Saturday, March 21, 2015

Shakespeare Saturday: Beware the Ides of March

                                             Remember March, the ides of March remember:
                                               Did not great Julius bleed for justice' sake?
  - Brutus, Julius Caesar, IV. iii.

    Earlier today, I was thinking of this article from the Poetry Foundation, detailing how poet John Keats would spend his Sundays reading Shakespeare instead of going to church (Keats and I have this in common). It occurred to me to do a similar bout of Shakespeare worship on my blog and write a weekly recap of 'my life in Shakespeare' each week. Why not, right?

    Naturally, I had one particular Shakespeare play in mind this week, given that the Ides of March came and went: none other than 10th grade English class MVP Julius Caesar.

With the play being forever immortalized by those same high school English classes, their allusion in the title of John Green superhit The Fault in Our Stars (which I've never read- I assume the intertext ends there), and film classic Mean Girls-

-I'm left wondering: do 'the kids' still love this play? I'm pretty sure it was the first Shakespeare play I'd ever read, and I know that I loved it at the time. It kick-started my mild teenaged obsession with ancient Rome. I might still love Albert Camus' Caligula more than Julius Caesar, but that's neither here nor there.

It was my intention to re-read the play on March 15, because I'm a sucker for a synchronous gimmick. I ended up being distracted, and only skimmed it while listening to the BBC Production. Even still, I was stunned by the power of the language, the meta-theatrical themes of politics as performance, et al. It deserves a re-read, but it's admittedly hard to prioritize when I still have new-to-me Shakespeare plays on the docket. The fault in my reading list, amirite?

Other Shakespeare things from this week:

Totally coveting this 'Shakespeare Love Quotes' mug, from the Unemployed Philosophers Guild (which is a great name, and I totally wish I could steal it for a band name, the bastards):

I have a wedding coming up. I wasn't planning on having a registry, but if literary mugs are a thing I can request, I just might start one.

Anyway, I also stumbled across this great photo set, based on the Three Witches in Macbeth (my favorite Shakespeare play):

from frerin, on tumblr

I feel like this set perfectly captures the moody, foreboding gloom of the play. Also, yeah, I'm totally a sucker for photosets like these. I regret nothing.

Next time on Shakespeare Saturday: erm, I don't know. I desperately need to get back to the Wars of the Roses cycle, so, probably that.

Until then, rest you merry!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The better to read with, my dear: contests, what I'm reading, and my latest haul!

In the past month, I've developed a new hobby: entering contests and giveaways. Not only is it a fun way to roll the proverbial dice and see what you can win, but it's also a great way to discover new blogs and books. It's like gambling, but all it costs is your time!
and possibly your EpiPen.
So far, two of my wins have resulted in some serious joie de livre. The first was a pair of eyeglasses from polette eyewear! They have some truly beautiful frames, with some for as low as $6.99 for frames and lenses! Here I was, paying, like, $60 at a box store like a damned chump.

It's also really hard to take selfies without lens flare on glasses, I've learned.
It's so nice to be able to see again. Reading has gotten easier, and it's wonderful to see the details in life, from the eerie, Hoth-like moonscape of Halifax this winter to the '90s Vanilla Ice lookalike who stared at me on the bus while eating from a box of cereal.
The other contest I won was a copy of The Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Fairy Tales by Franz Xaver von Schönwerth, courtesy of Tor Publishing!
I remembered reading about those uncovered fairy tales back in 2012, and I'm a sucker for fairy tales in general, so I'm really excited to receive this book and get to reading. Maybe Disney will acquire the rights to adapt some of them and finally release the parents and teachers of the world from their ongoing hostage situation with Frozen.

It's like the Iran hostage crisis in every way.
 My latest two book hauls resulted in books that range from the ridiculous to the sublime:

I bought the Camille Paglia book almost as a lark, feeling open-minded enough to do some "devil's advocate" reading, and being a creative nonfiction/cultural theory junkie, figured it might be okay. Except that when I cracked it open on the bus home from work and read her apologist stance on campus rape, I almost threw the book clear across the aisle at some unwitting undergrad. I seriously considered just throwing the book into one of our mountainous snowbanks, but didn't want to risk an impressionable mind finding it. Now I don't know what to do with it. I'm open to suggestions.

I'm currently reading Night Bites as my Cafeteria reading, and so far, it's been pretty outstanding. Filled with vampire stories written by women, it's, thankfully, no Twilight. It features some inventive re-interpretations of Dracula and the vampire mythos in general, and tackles issues of motherhood, death, and sex. It also fulfills my 'scary book' reading challenge, so, that's nice.

The other books seemed interesting to me, especially Darwin's Bastards, though I haven't had the chance to crack it open yet. I love Margaret Atwood's nonfiction, never finished Sexing the Cherry, and used to spend my in-between class time in university holed up in the library with a coffee, reading the poetry in Wascana Review. I'm definitely pleased with this latest haul.

As for what I've recently read, sadly, this past month has been pretty slow-going. I hate getting in those "don't feel like reading" funks, which usually means, for me, that I'm only reading three books in a month.

The two that I read:

 The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt

The last book club selection was Helen DeWitt's The Last Samurai, a bildungsroman featuring a precocious child in search of his real father. While this is a weirdly prevalent '00s literary fiction trope, it managed to feel fresh and inventive, due to DeWitt's use of pop culture (Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai is ubiquitous in the text, and inspires some of the central plot structure), as well as her deconstruction of language. I had the odd experience of being the only person in my book club who was really enthusiastic about the material, but that might have been partially because it gave me the opportunity to make lots of Tom Cruise jokes. The first section of the book is deftly experimental, which made me more excited as a writer than a reader, but DeWitt's bold storytelling choices definitely made this book stand out from lesser books tackling the same thematic tones.
Travels with Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck
I'm a sucker for roadtrips, as well as roadtrip narratives, so I'm not sure why it took me so many years after purchasing this book to actually read it. I'd read some of Steinbeck's work as a teenager, but didn't engage with it all that much. My friend was reading Travels with Charley at the same time, for her book club, and didn't seem enamoured with it. I loved it. Steinbeck's prose and observations about the landscape and people of a changing America sparkled on the page, and made me feel as though I was with him, driving along in the passenger seat. The development of mobile home communities, emerging domestic technology, the construction of suburbs, the encroachment of urbanization on the rural, and, of course, the issues surrounding gentrification, are all tackled in the sprawling prose. Among those things that I'd taken for granted as mid-20th-century reality were analyzed and ruminated upon in ways that I found fascinating. It's my favorite book that I've read so far this year.

Next on my blog (which will not take another month, promise): The Night Bites anthology, Joan Didion's Slouching Towards Bethlehem, and Megan Daum's The Unspeakable.