in their quest for happiness, but his arguments for this position are quite compelling.

The book then gets gradually more psychological, but apart from the occasional tangential foot-note into the realms of anal-eroticism there is little of the "hard-core" and "controversial" psychology that Freud is famous for among the general population.

At 106 pages it make a short, thought-provoking read. So if you're looking for something that will engage and exercise your mind for a few hours, but won't make you cry in frustration trying to understand it, then you could do far worse than picking up this little book.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Read List

Being the list of books that I have read since I first started keeping track of what I read some few years ago now. Newest at top.

Douglas Adams; Life, The Universe, and Everything

Douglas Adams; The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

Douglas Adams; The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Charlotte Bronte; Jane Eyre

Alcott; Little Women

Kundera; Immortality

Pratchett; Wintersmith

Pratchett; A Hat Full of Sky

Prachett; The Wee Free Men

Wladyslaw Szpilman; The Pianist

Philip Reeve; Infernal Devices

Pratchett; Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents

Pratchett; Thief of Time

Samuel Butler; Erewhon

Scarlett Thomas; The End of Mr. Y

Christopher Tyerman; The Crusades: A Very Short Introduction

Anthony Hope;The Prisoner of Zenda

Stephen Crane; The Red Badge of Courage

Robert Louis Stevenson; Treasure Island

Kipling; The Jungle Book

Verne; Journey to the Centre of the Earth

Anonymous; The Book with No Name

Tom Holland; The Vampyre

Voltaire; Letters on England

Juvenal; The Sixteen Satires

Tacitus; The Agricola and the Germanicus

Radcliffe; The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne

Orwell; Why I Write

Aristophanes; Lysistrata and Other Plays

Hurlburt & Schwitzgebel; Describing Inner Experience?

Buchan; The Thirty-Nine Steps

Greek Lyric Poetry

Klaus Theweleit; Object-Choice (All You Need is Love...)

Freud; The Interpretation of Dreams

Kierkegaard; Fear and Trembling

Patrick Gardiner; Kierkegaard: A Very Short Introduction

David Malouf; Remembering Babylon

Jung; Four Archetypes: Mother, Rebirth, Spirit, Trickster

Racine; Iphigenia, Phaedra, Athaliah

Mackenzie; The Man of Feeling

Walpole; The Castle of Otranto

Longus; Daphnis and Chloe

Thomas Paine; Common Sense

Dickens; The Mystery of Edwin Drood

Maria Edgeworth; Castle Rackrent

H. Rider Haggard; Allan Quatermain

Christopher Logue; Kings

Terence; Phormio and Other Plays

Richard Lederer; The Revenge of Anguished English

Pushkin; The Queen of Spades and Other Stories

Sophocles; Electra and Other Plays

Spike Milligan; A Dustbin of Milligan

Jean-Dominique Bauby; The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly

Oscar Wilde; Lady Windermere's Fan

The Upanishads

Petronius; The Satyricon and The Fragments

Kierkegaard; The Concept of Iron with Constant Reference to Socrates

Jerome K. Jerome; Three Men in a Boat and Three Men on the Bummel

Alexander Solzhenitsyn; One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

Vonnegut; Cat's Cradle

Apuleius; The Golden Ass

Richard Buxton; Forms of Astonishment: Greeks Myths of Metamorphosis

Freud; Civilization and its Discontents

Dumas; The Three Musketeers

Orwell; Decline of the English Murder

H. Rider Haggard;
King Solomon's Mines

Racine; A
ndromache, Britannicus, Berenice

The Death of King Arthur
(la Mort le Roi Artu)

The Poems

Joachim Marzahn;
The Ishtar Gate

Apollonius of Rhodes;
The Voyage of Argo

William Beckford;

Diary of a Madman and Other Stories

George Mann;
The Affinity Bridge

William Blake;

Albert Camus;
The Myth of Sisyphus

Troilus and Criseyde

The Prince

Matthew Lewis;
The Monk

Dana Arnold;
Art History: A Very Short Introduction

Dan Simmons;
The Endymion Omnibus (Endymion & The Rise of Endymion)

Jonathan Barnes (Ed);
Early Greek Philosophy

Robert E. Drennan (Ed);
The Algonquin Wits

Harpo Marx;
Harpo Speaks!

The Nibelungenlied

James R. Gaines;
Wit's End

F. Scott Fitzgerald;
The Great Gatsby

Dan Simmons;
The Hyperion Omnibus (Hyperion & The Fall of Hyperion)

William Blake;
Poems of William Blake (selected by Peter Ackroyd)

Paul Gallico; T
he Small Miracle

Paul Gallico;
The Snow Goose

Antoine De Saint-Exupéry;
The Little Prince

The Poems of Catullus

Alan Dundes (ed);
Sacred Narrative, Readings in the Theory of Myth

On the Genealogy of Morals

Julian Reade;

Goethe; F
aust (Part 2)

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

The Barber of Seville, The Marriage of Figaro

Edmond Rostand;
Cyrano de Bergerac

Jeanette Winterson;

Robert Harris;

The Song of Roland

Jean Racine;
Britannicus, Phaedra, Athaliah

Franz Kafka;
The Metamorphosis and other stories

J. Rendel Harris;
The Origin of the Cult of Apollo

Jules Verne;
Around the World in Eighty Days

Chris Wooding;
The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray

Hermann Hesse;

Albert Camus;
The Outsider

A Tale of Two Cities

Philip Reeve;
Predator's Gold

The Homeric Hymns

Bernard Shaw;


Robert A. Segal;
Myth: A Very Short Introduction

Myths From Mesopotamia (Epic of Creation, The Flood, Epic of Gilgamesh and others)

Tom Sorell;
Descartes: A Very Short Introduction

Michael Moorcock;

Quentin Skinner;
Machiavelli: A Very Short Introduction

Bethan Stevens;
William Blake

Samuel Beckett;
Waiting for Godot

Philip Reeve;
Mortal Engines

The Complete Poems

Nick Gevers (Ed); E
xtraordinary Engines

Harper Lee;
To Kill A Mockingbird

The Library of Greek Mythology

The Pot of Gold and Other Plays (Pot of Gold, The Prisoners, The Brothers Menaechmus, The Swaggering Soldier, Pseudolus)

Joseph Melia;

George W. M. Harrison (ed);
Seneca in Performance

Faust (Part one)

Oscar Wilde;
The Importance of Being Ernest

The Birds and Other Plays (The Knights, Peace, The Birds, The Assemblywomen, Wealth)

Robert W. Chambers;
The King in Yellow and other horror stories

Stephen King;

The Theban Plays (Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus & Antigone)

Aristophanes; F
rogs and Other Plays (Wasps, Women at the Themosphoria, Frogs)

Dana Ferrin Sutton;
Seneca on the Stage

Four Tragedies and Octavia (Thyestes, Phaedra, The Trojan Women, Oedipus & Octavia)

The Trojan Women and Other Plays (Hecuba, The Trojan Women, Andromache)

Dante; The Divine Comedy

Nine Plays (Medea, The Trojan Women, Orestes, Electra, Iphigenia in Tauris, The Bacchae, Alcestis, Hippolytus, Heracles)

Jonathan Williams & Clive Cheesman (Eds & trans);
Classical Love Poetry

Anna Lydia Motto;

The Rope and Other Plays (The Ghost, A Three-Dollar Day & Amphitryo)

The Oresteia (Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers & The Eumenides)

Stillman Drake;
Galileo: A Very Short Introduction

Essays and Aphorisms

Gary Dexter;
Why not Catch-21?

Robert Harris;

The Decameron


M. R. James;
Selected Ghost Stories

Jonathan Barnes;
Coffee with Aristotle

Bertrand Russell; T
he History of Western Philosophy

John Fowles;
The Magus

Geraldine Pinch;
Egyptian Myth: A Very Short Introduction

C.C.W. Taylor;
Socrates: A Very Short Introduction

Christopher Kelly;
The Roman Empire: A Very Short Introduction

Anthony Storr;
Freud: A Very Short Introduction

Giulio Leoni;
The Third Heaven Conspiracy

China Mieville;
Un Lun Dun

Michael Tanner;
Nietzsche; A Very Short Introduction

A. C. Grayling;
Russell: A Very Short Introduction

Michael Morpurgo;
The Mozart Question

W. V. Quine;
On What There Is

Prometheus Bound And Other Plays (The Suppliants, The Seven Against Thebes, The Persians)

Tad Williams;
Otherland: Sea of Silver Light

Letters from a Stoic

Bertrand Russell;
The Problems of Philosophy

Lise Myhre;

Julia Annas;
Plato: A Very Short Introduction

Theogony & Works and Days


Lao Tzu;
Tao Te Ching

Epicurus; Letter to Menoeceus

Julia Annas;
Ancient Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction

The Civil War

Peter Singer;
Marx: A Very Short Introduction

The Nature of Things

The Hippocratic Writers;
Hippocratic writings

Jonathan Barnes;
Aristotle: A Very Short Introduction

Mary Beard & John Henderson;
Classics: A Very Short Introduction

Helen Morales;
Classical Mythology: A Very Short Introduction

Tad Williams;
Mountain of Black Glass

Tad Williams;
River of Blue Fire

Michael Moorcock;
Elric of Melnibone

Tad Williams;

Stephen King;
Fire Starter

Paradise Lost

Alena Jezkova;
77 Prague Legends

J. K. Rowling;
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows


Oedipus the King

Ambrose Bierce;
The Devil's Dictionary

David Gemmel;
Shield of Thunder

Stephen King & Peter Straub;
Black House

Lynn Truss;
Talk to the Hand

René Descartes;
Meditations on First Philosophy

David Gemmel;
Lord of the Silver Bow

William Blake;
The Marriage of Heaven & Hell


The Aeneid

Crime & Punishment

Margaret Atwood;
The Penelopiad

The Iliad



Stephen King; T
he Dark Tower

Stephen King; T
he Song of Susannah

Stephen King;
The Wolves of Calla

Stephen King;
Wizard And Glass

Poems and Fragments

Stephen King;
Needful Things

Stephen King;
The Waste Lands

Stephen King;
The Drawing of Three

Stephen King;
The Gunslinger

Pat Barker;
Regeneration Trilogy

William Blake;
Songs of Innocence and Experience

Sebastian Faulks;

Stephen King;
The Dark Half

Stephen King;
The Dead Zone

Stephen King;

Stephen King;
Skeleton Crew

Stephen King;
'Salem's Lot

Stephen King;
Gerald's Game

Stephen King;
Four Past Midnight

Stephen King;
Night Shift

Stephen King;
Pet Sematary

The Odyssey

Paulo Coelho;
Veronika Decides to Die


Bram Stoker;

Emily Brönte;
Wuthering Heights

Mary Shelly;

Stephen King;
The Shining


Joseph Heller; C
atch 22

Sylvia Plath;
The Bell Jar

Ken Kesey;
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest