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dchaikin part 3 - more Greeks?

This is a continuation of the topic dchaikin searches for his inner Slothrop.

Club Read 2016

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Edited: Dec 3, 2016, 12:20am Top

The plan was the get to the Romans by now, but I've been sidetracked by Greek mythology, drama and more ancient influences on these from the East. Not sure how it will evolve. I should get back to Pynchon too, I think.

Old threads: 2009 Part 1, 2009 Part 2, 2010 Part 1, 2010 Part 2, 2011 Part 1, 2011 Part 2, 2012 Part 1, 2012 Part 2, 2013 Part 1, 2013 Part 2, 2013 Part 3, 2014 Part 1, 2014 Part 2, 2014 Part 3, 2015 Part 1, 2015 Part 2, 2015 Part 3, 2016 Part 1, 2016 Part 2

Edited: Jan 1, 2017, 7:30pm Top

Currently Reading:

- The Story of a New Name, Neapolitan Series Book 2 - Elena Ferrante (started Dec 22)

Currently Listening to:

Edited: Dec 29, 2016, 10:55pm Top

Recently read

Recently Listened to

Recently Abandoned

Edited: Jul 23, 2016, 4:24pm Top

2016 list of Books read - Part I Thread
Links go to posts in my part 1 thread


1. *** Archaeology and the Iliad: The Trojan War in Homer and History (The Modern Scholar) (CD Audio lecture) by Eric H. Cline (listened Dec 28 - Jan 6)
2. ***** The Iliad by Homer, translated by Robert Fagles (read Jan 1-23)
3. **** A God in Ruins (audio) by Kate Atkinson, read by Alex Jennings (listened Jan 6-23)
4. **** Why Homer Matters by Adam Nicolson (read Jan 24-31)


5. **** Our Souls at Night (audio) by Kent Haruf, read by Mark Bramhall (listened Jan 31 - Feb 3)
6. ****½ V. by Thomas Pynchon (read Dec 31 - Feb 11)
7. *** The Adventures of Ulysses: Homer's Epic in Pictures by Erich Lessing (read Feb 12-13)
8. *** In a Sunburned Country (Audio) by Bill Bryson, read by the author (listened Feb 4-17)
9. **** The Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Epic Tradition by Charles Rowan Beye (read Feb 13-18)
10. **** Dictionary of Word Origins by Linda Flavell & Roger Flavell (read roughly Sep 1, 2015 - Feb 23, 2016)
11. ***½ Homer (Past Masters) by Jasper Griffin (read Feb 24-25)


12. ***** The Odyssey by Homer, Robert Fagles translation (read Feb 21 - Mar 3)
13. **** The Iliad of Homer (The Great Courses) by Elizabeth Vandiver (listened Feb 29 - Mar 7)
14. ***** Homer's Readers : A Historical Introduction to the Iliad and the Odyssey by Howard W. Clarke (read Feb 27 - Mar 13)
15. ***** Being Mortal : Medicine and What Matters in the End (Audio) by Atul Gawande, read by Robert Petkoff (started Mar 7 - 17)
16. **** Poetry February 2016 (read Feb 28 - Mar 20)
17. **** The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon (read Mar 14-21)
18. **** The Odyssey of Homer (The Great Courses) by Elizabeth Vandiver (listened Mar 17-24)
19. **** Gratitude (Audio) by Oliver Sacks, read by Dan Woren (Mar 24-25)

Edited: Jul 23, 2016, 4:24pm Top

2016 list of Books read - Part 2 Thread
Links will go to posts in my part 2 thread


20. **** Mythology : Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes by Edith Hamilton (read Mar 22-31)
21. **** The Story of America: Essays on Origins (Audio) by Jill Lepore, read by Colleen Devine (read Feb 22 - Mar 31)


22. ***½ Poetry March 2016 (read Mar 22 - Apr 11)
23. ***** Jake & Violet (Terlingua, Far West Texas) by Larry D. Thomas (read April 19)
24. *** Poetry April 2016 (read Apr 12-29)


25. ***** The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration (Audible) by Isabel Wilkerson, read by Robin Miles (read Mar 31 - May 5)
26. ?? Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon (read April 1 - May 22)
27. **** A Gravity's Rainbow Companion: Sources and Contexts for Pynchon's Novel, 2nd Edition by Steven Weisenburger (read April 1 - May 22)
28. *** Theogony and Works and Days by Hesiod (read May 23-25)
29. ****½ The Homeric Hymns translated by Jules Cashford, notes by Nicholas Richardson (read May 25-30)


30. **** The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert, read by Anne Twomey (listened May 23 - Jun 3)
31. **** Slow Learner : Early Stories by Thomas Pynchon (read May 30 - Jun 4)
32. ?? The Persians by Aeschylus, translated by George Theodoridis (read Jun 6)
33. ?? Seven Against Thebes by Aeschylus, translated by George Theodoridis (read Jun 7-8)
34. **** Aeschylus, 2 : The Persians, Seven Against Thebes, The Suppliants, Prometheus Bound (read Jun 6-9)
35. ?? Babylon, Memphis, Persepolis : Eastern Contexts of Greek Culture by Walter Burkert (read Jun 11-16)
36. ** The Name of God Is Mercy (audio) - an interview of Pope Francis by Andrea Tornielli, read by Fred Sanders and Arthur Morey (listened Jun 15-17)
37. ***½ Seven brief lessons on physics (Audio) by Carlo Rovelli, read by author (listened Jun 17-20)
38. ***½ The Oresteian Trilogy: Agamemnon; The Choephori; The Eumenides by Aeschylus, translated by Philip Vellacott (read June 9-10, 17-22)
39. ***** Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth : Her Stories and Hymns from Sumer by Diane Wolkstein & Samuel Noah Kramer (read June 24-26)


40. *** Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff (read Jun 26 - July 2)
41. **** Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus, translated by Paul Roche (read July 2-3)
42. ****½ Sophocles I : Oedipus The King; Oedipus at Colonus; Antigone (The Complete Greek Tragedies), translated by David Grene, Robert Fitzgerald & Elizabeth Wyckoff (read July 3-4)


- The Witches : Salem, 1692 (audio) by Stacy Schiff, read by Eliza Foss (listened to 67%, Jan 23-31, April 10-12. Unable to follow and bored.)

Edited: Dec 29, 2016, 10:59pm Top

2016 list of Books read - this thread
Links go to posts in this thread.


43. **** Euripides I : Alcestis, The Medea, The Heracleidae, Hippolytus (The Complete Greek Tragedies) by translations by Richmond Lattimore, David Grene, Rex Warner & Ralph Gladstone (read July 5-9)
44. **** Iphigeneia in Tauris by Euripides, translated by Richmond Lattimore (read July 16)
45. **** American Girls : Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers by Nancy Jo Sales (read July 9-20)
46. **** How to Breathe Underwater by Julie Orringer (read July 10, July 20-23)
47. ****½ Evicted : Poverty and Profit in the American City (Audio) by Matthew Desmond, read by Dion Graham (listened Jul 14-27)


48. **** Orpheus and Greek Religion : A Study of the Orphic Movement by W. K. C. Guthrie (read July 24 - Aug 4)
Abandoned: The Babylonian Genesis : The Story of Creation by Alexander Heidel (Aug 5-6)
49. **** The Bacchae and Other Plays : Ion, The Women of Troy, Helen, The Bacchae by Euripides, translate by Philip Vellacott (read Aug 7-11)
50. **** Electra by Sophocles, translated by Anne Carson (read Aug 11-15)
51. **** The Big Short (Audio) by Michael Lewis, read by Jesse Boggs (listened May 5-17, read Aug 15-16)
52. ***** Nothing to Envy : Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick (read Aug 17-20)
53. *** Medea & Other Plays: Medea, Hecabe, Electra, Heracles by Euripides, translated by Philip Vellacott (read Aug 20-25)
54. **** Lysistrata/The Acharnians/The Clouds by Aristophanes, translated by Alan H. Sommerstein (read Aug 26-30)


55. **** Lab Girl by Hope Jahren, read by the author (listened Aug 15-27, Sep 3)
56. **** The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee, read by Dennis Boutsikaris (listened July 31-Aug 13, Aug 30 - Sep 3)
57. **** Sophocles II : Ajax; The Women of Trachis; Electra; Philoctetes (The Complete Greek Tragedies) - translated by John Moore, Michael Jameson & David Grene (read Aug 31 - Sep 5)
58. **½ Aesop's Fables for Modern Readers, illustrated by Eric Carle (read Aug 31 - Sep 5)
59. ***½ The Frogs and Other Plays by Aristophanes, translated by David Barrett (read Sep 6-8)
60. *** Vineland by Thomas Pynchon (read Sep 9-23)
Abandoned: White Trash : The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America (Audio) by Nancy Isenberg, read by Kirsten Potter (listened to 64% Sep 18-24)


61. ***** Sappho : A New Translation by Mary Barnard (Read Oct 9)
62. **** The Argonautika by Apollonius Rhodius, translated by Peter Green (read Sep 23 - Oct 12)
63. ***½ It's All Greek to Me : From Homer to the Hippocratic Oath, How Ancient Greece Has Shaped Our World by Charlotte Higgins (Oct 1, 13-16)
64. ***½ A Man Called Ove (Audio) by Fredrik Backman, read by George Newbern (listened Oct 6-17)
65. ?? If Not, Winter : Fragments of Sappho by Anne Carson (read Oct 16-19)


Abandoned The Revenant : A Novel of Revenge (Audio) by Michael Punke listened to 80% Oct 24 - Nov 1)
66. **½ Travelling Heroes : In the Epic Age of Homer by Robin Lane Fox (read Oct 20 - Nov 5)
67. **** The Gods of the Greeks by Karl Kerenyi (read Nov 5-12)
68. ***½ Gulp: Adventures On the Alimentary Canal (audio) by Mary Roach, read by Emily Woo Zeller (listened Nov 7-16)
69. ****½ H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald (read Nov 6-25)
70. ?? The Eclogues by Virgil (read Nov 26-27)


71. ?? The Georgics by Virgil (read Nov 27 - Dec 3)
72. ***** My Brilliant Friend (Neapolitan #1) (Audio) by Elena Ferrante, read by Hillary Huber (listened Nov 16 - Dec 5)
73. **** The Georgics by Virgil, translated by L. P. Wilkinson (read Dec 4-9)
74. **** Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers (Audio) by Mary Roach, read by Shelly Frasier (listened Dec 7-16)
75. ?? The Odes of Pindar, Second Edition translated by Richmond Lattimore (read Dec 11-18)
76. ?? Pindar's Odes translated by Roy Arthur Swanson (read Dec 10-20)
77. **** The Making of Donald Trump (Audio) by David Cay Johnston, read by Joe Barrett (read Dec 16-29)
Abandoned Far from the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity (audio) by Andrew Solomon, read by the author (Listened to 80% from Jun 3 through Oct 20 - realized it's maybe time to admit I'm only a little interested in finishing)

Edited: Dec 29, 2016, 11:00pm Top

books read by date published

BCE The Iliad by Homer
The Odyssey by Homer
Theogony and Works and Days by Hesiod
The Homeric Hymns
Aesop's Fables for Modern Readers
Sappho : A New Translation by Mary Barnard (c612 - c570 bce)
If Not, Winter : Fragments of Sappho by Anne Carson
Aeschylus, 2 : The Persians, Seven Against Thebes, The Suppliants, Prometheus Bound (472, 467, 463 & ??456?? bce)
Sophocles I : Oedipus The King; Oedipus at Colonus; Antigone (The Complete Greek Tragedies) ( ~429, 406/401, ~441 bce)
Sophocles II : Ajax; The Women of Trachis; Electra; Philoctetes (The Complete Greek Tragedies) (~440, ~450, ~409, 490 bce)
Euripides I : Alcestis, The Medea, The Heracleidae, Hippolytus (The Complete Greek Tragedies) (438, 431, ~430, 428 bce)
Medea & Other Plays: Medea, Hecabe, Electra, Heracles by Euripides (431, 424, 420 & 416 bce)
Lysistrata/The Acharnians/The Clouds by Aristophanes (411, 425, 423 bce)
The Bacchae and Other Plays : Ion, The Women of Troy, Helen, The Bacchae by Euripides (414, 415, 412, 405 bce)
The Frogs and Other Plays (The Wasps & The Poet and the Women) by Aristophanes (405, 422, 411 bce)
472 BCE The Persians by Aeschylus
467 BCE Seven Against Thebes by Aeschylus
458 BCE The Oresteian Trilogy by Aeschylus
456 BCE Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus (date controversial, 430 is another suggested date)
439 BCE The Odes of Pindar (written 498-439)
412 BCE Iphigeneia in Tauris by Euripides (date approximate)
405 BCE Electra by Sophocles (date approximate)
c250 BCE The Argonautika by Apollonius Rhodius
37 BCE The Eclogues by Virgil
29 BCE The Georgics by Virgil
1935 Orpheus and Greek Religion : A Study of the Orphic Movement by W. K. C. Guthrie (revised 1952)
1942 Mythology : Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes by Edith Hamilton
1951 The Gods of the Greeks by Karl Kerenyi
1963 V. by Thomas Pynchon
1965 The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon
1966 The Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Epic Tradition by Charles Rowan Beye
1969 The Adventures of Ulysses: Homer's Epic in Pictures by Erich Lessing
1973 Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
1980 Homer (Past Masters) by Jasper Griffin
1981 Homer's Readers : A Historical Introduction to the Iliad and the Odyssey by Howard W. Clarke
1983 Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth : Her Stories and Hymns from Sumer by Diane Wolkstein & Samuel Noah Kramer
1984 Slow Learner : Early Stories by Thomas Pynchon
1988 A Gravity's Rainbow Companion: Sources and Contexts for Pynchon's Novel, 2nd Edition by Steven Weisenburger (2006 edition)
1990Vineland by Thomas Pynchon
1994 Dictionary of Word Origins by Linda Flavell & Roger Flavell (revised 2010)
1999 The Iliad of Homer (The Great Courses) by Elizabeth Vandiver
The Odyssey of Homer (The Great Courses) by Elizabeth Vandiver
2000 In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson
2003 How to Breathe Underwater by Julie Orringer
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers (Audio) by Mary Roach
2004 Babylon, Memphis, Persepolis : Eastern Contexts of Greek Culture by Walter Burkert
2006 Archaeology and the Iliad: The Trojan War in Homer and History (The Modern Scholar) by Eric H. Cline
2008 It's All Greek to Me : From Homer to the Hippocratic Oath, How Ancient Greece Has Shaped Our World by Charlotte Higgins
Travelling Heroes : In the Epic Age of Homer by Robin Lane Fox
2009 Nothing to Envy : Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick
2010 The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson
The Big Short (Audio) by Michael Lewis
2011 My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
2012 The Story of America: Essays on Origins by Jill Lepore
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert
A Man Called Ove (Audio) by Fredrik Backman
2013 Gulp: Adventures On the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach
2014 Why Homer Matters by Adam Nicolson
Being Mortal : Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande
H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
2015 A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson
Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf
Gratitude by Oliver Sacks
Seven brief lessons on physics by Carlo Rovelli
Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
2016 Poetry February 2016
Poetry March 2016
Jake & Violet (Terlingua, Far West Texas) by Larry D. Thomas
Poetry April 2016
The Name of God Is Mercy - an interview of Pope Francis by Andrea Tornielli
American Girls : Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers by Nancy Jo Sales
Evicted : Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee
The Making of Donald Trump by David Cay Johnston

Edited: Jul 16, 2016, 10:52pm Top

Homeric theme

The plan

1. The Iliad - Robert Fagles translation - January (read)
2. The Odyssey - Robert Fagles translation - February (finished in March)
3. Mythology - Edith Hamilton - March (finished in March)
4. Hesiod - April - (finished May 25)
5. Homeric Hymns - May (finished May 30)
6a. - Various Greek Tragedies
6b. - Various ancient eastern myths
6c. Argonautika
6. Virgil’s Aeneid - June
7. Ovid’s Metamophoses - July
8. The White Goddess - Robert Graves - August
9. The Greek Myths - Robert Graves - September
10. The Quest for Theseus - Anne G. Ward - October
11. The Song of Achilles - Madeline Miller - November
12. Ulysses* - James Joyce - December

*admittedly, this is the least likely one I'll get to.

Books I have read on this theme:
Iphigeneia in Tauris by Euripides - July
Euripides I : Alcestis, The Medea, The Heracleidae, Hippolytus (The Complete Greek Tragedies) - July
Sophocles I : Oedipus The King; Oedipus at Colonus; Antigone (The Complete Greek Tragedies) - July
Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus, translated by Paul Roche - July
Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff - July
Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth : Her Stories and Hymns from Sumer by Diane Wolkstein & Samuel Noah Kramer - June
The Oresteian Trilogy: Agamemnon; The Choephori; The Eumenides by Aeschylus, translated by Philip Vellacott - June
Babylon, Memphis, Persepolis : Eastern Contexts of Greek Culture by Walter Burkert - June
Aeschylus, 2 : The Persians, Seven Against Thebes, The Suppliants, Prometheus Bound
Seven Against Thebes by Aeschylus, translated by George Theodoridis - June
The Persians by Aeschylus, translated by George Theodoridis - June
The Odyssey of Homer (The Great Courses) by Elizabeth Vandiver
Homer's Readers : A Historical Introduction to the Iliad and the Odyssey by Howard W. Clarke - March
The Iliad of Homer (The Great Courses) by Elizabeth Vandiver - March
Homer (Past Masters) by Jasper Griffin - February
The Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Epic Tradition by Charles Rowan Beye - February
The Adventures of Ulysses: Homer's Epic in Pictures by Erich Lessing - February
Why Homer Matters by Adam Nicolson - January
the chapter of “Odysseus' Scar" in Mimesis by Erich Auerbach - January
The War That Killed Achilles by Caroline Alexander - December 2015
The Gods of Olympus: A History by Barbara Graziosi - November 2015
Ulysses Found - Ernle Bradford - July 2015
Stickman Odyssey : An Epic Doodle : Book One - Christopher Ford - 2013
Stickman Odyssey: Book Two: The wrath of Zozimos - Christopher Ford - 2013

Other books I'm considering (I'm open to suggestions)
The Odyssey - Graphic novel -Gillian Cross & Neil Packer
Mary Renault - The King Must Die, The Bull From the Sea, The Mask of Apollo
Carl Kerenyi - The Gods of the Greeks (1951?) - bought in March
The Argonautikca - Apollonios Rhodios, trans Peter Green - bought in March
Omeros by Derek Walcott
The Bloomsday Book by Harry Blamires - to read with Ulysses
James Joyce's Ulysses by Stuart Gilbert - to read with Ulysses
The Long Ships by Frans G. Bengtsson

Edited: Jul 11, 2016, 4:20pm Top

Pynchon Theme

The plan, part 2

(1963) V. 560 pages - January (finished Feb 11)
(1966) The Crying of Lot 49 192 pages - February (finished Mar 21)
(1973) Gravity's Rainbow 800 pages - March/April (with A Gravity's Rainbow Companion by Steven C. Weisenburger) (finished May 22)
(1984) Slow Learner (Short Stories) - May (finished Jun 4)
(1990) Vineland 400 pages - June
(1997) Mason & Dixon 800 pages - July/August
(2006) Against the Day 1104 pages - September/October
(2009) Inherent Vice 384 pages - November
(2013) Bleeding Edge 500 pages - December

Edited: Dec 29, 2016, 11:08pm Top

Some stats:

Books read: 77
Pages: 13515; Audio time: 204:38 (8.3 days, or ~5684 audio pages)
"regular books"**: 44
Formats: Paperback 27; audio 22; hardcover 17; e-book 8; eMagazine 3;
Subjects in brief: Non-fiction 34; Classic 28; Ancient 28; Poetry 15; Drama 14; On Literature and Books 11; History 10; Novel 9; Science 9; Journalism 9; Memoirs 4; Essays 3; Anthology 3; Nature 3; Interviews 2; Short Stories 2; Biography 2;
Nationalities: United States 32; Greece 24; England 8; Italy 6; Austria 1; Germany 1; Iraq 1; Scottland1; India 1; Sweden 1; Hungary 1;
Genders, m/f: 49/19 (mixed or indeterminate: 9)
Owner: Books I own 33; Library books 40; Online 4;
Re-reads: 4
Year Published: 2010's 25; 2000's 8; 1990's 4; 1980's 4; 1970's 1; 1960's 4; 1950's 1; 1940's 1; 1930's 1; BCE 28;

Books read: 863
Pages: 238,845; Audio time: 876:51 (36.3 days, or ~24,357 audio pages)
"regular books"**: 566
Formats: Hardcover 198; Paperback 471; ebooks 65; Audio 88; Lit magazines 38
Subjects in brief: Novels 217; Non-fiction 385; Poetry 73; Drama 18; Graphic 42; Juvenile 32; Speculative Fiction 65; History 146; Science 70; Nature 53; Journalism 78; Anthology 44; Short Story Collections 29; Essay Collections 30; Classics 82; Biographies/Memoirs 158; Interviews 13; On Literature and Books 44; Ancient 50
Nationalities: US 540; Other English speaking countries 154; Other countries: 170
Genders, m/f: 572/213
Owner: Books I owned 580; Library books 209; Books I borrowed 63; Online 10
Re-reads: 17
Year Published: 2010's 160; 2000's 260; 1990's 150; 1980's 101; 1970's 45; 1960's 32; 1950's 22; 1900-1949 25; 19th century 14; 18th century 0; 17th century 3; 16th century 3; 0-1499 1; BCE 47

*well, everything since I have kept track, beginning in Dec 1990

**"Regular Books" excludes audio, lit magazines, small poetry books, juvenile, graphic novels, podcasts, etc. It is just meant to count regular old books that I picked up and read.

Edited: Jul 11, 2016, 7:14pm Top

43. Euripides I : Alcestis, The Medea, The Heracleidae, Hippolytus (The Complete Greek Tragedies)
published: 1955 (my copy is a 26th printing from 1993)
format: 224 page Paperback
acquired: May 30 from a Half-Price Books
read: July 5-9
rating: 4 stars

Each play had a different translator

Alcestis (481 bce) - translated by Richmond Lattimore c1955
The Medea (431 bce) - translated by David Grene c1944
The Heracleidae (circa 430 bce) - translated by Rex Warner c1955
Hippolytus (by 428 bce) - translated by Ralph Gladstone c1942

Perhaps the most significant remark about Euripides and Sophocles is that supposed to have been made by Sophocles, that he himself showed men as they ought to be (or as one ought to show them) but Euripides showed them as they actually were.” - from Lattimore's introduction.

That is a bit of silly comment because no one stands and delivers long, uninterrupted dialogues about private thoughts which they don't actually want anyone to know about. But the statement does have some logic. Sophocles characters are higher, more heroic in statement and action. Euripides characters aren't. Even his heroes and gods speak very regularly. In translation, the works come in long inexorable monologues that don't appear to translate well to poetry, and that don't really strike the reader, or at least didn't strike this reader, until later on when you realize how terrible everything turned out and how terrible it was what they thought, said and did. They create what I like to think of as the build up of a quiet hidden energy, of a very dark sort. They also end almost suddenly, and certainly not in any satisfying manner.

These are the four oldest of Euripides plays. Each seems interesting in taking a very dark happening in the mythology, and dragging it out, putting words to these terrible things.


Before the opening of the play: Apollo was sentenced to serve Admetus, a king in Thessaly, for a year. Treated well, he rewards Admetus. He helps Admetus to do some impossible tasks to win the hand of Acestis as his wife. But, in the process, Admetus forget a critical sacrifice to Artemus, who plans to have him killed by snakes. Apollo miraculously negotiates with the Fates and gets Admetus's life an extension - but someone must volunteer to die in his place. No one would agree to this, not even his aging parents. Finally Alcestus agrees (making her, apparently, an ideal Ancient Greek wife.)

That all happens off the stage, and is never explained within the play. The play opens with Alcestic about to die, and Apollo negotiating for her life with death himself, Thanatos. Apollo, fails, but promises to send Heracles to make things right. Meanwhile, Alcestis has to die, and her husband, and children and servants must witness it. This tragedy is the heart of the play.

Heracles shows up, unaware of anything. The mourning is hid from Heracles, who proceeds to get drunk and happy and then get confused about why no one will join him. But, what is strange to me, is that even though Heracles does create a happy ending, the tragedy is what hangs around.

This was not Euripides first play. He had been writing for years. But this is the oldest we still have.

The Medea

This seems to be Euripides most important play(??). Medea, a conflicted hero from Jason and the Argonauts, is, here, a fascinating character. She is the barbarian from the east (from the Black Sea), unstable, uncivilized, a ruthless personality and a sorceress. When she falls for Jason, part of how she saves him is till kill her own brother in a boat chase, cut him up into pieces and scatter the pieces, forcing her own kingdom's boats to stall and pick up the pieces. That was not her most brutal action. And her story is long.

Here in the play, Jason has spurned her and their children and become engaged to a princess of Corinth. He does this for political advantage (he's in a bad spot because of Medea's latest crimes). Medea explodes in a spectrum of emotions of anger, jealously, etc. And then she plots, and she acts, concealing her true emotions from the other actors, but not from the audience. She will manipulate a safe haven for herself in Athens, gift the princess with a poisoned dress, kill her own children to thoroughly ruin Jason, and then flee in her magic chariot of sorts. As Jason, who is thoroughly ruined, tries to confront her. But she, still fresh from killing her own children, rails at him with a prolonged bitter speech that has not even the slightest hint of remorse. Medea will carry on.

The Heracleidae

This is apparently something of a rushed drama with a political point. In the real world context, Athens recently caught five foreign diplomats on a mission dangerous to Athens. They were summarily executed, without even being given a promised chance to make a public statement.

Here Heracles has died, and his sons are on the run under a protector. Their king, Eurystheus, treated Heracles so badly, that he feels he must kill the children to prevent their vengeance. The city of Athens agrees to protect the children and a war ensues. Later, Eurystheus is captured, and confronted with the mother of Heracles, Alcmene. She demands his death, immediately. But, in the process, loses her dignity in her rage, while the bad Eurystheus oddly establishes a dignity we didn't know he had.

Another key oddity here is the voluntary sacrifice of Macaria, a daughter of Heracles. For battle success, human sacrifice was considered essential, and she volunteers for the sake of her brothers.

Much to be uncomfortable with here. But, really, that is also true of the previous two plays too.


This was my favorite because it didn't leave me so uncomfortable. But, still, it's tragic. Phaedra, wife of Theseus, king of Athens, has fallen in love with her stepson, Hippolytus. She collapses into a self-destructive depression. Her not-so-bright maid tries to help her, and finally pulls out of her this very private and terrible thing that is bothering her. Then the maid tells Hippolytus(!!)...and the tragedies ensues (in far excess of reason).

Phaedra is the main interest here, making a psychological study that is really interesting. But I also found it interesting to read an ancient Greek playwright's description of an earthquake and consequence Tsunami.


Euripides so far strives at making the viewer/reader uncomfortable. He is interesting, but he's not fun like Sophocles was. The reward is, well, unclear. The art is in the complexity of our response, one that seems fully molded, intentionally, by the playwright. I'll read more, but I won't anticipate them so much as brace myself for them.

Jul 13, 2016, 4:45pm Top

That sentence about picturing men as they should be or as they are is famous in France... except it's applied to Corneille and Racine. I had no idea it had older roots.

Hippolytus must be one of the sources for Phèdre, one of my favorite reads last year.

Enjoying your literary experiences, as always.

Jul 14, 2016, 7:18am Top

Thank Florence. Apparently Racine was basically modernizing Hippolytus. It should be the same story. (I wonder if Phedre has an earthquake & tsunami). And interesting that the line from Sophocles has gotten recycled.

Jul 14, 2016, 1:20pm Top

Nope, I don't remember an earthquake. There was a sea monster at the end though (offstage).

Jul 14, 2016, 1:35pm Top

I continue to be amazed and impressed by your devotion to a theme. There's so much value in delving deeply into something, and yet I can't imagine doing it myself. :)

Jul 14, 2016, 4:45pm Top

Medea is the only Geek drama I have read and I found it more than uncomfortable. Great to follow your reading.

Jul 14, 2016, 9:21pm Top

>14 FlorenceArt: sea monster, huh. That's an interesting twist.

>15 ursula: Thanks Urusula. Obsessions have their pluses and minuses. It's been an entertaining year so far.

>16 baswood: Thanks Bas. Medea leaves quite an impression.

Edited: Jul 23, 2016, 5:10pm Top

44. Iphigeneia in Tauris by Euripides, translated by Richmond Lattimore
with editor’s foreward by William Arrowsmith
first performed: circa ~412 bce
translation 1973
format: 90 page hardcover
acquired: borrowed from library
read: July 16
rating: 4 stars

The library said that because of a hold it was due in only two weeks, instead of the usual six. So, I decided to read it right away.

This was a nice change from Euripides earlier plays. This play has a more dynamic feel. Prolonged brooding or angry monologues are reduced, and a lot of fast paced and very entertaining dialogue is added in, lightening the whole play. There are curiosities, like a shepherd's description of Orestes getting hounded by Fates, which the shepherd can't see. This is a tragicomedy, and there is a surprising scent of charm here, even if the end seems to fall apart.

As for the plot, Iphigeneia survived being sacrificed to Atremis, rescued by the goddess herself. She now runs a barbaric temple for the goddess in the Black Sea, in Tauris where Atremis is worshiped under a different name. This community visited, in secret, by her brother Orestes, hounded by the Fates for killing his mother. Neither suspects the other to be there, especially as Orestes knows Iphigeneia has long been dead.

Jul 23, 2016, 6:07pm Top

45. American Girls : Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers by Nancy Jo Sales
published: 2016
format: 388 page hardcover
acquired: borrowed from library
read: July 9-20
rating: 4 stars

This book had me completely freaked out. The stories these girls tell, and the facts that Sales provide are shocking and depressing. Thirteen-year-old boys routinely texting girls they know for nude pictures of themselves, and the girls unable to say something reasonable, like "are you fucking insane?" Instead they feel they have to laugh it off (except when they say ok). And the bullying these girls take online from friends and strangers, causing them all sort of drama that only exists online. Real world friends and family, like their parents, have no clue what is going on. The the reversal of feminism, the objectification of women as sex objects, comparing themselves to Kardashians, girls who are replaceable by an endless pool of other girls online, who routinely deal with boys who want rougher sex like all that they find in online porn. Sales begins with the porn and seems to pin everything there.

Some (abbreviated) quotes just to highlight where this book was taking my sense of parental worry:
"Social media is destroying our lives," one of the {teenage} girls said...

"So why don't you go off it?" I asked.

"Because then we would have no life,"


In a regular case...a boy who asked for nudes could be handled with humor, they said. It must be humor, never anger..."If you get mad they'll think you have no chill. They'll be like, OMG, like chill, I was just asking. But if you say no and laugh, they'll think you have chill. They judge you if you don't send nudes, like you're a prude. But if you just laugh, then they'll be aggravated, but they won't do anything."


A 2015 study...found a possible link between anxiety in girls ages eleven to thirteen and seeing images of women being sexually objectified on social media. Girls this age were significantly more likely to feel nervous or show a lack of confidence than they were just 5 years ago, according to the study...

It seems relevant that it is in about the last 5 years that the majority of girls have gotten smartphones


She posited that at the onset of adolescence, girls' confidence levels drop as they begin to become aware of their own objectification and sexualization in the wider world. "They lose their resiliency and optimism and become less curious and inclined to take risks,"..."They lose their assertive, energetic and 'tomboyish' personalities and become more deferential, self-critical and depressed. "

- "she" is author Mary Pipher. The quotes come from Reviving Ophelia, from 1994.

The book follows girls by age, each chapter focusing on one teenage age, from 13 to 19. Each chapter mainly reports various interviews Sales did of many girls in different situations and lifestyles. Much of the chapters are taken up by direct quotes. The reader can feel the Sales's usually unstated sense of shock. These stories are wild and tell things I never would have expected.

As the girls get older, the effects of social media become hard to separate from other cultural factors and the book, unable to separate them, loses focus. Her 18 year-olds will provide sharp and perceptive criticisms of social media. Some of them have given it up. Her 19 year-olds tend to be in a university setting, in the midst of all the sexual activity going on there. Shocking as these stories, they aren't new. Many of us witnessed all this stuff ourselves in this setting. And social media is reduced to just another stress on relationships. It was interesting that these kids don't go on dates.

The book evolves in these kinds of horrors of info:

on hookup culture:
"Conservatives sort of love all the stuff I’m saying", Donna Frietas says, “but it’s really hard to get liberal woman to have this conversation ... Big-time feminists won’t go near hooking up because they see it as sexually liberated. But I’m looking at it on the ground, and it doesn’t hold up as sexual liberation. Hookup culture is incredibly antifeminist culture. It’s the antithesis of empowerment and choice.”
on the routine normal-ness of sexual harassment in school:
A national survey in 2011 by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) of students grades 7 to 12 found that 'sexual harassment is part of everyday life in middle and high schools.' Nearly half (48%) of students surveyed experienced some form of sexual harassment in the 2010-11 school year, and the majority of those students (87%) said it had a negative effect on them.
And, a maybe apt summary:
"And he would post pictures of other girls and I would tweet about my experience with guys. I acted like I didn't care. Nowadays, if you care, you're dumb."

I finished the book really disturbed by the trends. I hate to see my girl heading into this world.

But ... this stuff is really anecdotal in sum. Sales is a journalist, not a sociologist and her reporting is of the girls she met. If she found a more extreme story, one where social media led to suicide, or documented some terrible event, she was sure to report it here. Also, a lot of this stuff has been going on for a long time, and was happening well before social media entered our culture. Horny boys have been assholes for a long time, and girls have always been by trying to make boys happy, either by giving in or playing them off some other ways. This is part of the nature of adolescence. The atmosphere is always moving, and it might be getting worse. It is uncomfortable that so much is happening online, outside the awareness of parents and teachers, and it's painful to see public school choose, as policy, to not look into it. This might be leading to more abuse and might be pushing culture to one of less respect for woman, a reversal of feminism.

I feel a little tied up in how to respond to this book overall. But, Sales brings a great deal of information that needs to be discussed - on topics really pertinent to girls, boys and their parents. I think it's a valuable book for any of us here that deal with kids, girls or boys.

Jul 23, 2016, 7:15pm Top

Social media is a scary thing, for parents of boys as well as girls, as if adolescence wasn't hard enough on everybody! I know my kids were always mad at me for not letting them have a computer in their room (until they were over 18 and had their own laptops). Even then had some issues to deal with due to online "stuff".....

Jul 24, 2016, 6:36am Top

Again, and although I haven't read her books, I would suggest reading Danah Boyd. She is a sociologist, and tries at least to separate effects of long standing trends (teens use social media to do what teens have been doing long before them), other contemporary trends (teens use social media as a substitute for meeting their friends in real life, which is not always possible) and effects purely attributable to social media (I don't have an example because I haven't read her books but I'm sure there are). Unfortunately she doesn't write very well, and that's part of the reason why I haven't read her.

Jul 24, 2016, 8:45am Top

Good review. I did find the most interesting part of this book was the part stuck on at the end which brings up that issue you mention -- that feminism has failed to even discuss whether or not the hook-up culture is healthy. I understand the reluctance, especially when women feel under attack for any choice they make involving their own sexuality, but the conversation needs to be had.

And while the smart phone culture that teenagers live in can feel like a negative to adults, I was reminded of its value when my daughter's friends, who all live in and around Munich, were quick to contact each other and reassure each other. And the prevalence and speed of social platforms was used that evening to make connections and to let people know where they could go when the public transportation shut down and they couldn't get home.

Jul 24, 2016, 1:49pm Top

>20 avidmom: yeah, it there is a lot scary about it that I would have never worried much about it I didn't have kids. My kids don't want a computer, just a device.

>21 FlorenceArt: noting, Florence. I'll see what my library has.

>22 RidgewayGirl: on hookup culture- I found that section fascinating, even as it's not all that different than it was when I was that age. I just never thought about it from rounded perspective.

yeah, there are real benefits to this stuff. And Sales really doesn't look into the positive aspects at all. And she really doesn't deal with "normal" girls all that much, those who can balance all the social media stuff without getting hurt. That's what I was thinking about while reading. Are these girls in the book the norm, or are they just the problem cases? What percentage handles this in a mostly positive way?

Jul 25, 2016, 7:42am Top

>19 dchaikin: While the facts about teenagers and their use of social media these days does not actually (or unfortunately?!) surprise me, I think the book might be very interesting. Do you think it is helpful if teenagers read it? To make them become more aware of what is going on? I will be teaching a course on the benefits and risks of social media this fall and I was just thinking that it might help high-school students to read some passages from the book.

Jul 25, 2016, 7:52am Top

>24 OscarWilde87: I was wondering something along those lines while reading it. I'm kept thinking that I wish my daughter would read this or that part. On my one hand I think it's fine for teenagers to read. Any disturbing stuff they probably already know - or should know. On the other hand, it's a bit wordy and long. You might find, if you read it, that assigning/recommending specific section might be better than the whole book.

Jul 25, 2016, 8:40am Top

American Girls was overly-long. I thought the author just couldn't bear to leave out any of the conversations she collected. A lot of repetition and so many examples. It would have been a more effective book were it more focused (the last chapters were more substantial) and a few hundred pages shorter.

Jul 25, 2016, 11:20am Top

>25 dchaikin: Now I will definitely have a look into the book, so thanks for reading, reviewing and commenting. I thought of assigning one- or two-page (max) passages that are rather straightforward. Reading the whole book would not fit in with the rest of the syllabus, anyway.

Edited: Jul 25, 2016, 11:23am Top

>26 RidgewayGirl: Oh, just read your comment, so sorry for double-posting here. I guess I might have a look at the last chapters then to find some passages that I can use for class.

Jul 26, 2016, 12:44am Top

Great review, Daniel. After reading all your comments, I recommended American Girls to a friend. I think the book will be an eye-opener for her.

I agree with your assessment that "a lot of this stuff has been going on for a long time, and was happening well before social media entered our culture." My feeling is that social media just gives kids instant access to participate in this behavior, without a good mechanism for impulse control. Press send in an instant and consider the consequences later (or not at all). Plus, once something is put out there, all control over content is lost. I wonder what impact this will have on their behavior in the workforce. It will be interesting to see if the pendulum begins to swing the other direction with the next generation.

Jul 26, 2016, 2:42pm Top

What a great review. I totally agree with your comments. My husband and I have often talked about how it was confusing enough being a teenager when we were growing up but at least you could shut the door on a lot of stuff after school. Social media has just dumped 24/7 A-grade social pressure on kids, and it makes me so angry.

We laugh at the bullshit posts of the perfect family life some of our so-called friends on FB try to portray, but teenagers - and especially young girls - can't see through the BS, and even if they can they're at that age where social acceptance is everything (whereas who gives a crap once you're older).

I recently wanted to hook up with an old school friend I'd lost touch with who isn't on FB but I remembered her daughter's name who's now 15. Her FB page wasn't restricted, and I couldn't believe the Kim Kardashian-esque selfies she had plastered all over her page. Like 100s of them. I am definitely no prude, but 15 year olds posting provocative pouty pics in bra tops and teeny shorts with the buttons undone is just so sad. I noticed the scores of approving comments from boys I assume she is at school with, and something in my heart sank at the thought that this is what teenage girls have to do now to be socially cool. It's so obvious a comment can raise self esteem through the roof or crash it throw it off a bridge in an instant.

And don't get me started on Tinder and the new world of booty calls. It seems that dating normality has gone out the window.

I have no idea how I'll begin to navigate this territory when my kids get to this age. I think girls are under particular pressure, but boys are also under significant social media pressure to be popular and fit the cool mould. I think shrinks are going to be getting a lot of business from this generation.

Jul 26, 2016, 10:10pm Top

>26 RidgewayGirl:, >27 OscarWilde87:, >28 OscarWilde87: Thinking more on the content, I actually found the different sections to have different values. So, Oscar, you might also look through the chapter of age of your students.

>29 This-n-That: Thanks Lisa! and Hi. Kids can get really tied up in this emotionally - the social media stuff. They can be really scarred by it.

>30 AlisonY: Alison, This post is so true. And, what you describe about your friends daughter, that kind of stuff is exactly what Sales goes off about on the younger and mid-teens. It's the immaturity that leads to kids getting into these kinds of things where they do stuff because they get "likes" and attention, when what they are really getting is mockery and encouragement to do more. And they obsess. Kids, no girls, girls spend endless effort prepping for and doctoring selfies, and then timing when best to post them. And they can get so keyed up and obsessed on the response. I honestly hadn't thought about how kids going through adolescence are so much more exposed to getting caught up in this. I mean most of us can get caught up anticipating a response to something we post somewhere online. But the basic mechanism to control that isn't something we're born with. It's a learned thing.

Jul 27, 2016, 10:29am Top

I am eternally grateful that I did not grow up in the social media age. High school was bad enough without all the extra pressure social media presents.

Jul 28, 2016, 11:50pm Top

>32 Narilka: Gale - what a different world that was.

Jul 30, 2016, 12:32pm Top

re- posting in correct thread...

46. How to Breathe Underwater : Stories by Julie Orringer
published: 2003
format: 226 page trade paperback
acquired: borrowed from library
read: July 10, 20-23
rating: 4 stars

(side note: This was my second consecutive book by a South Florida author. They grew up both in time and place very close to where I did, and in a world very similar to mine. I like to think that affected my response.)

Let's not jump to conclusions. This collection has a lot to offer, if you let it. It was a great experience for me. But I cannot come with a positive way to introduce them. The killer intro goes something like this - this is a collection of sad stories from the perspective of passive teenage and pre-teen girls, in a style that has clear links/lineage to the notorious now-unoriginal Iowa Writer's Workshop. And it lives in that era of technological transition, the far off 1990's when the internet was still peripheral. These characters still used cassette decks in their cars, even though CD's were better, and they used film(!). That all seems like a lot to be up against. Sure, there is a dark humor, and stories that consistently evolve, through there own structure, into something more. Well, that last bit is a lot, no?

I was wondering, as I read these short stories, whether they might be in the order she wrote them. Probably not, but it would make sense because there is an evolution. The early stories push to extremes. The character can't just lean over the edge, you know...well, that's a spoiler, sorry. Anyway, the writer is arguably forcing the issue, except that the stories still work. I liked them. The middle stories are notable for their strong endings. I don't mean something clever happens. I mean, the stories build to this ending, and the endings do lots of really good things all at once. They are simply terrific. The lead-in to that end, though, can be kind of plain and unoriginal. The extremes fade out. The later stories just feel more mature. There is no need for extremes. The setting can be unoriginal, but takes are - how can I say - there is a lot going on, throughout. No more need for a ending to resuscitate, even the construction is working.

But, that's just me being wordy and silly. These are dark humor takes on the lives of young girls. They tend to be Jewish, they tend to be passive, and they tend to have some very tough experiences. Sometimes the storis are just dark. And sometimes they more than that. They can cathartic, and they can touching and they can just be really nice stories, whatever that means. And there is, I think, a struggle in them. An author is trying to be original, and trying to both use and get out of that IWW story-killing funk. But these stories are here because they are successful and do manage that. I thought they were terrific.

Notes, story by story:

New Orleans alternative Thanksgiving from hell. Story goes to limit, then crosses, so to speak.

When She is Old and Famous
Good and bad, but interesting overall, regardless. The main characters, Americans in Italy, are unrealistic extremes, and unoriginal in their contrast. One is a successful model as a teenager, and the other is, apparently, an unrealistically promising, overweight unattractive artist.

Isabel the Fish
The main character is survivor of a crash that killed her brother’s girlfriend. Note that ending was really nice, makes up for the all the awkward and unoriginal aspects of the rest of the story. These strong endings becomes more of a theme in the later stories.

Note to Sixth-Grade Self
Written in the format of instructions and advise. This works, but, if not for the ending, this story stinks. Ending hits a lot of good notes. The rest of the story reads like something she turned in for an Iowa Writer’s Workshop assignment

The Smoothest Way is Full of Stones
This story hit a lot of high notes for me. I loved the setting, that of a reformed Jew, younger (?) teenager in an orthodox Jewish setting and sincerely trying to fit in. It gives this story a lot of spirit and cathartic sense - and that’s just one aspect. Another strong ending. My favorite story.

Dark humor in San Francisco, as the druggy young aunt cares for her 6-yr-old niece for the day, fighting drug craving and toeing the edge of sanity and disaster the whole time. Fun. Very IWW too.

Stars of Motown Shining Bright
Another strong ending takes a moderately good story and makes it very good. An very entertaining take on Chekhov’s gun. Dark humor throughout.

What We Save
Another really strong story, but it works the whole way. Mom, dying of cancer, takes Helena and her sister to Disney World to meet her high school sweetheart and his family. Helena takes in a lot of tough stuff. There is dark humor, but mostly, again because of that end part, this is touching and really sad. All gears in use here.

Stations of the Cross
If these stories are in the order they were actually written, I wouldn’t be surprised. Because they get stronger and the author maturity improves. This is the story of a really confident writer. The setting is cliche, black kid in the religious/conservative southern white world, and the ending is only ok, but the story works in every way.

Edited: Jul 30, 2016, 8:37pm Top

47. Evicted : Poverty and Profit in the American City (Audio) by Matthew Desmond
reader: Dion Graham
published: 2016
format: digital audiobook (10:46)
acquired: borrowed from my library
read: July 14-27
rating: 4½ stars

A view into the really down and out America. Desmond, who is a sociologist, did a kind of immersion journalism where he lived in a trailer park in Milwaukee, WI for a period, and then moved to Milwaukee's north side African-American slums. In both cases he managed to become very close with several residents and maintain a relationship with their landlords. In the north side he found a slumlord who welcomed him and gave him a lot of access to her daily life.

The narrative, similar to that in Behind the Beautiful Forevers, gives the real lives of these people in story form, with Desmond edited out of the picture altogether. (At the end, he reports on his own influence on the stories.) The people he follows are those getting evicted, and what led them to their situation, and what they do about it. It's a really powerful look. I didn't realize, for example, that a family cannot rent a place to live in a semi-major American city for less than ~$600 a month. For these families that was 80 to 90% of their income, generally from welfare of some sort. One woman was making $625 a month and paying $600, and she had two kids with her. I also didn't realize 1 in 8 renters gets evicted across the country. Or that these landlords are making a killing, and only because they are slumlords. They could not make the same money by renting good apartments that would require significant costs for upkeep. These mobile homes and slum apartments basically cost mortgage only (usually with higher interest rates).

Highly recommended, as these are stories that need to be told, and show problems that probably do have reasonable solutions, even if they are anathema to trump-filled American politics. Other countries, the UK comes to mind, handle this problem much better.

Aug 2, 2016, 5:38pm Top

>34 dchaikin: sounds like an interesting collection of stories. You're an interesting reader, Dan - you keep surprising me by reading books that I wouldn't have thought would have been up your street at all. A definite literary dark horse!

Aug 3, 2016, 8:18am Top

A dark horse? I think I'm flattered. I haven't yet figured out what kind of reader I actually am, Alison. These reading plans are just my thing of the moment, even if I have been following them for several years. (As a kid I once decided I was going to read our Encyclopedia Brittanica, even though I didn't read much and read very slowly. I started with A. Not sure I made it 'Ab'. Now, with Wikipedia, those are hard to find. ) Orringer was a nice surprise.

Aug 3, 2016, 9:35am Top

>38 AlisonY: it's definitely fun to break out from the reading plans every once and a while. I think that's what brilliant about CR - I've been encouraged to read books that I would never normally have picked up.

Aug 3, 2016, 10:07pm Top

Whew! I just caught up on your thread. What interesting conversation your reading always initiates. You have such a wide variety, I always find something interesting. The Social Media conversation is particularly interesting. Four of my grandchildren are of an age, but only the oldest is on Facebook, and she is now 20. She has always been quite responsible, so I haven't seen anything I'd be uncomfortable with. But I know Social Media is a worry for so many parents.

Aug 4, 2016, 7:52am Top

>38 AlisonY: CR sent me out on my first buying binges. It was all the new-ish contemporary fiction that originally caught my interest here. (Avaland, Darryl, RidgewayGirl etc.)

But, reading plans are an oddball thing as they never seem to work ( except when they do). Breaking out of them is all too easy, and often a good thing.

Aug 4, 2016, 7:59am Top

>39 NanaCC: my kids have been at summer camp (without electronics) since I read the social media book. So I have all these worries and nothing to check them against...

It is a really interesting and important topic, and there is a lot of good info in Sales book.

Edited: Aug 6, 2016, 12:04pm Top

48. Orpheus and Greek Religion : A Study of the Orphic Movement by W. K. C. Guthrie
with an introduction by Larry J. Alderink (1993)
Published: 1935, revised 1952
format: 326 page hardcover
acquired: from library
read: Jul 24 - Aug 4
rating: 4 stars

This book was difficult for me, and I'm left wondering how much I got out of it, and of what use any of it was. As I understand Orphism was a religion and a philosophy of life that is basically lost to history. We think it led to an ascetic life for its most devout followers. We think it has core texts that are now lost. (although the Derveni papyrus, found after this book, appears to be one of these texts.) We think it influenced Pythagoras and his followers to a great degree, and we think we see its influence in many other places. Aeschylus and Euripides refer to it both directly and discretely. Aristophanes makes fun of it, discretely. Plato criticizes it heavily, but also has a strongly mystical side that seems to have been heavily influence by Orphism, in striking ways, although never directly acknowledged. He is Guthrie's main evidence of the the significance of Orphism. And the short section on Plato is the most fascinating and most moving in the book. And, finally, we know the Neoplatonists of the Roman era found Orphism very signifcant...but we don't know how much their Orphism had anything to do with the 6th-century Orphism that would lead to Pythagoras and Plato.
"Having taken the plunge into this dark and torturous labyrinth, what thread are we going to catch hold of in order to make our way back to where there is at least a patch daylight on which we can fix our eyes amid the surrounding gloom?"
Orpheus, was, of course, the musician whose lyre charmed the underworld and who almost got his dead bride, Eurydice, back. He was much more than this, though, and the Eurdice story is much younger than other Orphic stories. In Thrace he had given up women (although the homosexual element is only implied. He was asexual) and lured the men to him with his music. Thracian women in a jealous Dionysian frenzy tore him apart...and yet his dismembered head continued to sing.

The full details of the religion had a lot of oddball characteristics, and had its own cosmologies, inconsistent among themselves. These were inconsistent with Hesiod and Homer, but still had many parallels with them, and with other eastern mythologies. Despite the above, Ophism was closely associated with Dionysos/Bacchal worship, and is historically viewed as a civilizing force on these worshippers. It's worth a moment to consider where this comes from. Here is Guthrie's take on the common impression of the festival worshiping Dionysos - the Bacchante:
"The worshippers trail dancing over the mountains, using various means to induce in themselves the condition desired, namely 'madness ' or ecstasy. They utter loud cries, they make music with flutes and cymbals. Arrived at the culminating pitch of frenzy, they tear and eat raw an animal victim. Dionysos appeared to them in the form of a bull. The ultimate aim was union with the god, by the attachment of ecstasy and the sacred meal to become oneself a Bakchos. "
Looking at my notes, which are actually brief, I was surprised to find that the boring introduction by Larry J. Alderink was the clearest part for me of the whole book. From there I get some apt summaries:
"Viewing Orphism as a reform of Dionysiac energy in the direction of Apllonian sanity allows us to focus on the two deities who are polar opposites yet mutually attracting in Orphism. "


"On Guthrie's interpretation, Orphic writers sifted through popular religious attitudes to organize their own set of beliefs, at the center of which was the myth of the dismemberment of Dionysos by the Titans, the revenge Zeus took by striking the Titans with lightning, and finally the birth of human beings from the smoldering ashes. Eschatological doctrines could easily be derived from such a myth: human nature, derived from Titanic actions, is evil, but escape from an evil present is possible through proper ritual practices and a strenuous ascetic life. "
It seems Orphism was an oddball in Greek religious life that was hard to reconcile for most Greeks. Its ideas of original corruptness and a striving for a better afterlife have some striking parallels with Christianity.

As for Guthrie himself, reading him was interesting in many ways. First, although he is difficult (partially because of the topic), he has a charm that is hard to find these days. One can imagine the text as a lecture given by a well spoken expert. Also, his writing is early enough that he has to deal with a lot of proof of the basics, the kind of stuff that just gets put into citations in modern books. So, he does a lot of the fundamental reasoning of the facts of his day, often tearing apart his predecessors. And, what comes out of that is a really nice methodology of working with limited facts and constructing from it an argument of great value than those source elements. I can't say I recommend him or this dated book to a reader who is just a bit curious on Orphism, but it is nice to know it was there and served a part of the making of our historical reconstruction.

Edited: Aug 7, 2016, 5:40pm Top

The Babylonian Genesis : The Story of Creation by Alexander Heidel
Published: 1942, 2nd edition 1951
format: 166 page Hardcover
acquired: from my library
read: 115 pages on Aug 5-6
rating: 2 stars

I stumbled into Heidel. He seemed knowledgeable in his intro, notes and translation, but once he started analyzing, he undermined any strengths he might have had. He comes across as manipulative, unreliable, and, ultimately for me, unreadable.

I've wanted to read the Enûma Eliš for a while. This year I have come across several references to Middle Eastern influences on Greek literature, and then read Diane Wolkstein's translation/re-telling of Inanna/Ishtar. So, this was a great time to read this and I was looking forward to it. A quick library catalogue search brought up this book.

The actual translation of the Enûma Eliš takes 43 annotated pages. The translation seemed OK. The story itself was interesting but not really a great read, as it's so painfully political. It tells of creation and the lineage of various Sumerian-regional gods and how Marduk, Babylon's own god, ended up becoming their leader. Creation begins with Apsû, who may represent fresh water, and his wife Tiamat, who represents the ocean, and, perhaps, chaos or the deep unknown. Their children include Anshar and Kishar, who give rise to Anu, who fathers Ea (Sumerian Enki), who fathers Marduk. After many odds and ends, Apsû is killed by Ea, but Tiamat can only be taken by a well-armed Marduk. In return for leadership over all the gods, Marduk slays Tiamat, splits her body into two, and use half to form heaven and the other half to form earth. He then has her general, Kingu, executed. From his blood comes mankind, whose purpose is only to serve the gods.

Heidel follows this up with various other Sumerian-era fragments and a couple old Greek accounts. The history of one goes like this:
The other Greek account if that of Berossus, a priest of Bel Marduk at Babylon. It is taken from his history of Babylonia, which he compiled from native documents and published in Greek about 275 B.C. His writings have perished, but extracts from his history have fortunately been preserved to us. The preservation of the Babylonian creation story we owe to a monk in Constantinople commonly known as Syncellus, or Sunkellos (eighth century A.D.), who derived his material from the lost 'Chronicle' of the church historian Eusebius of Caesarea (ca A.D. 260—ca. 340); and Eusebius, in turn, derived it from the works of Alexander Polyhistor (last century B.C.)
And yet, this account has turned out to be remarkably accurate.

All this seemed mostly OK, although Heidel scattered a few odd comments, proclaiming a sense of certainty where it clearly doesn't belong. When he moved on the the Biblical comparisons he lost me. His use of words like "plainly" and "clearly" and "cannot" in contexts where nothing was plain or clear, and nothing as certain as "cannot" can possible be said, drove me nuts. They are red flags. He plays a lot of other tricks too, confusing the issue to makes his otherwise weaker points. I found that I started to doubt everything he has said. It all started to feel manipulated. I quit with maybe 25 pages of real text to read. I just saw no reason to keep going. Poor Heidel has been slashed from any future reading I might do on these subjects.

Aug 7, 2016, 6:11pm Top

So Dan while I have been drinking my life away at the Jazz music festival, you have been frightening yourself half to death with sensational stories about modern living or losing yourself in esotericism. Terrific reviews which I assume you will find useful to remind yourself about the books you have read, while other library thing readers will find in them essential signposts for their own reading.

Fortunately I don't have any teenage children and have never faced eviction and so I feel a bit like a spectator at a sporting event reading your reviews.

Aug 7, 2016, 6:37pm Top

Nothing wrong with being a spectator, especially with the Olympics in full swing.

Thanks for the nice post, Bas. I think my last couple reviews can only scare Club Readers away. (Although I'm fond of my Guthrie review, perhaps unreasonably so.) Writing them helped me, anyway.

Aug 7, 2016, 11:40pm Top

>43 dchaikin:

So I was pondering your Heidel review and was struck by your comments about feeling manipulated by an author. I do understand what you mean as I have felt the same, most recently by the author of a quasi historical fiction novel. Somehow, it seems worse to feel manipulated in the context of non-fiction writing though, as readers need to be able to rely on the validity of the research and facts presented in the book.

Aug 8, 2016, 7:01am Top

Hi Lisa. Right, it's worse in nonfiction, and irresponsible if the author is creating an argument. And, when something as hot as the history of the bible gets involved, well, as a reader we're on high alert for this kind of stuff. I suspect Heidel didn't feel he was doing any such thing. (And some readers adore him). But he absolutely was.

Aug 8, 2016, 7:46am Top

>46 This-n-That: >47 dchaikin: Probably unanswerable, but is it worse when someone is transparently trying to manipulate the arguments to fit their agenda, or when they get away with it and you don't notice you've been manipulated?

Aug 8, 2016, 12:17pm Top

>45 dchaikin: Just wanted to let you know that your reviews don't scare Club Readers away, I think. I always enjoy reading them and admire you for your devotion to the Greek theme.

Aug 8, 2016, 2:33pm Top

Great reviews, Dan. My brain hurts for you - tough reading choices lately!

Aug 9, 2016, 11:10am Top

Too much to respond to here! First - so glad your girls are at an electronic free camp. My daughter spent (parts of) four summers at one and marvels sometimes at how relaxing it was once she got over being maddened by it! They were isolated enough that there was no reception for any kind of wireless devices, so even sneaking them in was a waste of time, and no electricity in any cabins, so charging anything was impossible. I do remember how much she hated it at the time!

Anyway - I wonder if each generation faces challenges which they then take for granted but also drag along with them as baggage into the next generation? Your comments about feminists being reluctant to deal with "hooking up" fits that. The reality is that some things don't really change, I guess, they shift and adapt and find new ways to weasel along (I'm thinking of the inevitable horniness of young men!).Even so it does seem though as if certain things are speeding up and intensifying.

No one wants to deal with this aspect of these issues, but I suspect the flood of hormones into teenage girls and boys are the underlying factor of most behaviours, which seem, really, to shift and adapt and stay remarkably the same with each generation. I'm suspicious that the loss of confidence comes at exactly the same time as menses. And I'm even more suspicious of it all after the shift in my own emotional life with menopause. In some ways it feels like a return to full sanity, as I was at 11! My husband complained (humorously, to be sure) after a discussion about something or other the other day, "You argue like a man now!"

Anyway, I tried to talk frankly about this idea with my daughter when I felt she was ready for it (fifteenish?) - my hope being that if she could be aware of her emotions and certain inclinations she could step back from them at least some of the time. Has it worked? Maybe, some of the time?

All I remember from high school and Euripedes was really not enjoying those plays AT ALL.

Very good review of the Guthrie! There's a whole raft of post-Jungians into archetypal psychology that draw out of this Orphic area - interesting stuff. James Hillman is one name that comes to mind.

Aug 9, 2016, 1:42pm Top

>48 thorold: "Probably unanswerable, but is it worse when someone is transparently trying to manipulate the arguments to fit their agenda, or when they get away with it and you don't notice you've been manipulated?"

Interesting question! Only the former strikes our emotions, whereas the later slides by unnoticed. So we want to point to the ones we catch and say how horrible they are, while failing to acknowledge that, assuming we are right(!), we were fortunate they weren't clever enough to hide it better.

Aug 9, 2016, 1:55pm Top

>49 OscarWilde87: Thanks Mr. Wilde. We are a resilient tolerant bunch.

>50 AlisonY: Thank you for your sympathy on my self-inflicted reading pains. : )

>51 sibyx: Interesting post, Lucy. I wonder how different our world is than it was 100 years ago. And do some cultures manage adolescence better? And, if so, how do they do it? (and is it worth it?)

I briefly looked up James Hillman. My first impression was that I'm not ready to walk out onto that much uncertainty. But the more I read, the more interesting he seemed.

Aug 9, 2016, 2:32pm Top

>53 dchaikin: I've always assumed that adolescence is a modern invention.

Aug 9, 2016, 2:57pm Top

>54 FlorenceArt: Imagine what would happen if Lydia Bennet were let loose with a smartphone...

Aug 9, 2016, 4:46pm Top

>55 thorold: I think my definition of modern includes Lydia Bennet. But it's a scary thought nonetheless.

Aug 9, 2016, 10:02pm Top

>55 thorold: this comment makes me smile

>56 FlorenceArt: your first statement makes more sense now. When we were all living to about 25 or whatnot in the middle ages, all the serfs and poor anyway, what was adolescence?

Aug 10, 2016, 1:07am Top

Imagine what would happen if Lydia Bennet were let loose with a smartphone...

Ha, what a thought! She'd probably have a back-up smartphone, just in case she drained the battery in the first one. Thanks for making me laugh. :)

Aug 13, 2016, 12:08pm Top

>58 This-n-That: this idea still makes me smile. Looking backward, the weather apps would have made Odysseus's return much easier, and I guess any map apps would have helped Moses. However, smartphones would could have had an entertaining affect on the Iliad. (I better stop as, in my head, I'm starting to compare the gods' appearances to Pokémon.)

Edited: Aug 21, 2016, 11:23am Top

49. The Bacchae and Other Plays : Ion, The Women of Troy, Helen, The Bacchae by Euripides
Translated by Philip Vellacott, 1954, revised 1973
format: 249 page Penguin Classics paperback
acquired: from my library
read: Aug 7-11
rating: 4 stars

Ion 414 bce
The Women of Troy 415 bce
Helen 412 bce
The Bacchae 405 bce (posthumous)

Back around July 4 Liz (ELiz_M) recommended, or mentioned in an appealing way at a personal weak moment, The Bacchae as translated by Anne Carson. I tried to follow up on this through my library, and came up with a compromise—I picked up this book, translated by Vellacott, and then picked up Elektra, translated by Anne Carson. Very different, but both appeal.

These are all late plays from Euripides. They show a lot of developed complexity compared to the collection of earlier plays I read previously. His understated satire is still prominent, but has become much more sophisticated and not entirely negative. His play structure no longer feels like a selection of long dull monologues that only affect in sum, and that are entirely disturbing. They are more dynamic, they keep the reader/viewer entertained, and still, there is so much going on behind the words that is completely counter to what is overtly being said. In sum, these are complex and interesting works that deserve multiple readings...but I have only read them once so far. They are also largely anti-war statements, a reflection of his times.

Euripides lived from c. 480 – c. 406 bce. This meant he lived through Athens 50 years of Greek dominance that lasted from roughly the battle of Salamis in 480 to the beginning of the Peloponnesian war in 431. Athenian citizens would struggle during the long wars with Sparta, especially during the last tens years, and Athens eventually lost in 404 bce. Euripides left Athens late in life, retiring in Macedonia.

Ion 414 bce
I can't recall how I know the story of Ion, but it must be somewhat common knowledge. Fathered by Apollo, his mother, Creusa, abandons him, then later becomes wife of the ruler of Athens, and barren. Ion is raised in Delphi by Apollo worshipers and becomes and attendant at the temple. Years later Creusa comes to Delphi to ask Apollo about her son. In the ritual process, her husband, Xuthus, is told that Ion is his own son and Creusa and Xuthus take him home to Athens to be their heir.

The play has many comic elements, such as when Ion and Creusa first meet and, not knowing who each other are, tell their parallel stories. Creusa's are told as if they are the tragic story of her close friend. But the heart of this story seems to an exploration of truth and how to deal with its uncertainty. Ion is quite a lovely character, but the more he learns the less he can be certain of. Even Athena's appearance does not really help. We sense, along with Ion, a great deal of uncomfortable doubt as the play closes.

The Women of Troy 415 bce
A really sad play set in Troy just after its fall. The Trojan women have lost their luxury, their sons and husbands and any hope for the future. They are to become slaves. Hecabe, queen of Troy, morning the loss of her husband and most of her children, including Hector, is the focus as she looks ahead to her future life of slavery. She is assigned to Odysseus. Cassandra, not yet raped, and knowing all that will come ahead, makes an appears, as does Andromache, who still has her and Hector's son. Then Helen appears. Her situation is in notable contrast to the hopeless defeated lives around her. Helen still has a future. Her speech is striking for its lack of guilt. But her words can be read in contrasting ways, making her the most interesting part of the play.

The Women of Troy was written in the shadow of the Battle of Melos in 415 bce. Melos had tried to stay neutral between Athens and Sparta. Athens attacked and had every man who could bear arms executed and enslaved the women and children.

Helen 412 bce
A surreal plot, has Helen sits in Egypt, trapped. She never was taken by Paris to Troy, but instead a ghost made of air was taken. The play is about her getting reunited with her husband, Menelaus, and their comic escape from Egypt. But, the unstated point is that Trojan war and all it's consequences were for nothing but a puff of air. It's a very strong antiwar play, told in a way to get past the Athenian censors.

The Bacchae 405 bce (posthumous)
Written in exile, and free of Athenian wartime censorship, Euripides put his whole life of play-writing into the The Bacchae. On the surface it's the story of how Dionysus, still a young unproven god, takes revenge on his family, rulers in Thebes. His cousin, Pentheus, bull-headed ruler of Thebes, has fiercely banned worship of Dionysos and this Bacchanal frenzy. But, worship continues. Dionysus uses the frenzy as his tool. He sets up Pentheus to be torn apart alive by his own mother and his aunts.

It's, first, a curious look into (the mythology of?) Bacchic worship and its rituals. Worshipers are viewed as promiscuous and insane, but are actually quite modest in their actions. A contrast is explored between the controlled cities and their view on what they see as civilization (think war-time, repressive Athens) and humanity's animal natures. It's the most interesting play of Euripides that I've read.

Edited: Aug 13, 2016, 5:49pm Top

>59 dchaikin: Oh gosh. Me thinks, you totally suffering from Greek mythology overload!! ;)

>60 dchaikin: I have forgotten most of the details I learned in high school about Helen of Troy, etc., and I don't recall learning highly detailed information anyway. Not that I should be surprised but I don't recall ever hearing anything about Bacchic worship in mythology. Even historically, it is interesting and equally disturbing how some groups got a bad reputation based on incorrect information or misunderstandings about their beliefs or actions.

Aug 13, 2016, 5:48pm Top

>60 dchaikin: I am so glad you enjoyed The Bacchae! It was a favorite from a college theater class, many many years ago.

Aug 13, 2016, 6:45pm Top

>61 This-n-That: Lisa, before I started on this trek, I didn't know Bacchus and Dionysus were the same...I didn't know anything about Dionysus...except some incoherent bits about women in frenzies. In school we seems to have spent time on some basic Greek mythology, but the racy stuff was left out. So, this was all new to me. Trying to get this stuff straight was one of my hopes this year. However, what I've actually learned, made clearest to me by Guthrie, is that there isn't a straight story. There are just a bunch of stories that don't all mesh and often completely contradict, and a bunch of gods of varying importance in each story. (For a lot of these stories we only have accidental awareness through archeology and whatever odds and ends the classical world, the world of Islam and medieval Europe managed to pass along. And much of that is oblique, mere reference or even intentionally obscured or encoded.)

Pentheus, as the ultimate bull-headed conservative fool who demonizes the other, whatever the other might be, comes up a lot in history, doesn't he?

>62 ELiz_M: Liz, I loved the The Bacchae, and it was a perfect follow up to learning about Orphics, who had ritual associations with Dionysos. Now I need to read the play a few more times...

Aug 14, 2016, 6:36am Top

Interesting Dan that you are already considering re-reading some of the plays. Great reviews

Aug 14, 2016, 7:15pm Top

Bas - the Greek tragedies are worth spending more time on. For one thing, there is a lot going on (sometimes in a minimal use of plot or setting - but these seem to get more complex over time), for another, translations are only approximate. And translations one brings out different aspects of the play...and the translators.

Aug 18, 2016, 8:27am Top

I'm way behind here! I did read your excellent review of American Girls and the superb comments about it. I bought Evicted earlier this year, and I hope to get to it in the fall.

Aug 18, 2016, 1:32pm Top

If you want to test out Hillman, I would recommend Re-visioning Psychology - the mass of work, however, is so thought-provoking. He is a very good writer, thankfully, not "easy" to read, but not difficult, always lucid and accessible.

Edited: Aug 19, 2016, 12:41pm Top

50. Electra by Sophocles, translated by Anne Carson
introduction and notes by Michael Shaw
editors’ forward by the general editors of series, Peter Burian and Alan Shapiro
first performed: c. 405 bce
translation 2001 (Anne's introduction comes from a 1993 lecture)
format: 130 page Oxford University Press paperback
acquired: borrowed from my library
read: Aug 11-15
rating: 4 stars

Just another Greek Tragedy, but this was different in presentation. Anne Carson's translation was excellent and brought alive the tension in Electra's language in the first key first parts of this play. And the two introductions, one by Shaw and the other by Carson, pick apart the play and it's structure, revealing a lot more of what is there.

The play itself is a tragedy with a "happy" ending. Electra is trapped, living with her mother and her mother's lover, she is in serious danger, and cannot marry and bear any children. She can only cooperate. But, her brother Orestes will rescue her by killing their own mother, Clytemnestra, and her lover, Aegisthus, with the help of some clever word play.
(in front of a covered corpse, that Aegisthus does not know is Clytemnestra.)

This isn't my corpse—it's yours.
Yours to look at, yours to eulogize.

Yes good point. I have to agree.
You there—Clytemnestra must be about in the house—
call her for me.

She is right before you. No need to look elsewhere.
Clearly a happy play.

Electra, despite her trap, becomes a presence. She maintains pitiful public devotion to her father, living miserably in mourning, and, in doing so, skillfully wields some power and influence. At the heart of this play is Electra's language and how she works over the other characters. She becomes the fury who harasses the murderers.
By dread things I am compelled. I know that.
I see the trap closing.
I know what I am.

Aug 19, 2016, 1:30pm Top

50. The Big Short by Michael Lewis
reader: Jesse Boggs
published: 2010
format: 9:29 digital audiobook and 266 page hardcover
acquired: borrowed both from my library
read: listened to 87% May 5-17, read last 66 pages Aug 15-16
rating: 4 stars

In a nutshell, this about the bastards who got rich on the 2008 US subprime mortgage crash. Lewis is a really good at this stuff, so we learn to really like all these guys, as unpleasant as some of them are, and we learn to appreciate all the effort and knowledge they used to figure this market out. They made a killing, but as the collapse happened and was so big, threatening the entire banking system, one of their biggest fears was where to find a safe way to cash in.

Lewis provides an insightful analysis of what a happened in 2008, what the root causes were, how everyone missed it, and what the consequences were for the bankers. Lewis makes it fun, but it's sad. Every key player got rich, even the ones who misread everything and lost billions for their companies. They all walked away with millions, leaving their companies in disastrous shape, the US tax payer stuck with the bill, and, of course, all those given impossible loans without their homes.

I can't say it's the best book on the subject, as it's the only one I've read, but it's entertaining and worth a read.

Edited: Aug 21, 2016, 11:27am Top

>60 dchaikin: correction... on the Mytilean revolt...

I had confused the Mytilean revolt of 428 bce with the battle of Melos in 415 bce - 'cause it's all new me.

So... in the Mytilean revolt, Athens shut down the revolt and had the supposed 1000 ringleaders killed. They seriously discussed killing all the men, but voted against it as a token of moderation. Euripides response was the play Hecabe in 424 bce. In the Battle of Melos, Athens had all the men who could bear arms executed and then had all the women and children enslaved. Euripides response was the Women of Troy, presented that same year (he wrote fast).

I'm fixing my review in post 60.

Aug 21, 2016, 9:40pm Top

Interesting reviews and discussion, as always, Dan. Your Pokemon comment gave me a laugh.

Aug 21, 2016, 10:49pm Top

Hi Colleen. Thanks. We have a split household. One child is obsessed with Pokemon, and the other is mortified we have anything to do with it.

Edited: Aug 22, 2016, 6:31am Top

52. Nothing to Envy : Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick
published: December 2009
format: 315 page hardcover
acquired: borrowed from my library
read: Aug 17-20
rating: 5 stars

It's very strange how little we know of what is happening inside North Korea. Demick provided a rare view in through the personal stories of six defectors. These are amazing stories of a very strange place, a real-world 1984 where the ruler is presented as a god, and his son and successor as the son of god. Where everyone watches everyone, and a well liked person can get in trouble for stating out loud the slightest criticism of the government. It's a country so closed off that the best and brightest and most supported students have never used the internet. North Korea is off the grid.

But, this Orwellian world collapsed. After the Soviet Union dissolved, it stopped financially supporting North Korea, and the country, far from self-sufficient, began an economic collapse and then an all-out starvation throughout the 1990's. You might have heard something about this, along the lines of President Clinton frustrated North Korea refused to shut down it's nuclear weapons program in return for foreign aid. But, with such a closed off country, there was no real coverage, there were no visuals, no striking dramatic pictures. I have to admit I missed the whole famine. All of North Korea was starving, perhaps 2 million of a the 23 million population died, and some 40% of the children of that period have life-long symptoms related to starvation. I had no idea.

And yet the power structure did not waver. North Korea remains, along with Cuba, the last of the communist holdouts.

For such a well reviewed book, there is not much I can add to the picture. I am surprised both at how little information Demick was able to present, and how much she made out of it. An oddity of North Korea's famine is that there were no refugees. It's not that hard to get to China if one is desperate enough, but the numbers of Koreans trickling through was pretty small, and, for various reasons, the numbers welcomed to South Korea, whose official policy is to welcome North Koreans as fellow countrymen, is minuscule. A couple hundred a year through the 1990's, and maybe a couple thousand a year through the early 2000's. These are all Demick was able to interview, and, for these stories, she only interviewed 100 people. Of course, she only presents six life stories. But what lives.

Aug 22, 2016, 8:29am Top

>68 dchaikin: (etc.)

I've been following your Greek adventures with interest, Dan, and realising how very little I remember from school and subsequent dips into the Classics ... I don't think I've quite got the motivation I'd need to get my Greek working again, but I do feel I ought to try to read a few translations, or maybe see some stage productions. TBR permitting!

Aug 22, 2016, 11:04am Top

>73 dchaikin: I found Nothing to Envy fascinating but chilling.

Aug 22, 2016, 1:54pm Top

>73 dchaikin: This sounds very interesting.

Aug 22, 2016, 5:58pm Top

>73 dchaikin: Nothing to Envy was a really interesting read about a thoroughly odd and disturbing society. There was a recent BBC documentary by a journalist who visited North Korea, who eventually got through out. They were trying to tell him how things had changed and that all their students now had full internet access, but when he asked to see it no-one seemed to know what to do and suddenly the excuses about how there were server problems that particular day came out. I think the refugees' stories really are the only idea we're ever likely to get of what it's really like.

Aug 23, 2016, 5:09am Top

Great review of Nothing to Envy, Dan. Hopefully I'll get to it in the next year or two.

Aug 23, 2016, 8:37am Top

>74 thorold: Mark - if I can encourage you, let me know. : )

I'm impressed you have Greek to try to get working. That would be overkill to me - since I've never managed a 2nd language. I would love to see a production of one of these plays.

>75 rebeccanyc: yes, that, and many more adjectives.

>76 OscarWilde87: recommended

(Side note: I'm thinking it's the kind of nonfiction book that has almost universal appeal to readers)

>77 valkyrdeath: the documentary sounds really interesting. One of the (many) oddball things about NK, is that when aid agencies came to see how they could help, NK would be careful to hide the worst problems and only show the people best off. (Also, aide agencies couldn't track where their aide went. )

>78 kidzdoc: Darryl - one of the six is a doctor. And, of course, famine is ultimately a medical problem (gone out of control). Highly recommended for you.

Aug 24, 2016, 3:48am Top

Enjoying your reviews. I enjoyed Nothing to Envy - for me, by focusing only on six people I got a real human sense of ordinary lives in North Korea.

Aug 24, 2016, 9:03pm Top

>79 dchaikin: Sounds good, Dan. I have a copy of it around here somewhere...

Aug 27, 2016, 5:36pm Top

>80 AlisonY: - Alison, I completely agree. They drive the narrative too. I mainly only thought about the personal stories while reading.

>81 kidzdoc: I'm sure it's in your tiny little pile of TBR's.

Edited: Aug 27, 2016, 11:59pm Top

53. Medea & Other Plays: Medea, Hecabe, Electra, Heracles by Euripides, translated by Philip Vellacott
translation 1963
format: 200 page Penguin Classics paperback, 1968 reprint
acquired: 2006, from my neighbor
read: Aug 20-25
rating: 3 stars

Reading all these Greek tragedies, in a sort of sum affect, makes the Greek mythological stories seem ridiculous. I think this especially true with Euripides. There is this sort of un-serious element, a sense of mockery. Each of the three tragic Greek playwrights finds the most extreme, hardest to fathom elements of the mythology, and foregrounds it in their plays. And, it just seems that in same way Hollywood today mocks our religious and moral background, undermining in sum, even if not in intention, Greek drama undermines Ancient Greek beliefs and moral standards.

Well, that was a bit convoluted. I'm trying to compensate, because this book didn't offer much to me. Medea was a re-read. Hecabe was forgettable, Heracles is over-dramatic and Electra has it's own issues. Not my favorite plays.

Medea 431 bce
This is really a great and disturbing play and re-reading it does add a bit, but doesn't make it any more pleasant. Reviewed above, >11 dchaikin:.

Hecabe (aka Hecuba) 424 bce
Hecabe is Hector's mother. So, she loses everything in the Trojan war and lives a bit to suffer through it. That's the setting here. She has to experience watching her last daughter, Polyxena, condemned to be a human sacrifice to Achilles. Then, immediately after, she learns of the murder of her one remaining son, Polydorus, who had been sent off to another kingdom for protection. He was murdered by his protector, King Polymestor of Thrace. Lots of inadequate dramatic words. All is not lost, as Hecabe gets a chance to get revenge on Polymestor. Her fellow Trojan woman slaves will set a trap, blind Polymestor and kill his sons. So, at least it's a happy ending...

Electra 420 bce
The Sophocles play of this same name is powerful, and complex and interesting. With that in mind, I found this play bewildering in its plainness. At one point Euripides makes fun of a scene in Aeschylus's play with Electra, The Libations Bearers. It's legitimately funny and it's all told straight, with only sarcastic humor. After that scene, I tried to read sarcasm into the entire remaining play...and it all made perfect sense. I guess a lesson is one should be careful not to take these too seriously.

Heracles 416 bce
Heracles probably deserves some more reflection, but it was so over-dramatic, like a constant high pitched scream, that the thought-provoking affect was lost one me.

With Heracles away, we watch his wife, Megara, human father, Amphitryon, and his children deal with being condemned to pubic execution. They go back and forth between hope and acceptance. At the last moment Heracles arrives and saves them. But, then, immediately, the Goddess Iris has the goddess Madness drive Heracles into an insane episode where he kills his wife and children. An accountant might point out that he came out one family member ahead, Amphitryon lives.

In the emotional fall out, Heracles goes through emotional episodes that include an expression of doubt of all the gods, since gods can only do good. He is doubting what is essential to his own existence, as his real father is Zeus. (I should point out that the actors seem a bit uncertain on this).

There is a lot going on in the play. Notable is, first, how the family responds to being condemned to die, and, second, the doubt in the belief in the gods expressed by Heracles. Euripides is supposedly reflecting his times and the tangled debate going on in and around 5th-century bce Athens about what to believe. This is interesting, and maybe I will get something out of it on a re-read, but right now I need a play with less melodrama.

Aug 28, 2016, 12:06am Top

It is always interesting to read your updates, Daniel. This is the most I have learned about Greek tragedies since high school. I hope you find a book with less drama to chase this one with.

Aug 28, 2016, 12:24am Top

Thanks Lisa. Aristophanes is next and he wrote only comedies.

Aug 28, 2016, 3:55am Top

I'm so glad you are reading all this for me Dan. Thank you for the great reviews!

Aug 28, 2016, 5:56am Top

I'm sure it's in your tiny little pile of TBR's.

Ha! You know me too well (although that may be the case for all of us).

Keep up the good work on reading the Greek plays.

Edited: Aug 28, 2016, 7:11am Top

>83 dchaikin: Hunh, I must have read the Euripedes version of Antigone (in addition to the Jean Anouilh version), because remember being baffled about it -- why was it such a big deal.....

I'm sorry the Alley Theater isn't performing any Greek plays for you this season. (Although, I might be hard-pressed to find a performance in NYC, as well. Maybe one of the off-off-off-off-off Broadway performances in a Church basement.)

Aug 28, 2016, 1:52pm Top

Enjoyed your reviews of Euripides.

Aug 28, 2016, 3:07pm Top

An interesting play to follow up Electra with is Mourning Becomes Electra.

The endurance of the Kim regime in North Korea is truly astonishing. Great review.

Aug 28, 2016, 3:11pm Top

An interesting follow up to Electra is Mourning Becomes Electra. And I too appreciate your Greek reading adventures.

The endurance of the Kim regime in North Korea is nothing less than astounding.

Edited: Aug 28, 2016, 10:37pm Top

>86 FlorenceArt: thanks Florence

>87 kidzdoc: Thanks Darryl

>88 ELiz_M: Think you mean Electra. But, funny enough, he did write a play titled Antigone. But it's lost. (But, you know, a poor translation of Sophocles' Electra could have seemed plain. The magic is all in Electra's (the character's) language.)

Goodness, I wish I had been responsible enough to even check local theater schedules. I haven't been to the theater here in ages, for anything. To think we had season tickets to the Alley at one time.

>89 baswood: Thanks bas

>90 sibyx: So, Lucy, I own a book with this Eugene O'Neill play. What are the chances of that?!! I'm tempted, but as I looked up the book and found it's a 200 pages, it's a trilogy of plays, I'm not sure I want to detour there. Thinking about it, though. (The book, which is an undated Modern Library edition, possibly printed in 1932, is called simply Nine Plays...my edition is here; https://www.librarything.com/work/50951/details/10995967 ).

Edited: Sep 3, 2016, 5:01pm Top

55. Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
read by the author
published April 2016
format: digital audiobook (11:30)
acquired: library
read: Aug 15-27, Sep 3
rating: 4 stars

When the dazed feeling left my senses, and the rather overwhelming thump on my head applied by grad school finally started to heal, I found myself employed with a regular job, and the whole academic world very very distant. But before all that I had envisioned myself as a life-long academic studying geology, doing a kind of romantic research I had constructed in my head, one that involved going to far off places and hanging with a lot of rocky landscapes…living a life a lot like Hope Jahren’s, albeit trying to avoid her plants for the rocks.

There are several different aspects that make up this book - it’s a memoir, and it’s the life of scientist. It’s a rather intimate look into the nature of all those plants all around us—the ones getting sparser and sparser. It’s the real and imagined insecurity of being a woman in a academic field, and unproven, and doing unorthodox and original research. It’s a coming of age story. And, perhaps mostly, it’s the story of a relationship between a female research scientist and her life-long male assistant - a strikingly intimate and interdependent relationship, yet one with no actual physical contact. Hope Jahren is happily married with a son. Bill, her assistant since she was a grad student, gave her a hug once in congratulations of having a baby. It was, apparently, the first time he had ever hugged her.

There is a lot going for this memoir. Jahren is well read, and has a strong literary sense. She maybe tends to get a bit melodramatic at times (and she reads it that way too, making it more prominent…but she’s a wonderful reader) but she is a writer. She is also an original scientist. Her main interest seems to be specifically her lab, and research possibilities provided by having this lab. But she also has a scientific curiosity drive. Her research direction seems to be along the lines of how plants intentionally change their environments to suit themselves and their offspring better, something counter the conventional wisdom she was trained in.

But, the thing that hooked me on to this book from intro was that she gives a sense of the seriously stressful life of a academic researcher in a “curiosity” field. The way she lives for her research, the sacrifices she makes to get and use her limited funding, the students she encounters and the way she teaches them, the many unexpected surprises along the way, all this fascinated me to no end. I found myself returning to that grad student, overwhelmed and clueless and immature and, frankly, stupid; getting lost, as my own stressed out professors merely looked on. They, like Jahren, had no idea what to do with the likes of me, other than hope we turned ourselves around, or, instead, just quickly got ourselves out of the way. And I found myself wondering where I went wrong and what life I could have led had just been a little tougher and little more mature. And also I found myself thinking…thank goodness I avoided all that stress. Jahren is, if nothing else, incredibly intense.

I’m glad I stumbled across this memoir, care of my library's audiobook collection. Recommend to those whose interest lies this way.

(End note: I haven’t finished yet. My digital borrowing period ended Saturday at 1:53 pm, with 7 minutes left on the book.)

ETA - got it back and finished.

Aug 29, 2016, 8:08pm Top

It sounds as though the book stirred up some "if only" feelings? Sometimes certain things trigger those types of thoughts for myself, which is kind of a downer. I am sorry you missed out on the last 7 minutes of the audiobook. Ouch!! Hopefully you will be able to borrow again, if no other reason than to satisfy your curiosity.

Aug 29, 2016, 8:09pm Top

>93 dchaikin: I've been curious about this one. I think I'll get on the library wait list. Sounds appealing.

Aug 29, 2016, 9:04pm Top

>93 dchaikin: I added that to my list a few weeks ago. Sounds like it's worth reading.

Aug 30, 2016, 5:55am Top

Great review of Lab Girl, Dan. I'll add it to my wish list.

Aug 30, 2016, 6:01pm Top

>94 This-n-That: Lisa - I found it really interesting to listen to someone else's story going through all that. Of course, I have some regrets, but it's not my life is terrible. (although the oil price crash has been hard on me)

>95 japaul22:, >96 valkyrdeath:, >97 kidzdoc: Hope you all give it a shot. There are universal aspects, but some aspects might be specific to certain interests or moods or whatnot.

Aug 31, 2016, 10:00am Top

I've heard good things about Lab Girl and I appreciate your Greek reviews.

Sep 1, 2016, 9:41am Top

So academic life is more stressful than working in industry? Enjoyed your review Dan and how it made you look back on your days as a student.

Sep 4, 2016, 10:10am Top

Great review of Lab Girl. Especially your reflections on your own life that it triggered. Roads not taken and all that.

Sep 5, 2016, 5:23pm Top

Sorry for the late replies. I'm adjusting to a new schedule as my kids and wife started school.

>99 rebeccanyc: Thanks Rebecca. I really did like Lab Girl. I did get to listen to those last seven minutes, and it reminded me how much I liked it.

>100 baswood: The stress in some fields, including the geosciences, is pretty insane - at least until one has tenure. And, thanks Bas.

>101 sibyx: Thanks Lucy.

Edited: Sep 5, 2016, 6:28pm Top

54. Lysistrata/The Acharnians/The Clouds by Aristophanes, translated by Alan H. Sommerstein
translated: 1973
format: 250 page Penguin Classics paperback (27th printing of a 1973 publication)
acquired: May
read: Aug 26-30
rating: 4 stars

This was a nice corrective after all the dire Greek Tragedies. Aristophanes is really a wonderful addition to the ancient literature. His plays are charming and actually funny, and also full of fart and sex jokes. He was much less prude than we are today.

There are two challenges to reading his plays. One is it's rife with contemporary references, and this leads to extensive notes. As a reader you kind need to let this stuff go, or it breaks up the play. The other is it's full of Greek puns and jokes that don't translate to English. Sommerstein chose to replace these with bad, not-at-all funny English ones. I'm not sure what a translator should do (remember, a live performance can't use footnotes), but I like to think there are more graceful ways to handle this.

But don't be put off by that. These are enjoyable.

The Acharnians 425 bce

The old farmer Dikaiopolis, opening the play with a yawn at the Athens assembly, makes for wonderful character in comedy. Tired of Athen's war with Sparta and with Athen's assembly's inability to deal with it effectively, he makes his own personal peace with Sparta, and then welcomes all the enemies of state to his farm for trade. His defense against the outrage of various officials is his innocence. In the give and take, Aristophanes manages to mock about every Athenian contemporary leader.

At one point the leader of the chorus addressed the audience in defense of the poet - that is of Aristophanes himself:
Be sure, though, and hold on to him. He'll carry on impeaching
every abuse he sees, and give much valuable teaching,
Making you wiser, happier men.

The Clouds 423 bce (only an uncompleted revised version survives, from ~419-416 bce)

When Strepsiades, another simpleton, finds himself overwhelmed with debt, he has the perfect solution, he'll head over the thinkery and learn how to argue himself out of the debt. He ends up under the personal tutorship of Socrates, who initiates him (playing on Orphic rites) and promises him success.

The play makes fun of the sophists, who taught the art of argument.

Socrates was active when this was performed. The play makes many crazy claims about him in humor. They are intended to be silly and were wildly untrue. Nontheless, the exact types of slights insinuated against Socrates here, such as that he was an atheist (he wasn't), were actually used against him legally some 16 years later. Socrates would be condemned to death. Anyway, here, it is actually entertaining, and it is hard to believe it was intended as more than in jest.

Lysistrata 411 be

Lysistrata is best encountered without a summary. So, in an effort not to spoil it, I'll just say that it was really funny in text and would surely be hundred times funnier in performance.

What strikes me in this collection overall is how unexpected and refreshing it was. Apparently raunchy humor was big part of Athenian drama, after all these plays were performed in celebration of the god of wine, Dionysos. But Aristophanes provides an intelligent humor. His plays are an argument for peace and against the ridiculousness of war. Too bad no one in power was listening. They never seem to.

Sep 5, 2016, 6:55pm Top

56. The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee
reader: Dennis Boutsikaris
published 2016
format: 19:22 digital audiobook
acquired: library
listend: July 31-Aug 13, Aug 30 - Sep 3
rating: 4 stars

Mukherjee's history of the gene is, well... there is a lot here. His strengths are his tone and clarity and the personal stories he brings in from his own family. His history of the gene from Mendel through Watson and Crick (and Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins) is interesting, and worth listening to, if a bit standard, I think. From there the book sprawls.

There is simply no simple narrative of the ideas and research directions, discoveries and applications of genetics through the last fifty years. The DNA is very simple, if very very long, but getting from there to, say, us, is a complicated path with many unexpected aspects both known and unknown. So, there is also no simple model. In trying to cover this, Mukherjee's book begins to feel less like a narrative and more like a lecture.

This is worth the read, but maybe does not the offer reading enjoyment you might expect...if you're interests go that way.

Sep 5, 2016, 7:01pm Top

>104 dchaikin: I'm reading this right now. Also finding the beginning part "a bit standard" as you put it, even for non-scientist me. I like his writing, though, and I'm interested in the topic, so on I go.

Edited: Sep 5, 2016, 7:32pm Top

>104 dchaikin:
This is one I might try, if I can borrow it through the library. Thanks for the warning about "the lecture" aspect of the book. Somehow, I recall The Emperor of All Maladies also having that same type of presentation for some chapters.

Sep 5, 2016, 10:29pm Top

>105 japaul22: it will be different for you just because you're reading and I was listening and somewhat selectively zoning out. But I'll be interested in your take. He does write well.

>106 This-n-That: I think I still want to read his cancer book. It was interesting in this book how he talks about how cells have built in self-destruct mechanisms of a sort - and cancer is caused by this not working.

Sep 5, 2016, 11:36pm Top

The Emperor of All Maladies, also goes into the history and politics of cancer research. It is a lot to take in but very interesting.

Edited: Sep 6, 2016, 7:14am Top

57. Sophocles II : Ajax; The Women of Trachis; Electra; Philoctetes (The Complete Greek Tragedies)
translated: 1957
format: 255 page paperback (20th printing of a 1969 edition, printed in 1989)
acquired: May
read: Aug 31 - Sep 5
rating: 4 stars

There is something special about Sophocles relative to the other two preserved tragedy playwrights. David Grene says he is "the most modern, the nearest to us, of three Greek tragedians". What I think sets him apart is the power of the language itself. I know I'm reading this in translation, but Sophocles manages to make striking notes with short phrases, over and over again through his plays.

These four range quite a wide spectrum of his styles. The Women of Trachis stands out as being unusually wordy. It's considered immature, and it was the one I liked the least, although it has it's memorable aspects. The other three are each a masterwork in some way.

Ajax ~440 bce, translated by John Moore

When Achilles died, his armor was supposed to go to the best warrior. But Odysseus manipulated the process and won the armor. Ajax, truly the best warrior, committed suicide in humiliation. The manner in how he does this varies in different stories and Sophocles could chose his preferred version for the drama.

In this version Ajax sets out to kill Agamemnon, Menelaus and Odysseus, but Athena plays a trick on his mind. Instead of attaching the men, he attacks sheep, thinking they are these men. He captures and tortures them, gloats and kills them and then passes out. Upon awaking, he is fully humiliated. The play is about how he bears it.

I found Ajax, the character, magnificent. He must come to terms with what he has actually done, and what to do about it, and about his wife, and son and brother, Teucer. He rocks with grief, then, feeling he has no choice but to kill himself, must give his family an affectionate goodbye, while concealing it from them, their servants, and the entire audience.

In the Homeric story, Ajax may well represent the most ancient aspects of Greek history. His full-bodied shield is antiquated even for the supposed time period of the bronze age Trojan War, and also for weaponry used within the epic. He is a relic from an older time, preserved. He is an archetype, silent both in his stoicism and because he in some ways defies words. I like to think Sophocles knew this, even if he didn't have the word "archetype" within his vocabulary, and that he captures elements of this here.

Unfortunately, we lose Ajax halfway through the play, and the play must go on without its best character.

The Women of Trachis ~450 bce, translated by Michael Jameson

In the tradition, apparently, Deianira, long suffering wife of Heracles, has had enough when Heracles falls for his captive, the young Iole. She sends him a poisoned gift. Sophocles' twist is to make her innocent. She intends to send him a potion from long ago that would make Heracles only love her and no one else. She doesn't realize it's actually poison. Sophocles does some interesting things with Heracles too. The play seemed wordy to me, and lacked the magical lines Sophocles creates in his other plays. And, being a Greek tragedy, it was a bit over the top with the melodrama. Not my favorite, obviously.

Electra ~409 bce, translated by David Grene

Electra is a brilliant, if understated play, with little action. Grene appreciates this in his intro and translation. He wasn't able to create the same magic Anne Carson does with her translation, and I don't think he felt and understood Electra the character as well as Carson does. But, still, this play has a lot of life in his translation too. (I reviewed Anne Carson's translation above, >68 dchaikin:)

Philoctetes 409 bce, translated by David Grene

This was a great play to end with. It is interesting and curious. Philoctetes, a master bowman from the Iliad who uses Heracles's bow, was bitten by a snake in the foot. Then he was dumped alone on the island of Lemnos by the Greek leadership - namely Agamemnon, Menelaus and, Odysseus. But the prophecy says that Philoctetes and his bow are needed to defeat Troy. He has to come back and fight for those who punished him.

In the play it's Odysseus and a young Neoptolemus, son of dead Achilles, are sent to bring him to Troy. Odysseus plays a hard game, opening the play by manipulating the still pure and honorable Neoptolemus. He knows it must be Neoptolemus who convinces Philoctetes to join, through is own apparent integrity and honor. "It is you who must help me," he tells him, and then advises him to "Say what you will against me; do not spare anything."

Things mostly go as planned. Neoptolemus wins the elder Philoctetes over completely, but the respect is mutual. Odysseus sets the trap, captures the bow and waits for Philoctetes to finally give in, but Neoptolemus undermines it all, returning the bow to Philoctetes. It's only when Heracles himself appears, in god form, that Philoctetes relents and comes to Troy.

Odysseus controls everyone ruthlessly, never letting on about his true plans. But his machinations don't capture the audience as much as Philoctetes does. It's hard not to like this desperate, and rather disgusting and unkempt survivor. The conversation between Philoctetes and Neoptolemus is moving. When Philoctetes is betrayed he reveals that he has no god to turn to. They are all against him. "Caverns and headlands, dens of wild creatures, you jutting broken crags, to you I raise my cry—there is no one else that I can speak to—" And, later, screaming at Odysseus "Hateful creature, what things you can invent! You plead the Gods to screen your actions and make the Gods out liars." This is Sophocles quietly damning the Gods himself.

A last note about his play. These plays were restricted to three actors and a chorus. When Heracles appears, Neoptolemus is on stage with Philoctetes. Which means the actor who plays Heracles is the same one who plays Odysseus and the audience would know this. So, was it Heracles, or, wink wink, was it really Odysseus putting in his last trick?

This collection finishes my incomplete run through these tragedies. I read all of Aeschylus and Sophocles, and most of Euripides. Of three playwrights, Sophocles was easily my favorite. I see him as the gem, the full master of language, creating living breathing experiences within the restrictive constraints of the form.

Sep 6, 2016, 8:32am Top

58. Aesop's Fables for Modern Readers, illustrated by Eric Carle
published: 1965 (copyright is 1941, 1955 and 1965)
format: 58 page hardcover by Peter Pauper Press
acquired: from my neighbor in 2006
read: Aug 31 - Sep 5
rating: 2½ stars

The book itself is nice. It feels old, a small thin hardcover with illustrations by Eric Carle, like that shown on the cover. But I'm not sure what to make of the contents. What was it based off? Who translated it, and what did they translate? I only recognized three of the stories, but I hadn't realized any of those were from Aesop.

Looking up Aesop after I finished, I learned that there isn't really a text to translate. Aesop is just a name. Traditionally, he was a slave and story teller who lived from ~620 – 564 BCE. The first recorded collection of stories attributed to him in the 4th bce, which is lost, was simply a collection of folktales and whatnot that had been associated with him. Their true origins were various and unknown.

Still, I like to think the modern reader would have appreciated some kind of note about what went into this book.

Sep 7, 2016, 5:33pm Top

>58 This-n-That: I would probably just look at the pictures. :)

Sep 11, 2016, 8:25pm Top

>109 dchaikin: So now that you are done with Greek tragedy, are you moving on to Aristotle's Poetics?

Sep 11, 2016, 9:04pm Top

Liz - I'm going to try very hard to not to go there. It would lead me to a whole Plato/Aristotle run that I know it would be a bottomless pit from which I might never return...

I'm going to try to return to Pynchon and, in ancient lit, move on to the Argonautika. I have a couple books about the Greeks in mind too.

Sep 12, 2016, 12:10am Top

59. The Frogs and Other Plays (The Wasps & The Poet and the Women) by Aristophanes, translated by David Barrett
translation 1964
format: 217 page Penguin Classic paperback, 1966 re-print
acquired: 2006, from my neighbor
read: Sep 6-8
rating: 3½ stars

The play The Frogs is a gem, and includes maybe the earliest literary criticism available, albeit done in humor. The other two plays were more like meh sitcoms, or maybe I just wasn't in the mood.

Greek comedy had a long history and even the tragic playwrights wrote raunchy, silly comedies in the form of satyr plays. But that's all lost. Aristophanes is the only representative of Old Greek Comedy remaining. We have eleven of his plays. In general they are raunchy and funny, but also have very serious points, even direct political advice for wartime Athens.

The Wasps 422 bce

Aristophanes mocks on the Athenian leader at the time, Creon. Here an old father, named Procleon, is obsessed with being a juror in Athenian courts everyday. He only convicts. His wealthy son, named Anticleon, tries to curtail this obsession, even imprisoning Procleon in their home. The wasps are a group of old cranky jurors who come to bring Procleon to court. They form the chorus.

Aristophanes was somewhere around 20 years old when this was produced, which was very young for Athenian playwrights. That's maybe impressive or maybe just why the play seems immature. I never could really get into it.

The Poet and the Women 411 bce
(aka: Thesmophoriazusae, or The Women at the Thesmophoria)

Euripides was famous for treating women poorly in his plays, even though he really has strong female roles. He made fun of this criticism of himself in his own plays. Here, Aristophanes plays on this idea in a ridiculous way. I can see this working well in performance.

Themophoria was an all-women religious ritual. Euripides is afraid because he heard the women are so upset about his treatment of women in his plays that they are going to work out revenge against him during the festival. He recruits an aged, and bearded in-law to dress as a woman, infiltrate the gathering and defend him. Things don't work out quite as planned.

The Frogs 405 bce

By the time this play was performed Athens had all but lost the its 30-year war with Sparta. It is quite amazing that Athens still held this festivals for these comedies and even still allowed public criticism of the government within them...even if it is provided by a chorus of croaking frogs. (Aristophanes would continue to write plays after Athens did lose, but they no longer contain political criticism. It seems this was may no longer have been permitted. )

The depressing real world position of Athens makes this play quite meaningful and touching. Aristophanes was trying to be funny, and give his commentary, but how to find a form that would be watchable at this time? He seems to have pulled it off.

Sophocles and Euripides have passed away (in real life too) and left Athens without a poet to help them in their desperate need. The God Dionysos decides he must go down to Hades and bring Euripides back to Athens to save the city. (Silly elements include Dionysos's poor-luck assistant who must carry his gear, and the leopard coat he wears to disguise himself as Herakles. At one point, in the underworld, he tries to hire a corpse to carry his stuff - the corpse refuses.)

Instead of rescuing Euripides, Dionysos holds a competition between Euripides and Aeschylus to find which one is better to bring back and help Athens. Both playwrights read parts of their plays (some parts of which are otherwise lost) and then get judged. They both come out pretty badly, but Dionysos decides Athens needs old Aeschylus more and declares him the winner.

As for the frogs, they croak and give direct advice to Dionysos on how to help Athens, naming names.

Sep 12, 2016, 5:00pm Top

Catching up... I see you've had a lot of light reading as usual, lol! Inspired choice of alternative reading relief with Aesop's Fables. I remember having many of them read to our class in school many moons ago. Fond memories.

Sep 12, 2016, 9:11pm Top

>113 dchaikin: Let's just forget I said anything. :)

Sep 13, 2016, 9:06am Top

Enjoyed your gambol through the Greek Tragedies.

Sep 19, 2016, 2:21am Top

Nice review of The Gene, Dan. I had been planning to read it, since I loved The Emperor of All Maladies, but I may hold off for the time being (I'm not exactly lacking for reading material.

Sep 19, 2016, 10:19pm Top

>118 kidzdoc: I thought you a had few books to read. Thanks Darryl.

>115 AlisonY: Alison - cool that you remember your classroom Aesop's fables. I kind of inherited that book, otherwise I would have never thought to read it.

>117 baswood: thanks Bas.

Edited: Sep 25, 2016, 11:21pm Top

60. Vineland by Thomas Pynchon
Published: 1990
format: 385 page paperback
acquired: 2007 from the annual Houston Public Library book sale
read: Sep 9-23
rating: 3 stars

Back when I bought this I had only a vague idea of who Pynchon was. I was excited to get this book, then disappointed to learn that no one actually likes it. (That's an exaggeration. There is a nice review here) But, I'm reading all of Pynchon (maybe) and this was next. And, I was intrigued that this was Pynchon's first new work in 17 years, even if it takes place in 1984, only 6 years before publication. Mason & Dixon was in progress and Vineland was maybe something extra Pynchon did as he worked through that. In any case, I never did get into it.

In a lot of ways this is a sequel to The Crying of Lot 49. Like TCoL49, it takes place in California, and is a somewhat unclear emotional response to US political realities. TCoL49 was about the JFK assassination (not that I could have told you that from reading the book). Vineland is about the revolutionary spirit of the sixties and it's reactionary counter under Nixon...and about the fallout of all that years later.

There are universal Pynchon characteristics - there is the low-key Pynchon alter-ego non-hero. Here it's a unemployed, hapless musician Zoid Wheeler. And there is Pynchon wackiness, here a bit forced in the form of a rush-trained and somewhat flawed ninja, and a whole community of generally charming un-dead, the thanatoids.

The novel begins with Zoid, who lives cooped up in the forests of northern California, supported by government checks for a faked mental instability the requires him to annually jump through a window. He raises his 14-yr-old daughter Prairie in a self-built home, and continually mourns for her mother, Frenesi Gates. Frenesi (Spanish for frenzy) lived him for maybe two years, had sexual flings of some intensity, then divorced him and then disappeared. And Zoid is ever enraptured.

Frenesi is the novel's centerpiece and captivates everyone, maybe a variation on V. She crossed the divide of late 1960's between left-wing revolutionaries and the Nixonian conservative governmental crackdown. She was deeply involved with a revolutionary group whose colorful characters may or may not make up for the fact that I never understood what their aims were, while becoming a traitor in cooperation with a rogue FBI agent, mock unstoppable stud-hero Brock Vond. She had a lot of sex with Vond and a key revolutionary, falling hard for Vond. The fallout of her actions leads to Zoid and then to a witness protection program (and another partner and another child). Unfortunately for her and Vond, Reagan cuts funding and sets the events of 1984 in motion. Zoid's jealousy hurts, but he's such a small extra in Frenesi's story, that it really comes to nothing. But Prairie, the girl longing for her mother, provides a more human emotional source that we readers can sympathize with.

My take on Pynchon is that he wants to find a human element while maintaining a satirical distance and an underlying seriousness. This is something he managed in V. and Gravity's Rainbow. Unlike those novels, this one is pretty straight-forward and actually an easy read. I could name a few apparent flaws - the rushed, dull, hundred pages filling up on the background of secondary characters, and the general lack of narrative drive. At the end of the book the writing wanders more on the sentence level, and the book slows down and actually gets way more interesting. Pynchon seems to do best when incorporating so much vast complexities and details, that he obscures other problems with the narrative.

Sep 26, 2016, 11:55am Top

Until I read your reviews I really had no idea who Pynchon was, so you were one step ahead of me, Daniel! :) His writing sounds intense. I do hope the next book you read is more on par with Gravity's Rainbow, since you seemed to have enjoyed that reading experience more.

Sep 28, 2016, 4:25am Top

Great review of Vineland, Dan. I haven't read and don't own anything by Pynchon, and I suspect that this will remain the case unless he wins the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Sep 28, 2016, 6:55am Top

>122 kidzdoc: Thanks! And on that score, I think you're safe from TP. : )

Edited: Sep 28, 2016, 7:01am Top

>121 This-n-That: Lisa - I guess he is, or at least was at some point, something of a cult hero. He has a lot of admirers, and then a lot of readers who know he's there, but can't fathom why anyone would want to read him. Beowulf on the Beach led me to actually read him - it raves about Gravity's Rainbow.

Sep 28, 2016, 8:31am Top

I have Vineland sitting on my to read shelf. Glad it is an easy read.
Excellent review Dan.

Sep 28, 2016, 12:19pm Top

>124 dchaikin: For the time being, I think I'll experience Pynchon through your great reviews. Maybe someday I' ll tackle an easier book like Vineland.

Edited: Sep 30, 2016, 9:14pm Top

>125 baswood: thanks Bas. I don't have any idea how you would like it.

>126 This-n-That: Lisa, this is maybe a good plan.

on the a side note, I'm abandoning White Trash The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America (which touchstones as Catcher in the Rye if I leave out the subtitle). I got about 2/3 through. It was ok, very interesting in parts, but I got bored listening. There is a lot of detail and I wanted more of a big picture aspect. At the moment, I'm not sure what I will listen to next.

another side note - why does every women author of non-fiction that I encounter on audio insist on using Kirsten Potter as the audio narrator? She is just a dull dull reader and she doesn't do White Trash any favors.

on a final side note - I'm flip-flopping on how I respond to Argonautika. At some points I've found it surprisingly enjoyable and interesting. At other times a bit dull. Think just my mood. It is remarkably entertaining and fast moving. And translator Peter Green does an especially nice job with the notes. They take as many pages at the actual text.

Sep 30, 2016, 10:02pm Top

>127 dchaikin: Do you think if you were reading White Trash or the audio had a better narrator, that you might be able to get through it? Probably a hypothetical question though.....

Oct 1, 2016, 1:07am Top

Lisa - yes. A better narrator could have made it more interesting. Potter doesn't ruin books, I just find her reading lifeless.

Oct 1, 2016, 4:50am Top

I doubt that the authors actually choose, I imagine that is on the publisher.

Oct 9, 2016, 6:54am Top

A Pynchon novel that is an easy read? I'm intrigued! Great review!

Oct 12, 2016, 8:43pm Top

>130 .Monkey.: no clue .Monk. Many authors read their own works, so they must have some say.

>131 OscarWilde87: Hi OW. Thanks. Yes, it's not like Gravity's Rainbow or V, and it's easier to catch onto than The Crying of Lot 49 (which is actually not a hard read, however it's not easy to make heads or tails of.). Having said that, it still has it's moments of obscurity and confusion.

Edited: Oct 12, 2016, 9:01pm Top

61. Sappho : A New Translation by Mary Barnard
with an introduction and notes by Dudley Fitts
composition: c ~612-570 bce,
translation 1958
format: 115 page paperback, University of California press, 2012
acquired: library
read: Oct 9
rating: 5

I had three hours to kill in a coffee shop - and The Argonautika, 3/4 done, was NOT calling. I picked this up instead to glance through and was first struck by fragment 6:
"I love that
which caresses
me. I believe

Love has his
share in the
Sun's brilliance
and virtue"
That's all it took to get my attention. I thought about it constantly as I read the remainder of the collection over the next two hours. Why? If I tried to tell you, I guess I'd probably ruin it.

I'm not going to try to review Sappho's fragments. What you should know is that there isn't much left. In classic times there were nine book of poetry by Sappho, and they were so readily available that authors didn't bother quoting all the time. But that's all gone. What we have now are the various quotations that have been preserved through the ages, and a few gems found on the cloth of burial wraps in Egypt. I think only two complete poems have made it down to us via copies of copies of copies and they have surely been butchered. The quotes are extensive and promising but that is all. And that is mostly what we read - tantalizing fragments that leave us wondering.

This little book was a terrific experience for me. Reading enthusiasm just isn't there and it's hard to make a work what it should be. But this came at the right time and place and at the right length, all contained within those two hours. I have several other translations in the house at the moment, care of my library. I hope to read more of them.

Oct 12, 2016, 10:18pm Top

So glad you found something enjoyable to read. No, I won't ask why fragment 6 stuck such a chord with you, although I am guessing all the Club Read members will be curious. :)

I looked up Sappho at Poets.org. They don't have many poems listed but it was interesting to read Sappho's bio. It is sad that so much of her written works were lost.

Oct 13, 2016, 6:15am Top

Lisa - I was thinking if I tried to explain I'd butcher it - my moment of thinking that the explanation of the poem is the poem. : )

I haven't actually looked anything up online - beyond wikipedia. That poets.org page is really interesting. A couple others I just found:

The Poetry Foundation talks a bit about her poetry here:

And there are some poems available here:

Oct 13, 2016, 7:33am Top

Looks as though your dip into Sappho was perfectly timed for you to be able to comment on the Nobel announcement, Dan :-)

Oct 13, 2016, 10:22am Top

>132 dchaikin: ...easier to catch onto than The Crying of Lot 49 (which is actually not a hard read, however it's not easy to make heads or tails of.)

Right? It's easy to read, it's just not easy to know what you're reading. :)

Oct 13, 2016, 11:17am Top

>120 dchaikin: You may just tip me over the edge into reading Pynchon, rather than thinking of reading Pynchon.

Oct 13, 2016, 11:32am Top

Thanks for posting all those links, Daniel.

Oct 14, 2016, 3:47am Top

>139 SassyLassy: Same for me. I'm seriously considering Vineland. Although I've always wanted to read The Crying of Lot 49. Don't know where to start.

Oct 16, 2016, 3:29pm Top

62. The Argonautika (Expanded Edition) by Apollonius Rhodius, translated with Introduction, commentary and glossary by Peter Green
composition: c 200’s bce,
translation 1997? (notes completed 2008)
format: 490 page paperback, University of California press (I read 383 pages, skipping 60+ page glossary, etc)
acquired: March, from amazon.com
read: Sep 23 - Oct 12
rating: 4

Part 1

Homer left me wondering about Jason and his voyage in the Argo with his Argonauts and his quest for the golden fleece. The Iliad and the Odyssey reference the stories...because they have to. It was the children of the Argonauts who fought the Trojan War. And one has to wonder how much of the tales of the Odyssey were taken from Argonauts voyage, if any. But these Homeric epics never get involved enough to write out the story lines. It seems the Jason resides, along with the Calydonian Boar Hunt, in the darker shadows of mythology - fundamental and yet lost along with the oral storytelling past. His story chronicles the first shipboard odyssey aboard the mythical first ship, but it lacks any standard truly ancient version.

What Apollonius created is something far removed from Homer. Apollonius lived in what was maybe the peak of Alexandria's cultural flowering - when that library was collecting all the ancients works. We know the names of several head librarians from the 3rd century BCE Alexandria - Zenodotus, Eratosthenes, Aristophanes of Byzantium, Aristarchus of Samothrace, and Apollonius of Rhodes, our author. These surely must be the most famous librarians in history. Callimachus is credited with writing the first catalogue of the library, but was never a librarian. Apollonius, his student, appears have been chosen over him and there is a mythology of sorts around their rivalry. In a nutshell, Callimachus wrote shorter, original works of poetry, while Apollonius, more a traditionalist, clung to Homer and the epic.

(Not sure when I'll get to continue, so posting this for now.)

Edited: Oct 17, 2016, 3:10am Top

What! You're not going to leave us in suspense too long, are you?

Oct 17, 2016, 8:07am Top

: ) It's up to the vagaries of children, schedules, air conditioning repair men, accumulating to-do lists and anticipated guests...

Oct 17, 2016, 8:51am Top

something of Sappho:

Oct 17, 2016, 9:24am Top

>145 dchaikin: How sad. :( I am surprised any of Sappho's poetry was still decipherable. It makes me think of all the digital information that we take for granted now, that probably will be lost sooner than we think.

Glad you liked The Argonautika. Coincidentally "the name of Jason's Ship" appeared on a crossword puzzle recently. I must admit that I had to look it up because the only connection it made in my mind was "argonauts". Ah, if only you had enlightened me with your review a few days earlier. :)

Oct 17, 2016, 3:28pm Top

Lisa - yeah, sad, but the fragments themselves, the actual pieces of burial cloth with poetry, are quite beautiful.

Apologies for the belated crossword help. : ) To think, if I had just posted on the day I finished...

Edited: Oct 23, 2016, 11:36pm Top

The Argonautika - continued

Part 2 - mythical background

The background myth behind the Argonautika is complicated tossed salad of stories involving a golden ram rescuing a brother and sister, Phrixos and Hellé, and racing them off away from Greece proper to the far side of the Black Sea. Hellé falls off a cliff, now named Hellespont after her. Phrixos finds shelter under the barbarian king of Kolchis, Aiëtés, and rewards his ram by fleecing it...hence the golden fleece.

Jason, meanwhile, walks into a trap, one that says a lot about what's not going on in his head. The local king, Pelias, foretold that the Jason, who is the son of Aison from whom Pelias stole his crown, would ruin him, sends Jason off on an adventure sure to kill him. He is to the cross the Black Sea and get the golden fleece and bring it back to Pelias. Unfortunately for Pelias, goddess Hera intervenes. In the various myths Jason will acquire a magical ship built by Argos and the goddess Athena, and acquire a heroic crew that would include Orpheus, Heracles and the fathers of some heroes of the Iliad. He will sail himself and his crew into a barbarian trap in Kolchis and be rescued only because of the emotional swings of the king's daughter, Medea, who decides to help him, use him, or whatever. She saves Jason from sure doom, gets him the fleece, kills her brother, Aiëtés' heir, and thoroughly ruins Aiëtés. It's not clear whether this plays any part in the origin of the word "fleeced".

Part 3 - the actual book

There were several written versions of the Argonautika, and I think other than Apollonius's version they are all lost, although some summaries and commentaries survive. So, depending on how you look at it, we both blessed and stuck with Apollonios's version. And actually there is a lot going for it. I don't know how it stands on poetic grounds, since I read it in translation, but the epic reads quickly. It's and adventure with many curiosities, typically based on the world knowledge of the times. In a sense it's a natural history of the (poorly) known non-Asian world. Apollonios's geography is quite cooked, as he has Jason go up the Danube and come out the Adriatic Sea. Then go up the Po, and through some mythical Swiss lake reach the Rhine, make a u-turn and come out of something like the Rhone. That obviously doesn't fly, but he's trying to match the Odyssey in (mythical) geography and there wasn't anyone around to correct him in the 3rd century bce. But, regardless, Apollonius was influential, and had a huge impact on Virgil, from the Roman era. The Aeneid pulls from this version of the Argonautika freely, using the same phrases and similes. The Argonautika pulls from the Odyssey, and Euripides play Medea and many other sources, but also appears to have many original aspects to it and these then fed into the future literary traditions.

The Argonautika is probably most noteworthy for it's anti-heroes. Herakles is essentially humor and quickly dispatched (or the story wouldn't work). Many of the other heroes are noteworthy for silly aspects, and some are simply not so smart. But Jason especially stands out as a fop, a second rate leader at best, only saved by Medea and his guardian goddesses. All this is told straight, it's in there as an understated irony, Alexandrian humor I supposed. It's an irony that stands in a marked contrast the glory sincerely sought by Homer's heroes.

The one aspect that most disappointed me by Apollonius was his women. First of all he kicks Atalanta off the Argo(!). He gives some brief sorry explanation. Medea has some original and creative aspects, and probably is his most important creation especially with her psychological complexity and emotional wavering, but this is not Euripides dominant force of a character. This is a emotionally vulnerable woman struck down by Aphrodite for a second rate hero, eventually strung out to dry by her own silly decisions. Homer's women of the Odyssey are all notable for their strengths, and the Athenian tragic Greek poets of the 5th century wrote wonderfully terribly strong female characters. That's all gone here. Apollonius sees women simply as a lesser sex.

Part 4 - translation

A note about the translator, Peter Green. The translation is merely one part of this physical and quietly beautiful book. The notes are actually longer than the text. They are another whole book, 200 pages of really nicely done commentary. And then there is a 60 pages glossary that is, simply, wonderful. I actually tried to read it, and made it about 12 pages in (I was still on 'A' and all the names were blending together because they were too similar. So, I gave it up.). Finally his bibliography has it's own format that identifies whether the book was actually cited in the notes, or is an un-cited reference. What I'm trying to say is this was a labor of love. I was very impressed.

In summary...

Right, so what was my overall impression. I really liked the beginning, the rapid moving story, and the extensive notes there to slow me down. But I felt like Apollonius got a bit lost along the way trying to get all his odd story details in. By the time I got to the last book (there are four) I was ready to just rush through it and be done. But, for 50 pages of text there were 70 pages of notes, and I simply found that, all those notes, overwhelming, regardless of how I tried to break them up. I'm glad I read this, but I hope I don't read it again. I now feel very well prepped for Virgil.

Oct 25, 2016, 9:50am Top

>148 dchaikin: A labour of love indeed.

Oct 25, 2016, 10:13pm Top

Yeah. He put a lot of years just into the notes and glossary. But, really, he also did a nice job if presenting them. Notes tend to be abbreviated to minimum, and formal and utilitarian. They aren't usually so thoughtfully written.

Edited: Oct 29, 2016, 5:16pm Top

63. It's All Greek to Me : From Homer to the Hippocratic Oath, How Ancient Greece Has Shaped Our World by Charlotte Higgins
published: 2008
format: 220 page hardcover
acquired: library
read: Oct 1, 13-16
rating: 3½

After a nice introduction, I found I didn't like it, and then I did, and then I finished and now I've kind of lost whatever affect it had, and that about sums it up.

Higgins tries to give a brief tour through Ancient Greek literature from Homer to Aristotle. It's fast paced with snarky humor and she provides some nice summaries. I particularly valued her take on Plato and Aristotle since I haven't and don't plan to read either. She also had a nice take on Sappho. And she had me wanting to read both Herodotus and Thucydides. She almost lost me early as her opening chapter on Homer (who she goes back to several times) dissolved into something like cliff notes, including (bad) chapter-by-chapter brief summaries. But she didn't do anything like that again and I was happy to read through the rest of it.

Edited: Oct 28, 2016, 9:03pm Top

65. If Not, Winter : Fragments of Sappho by Anne Carson
composition: c ~612-570 bce
translation 2002
format: 389 page hardcover, quite beautifully done by Knopf
acquired: library
read: Oct 16-19
rating: ?

What an odd, curious experience. On the left page are the poems in Greek, as preserved, with random bits of letters and lots of gaps. On the right page is the translation, as much as can be translated. It seems to be a very direct translation, although she had to take leaps here and there. And, even in the translation, she preserves the gaps. Some poems consist entirely of half lines. Nothing is filled in. So you scan through lots of oddball scraps, and suddenly get very excited when a complete sentence shows up, or even a stanza!

There isn't much left of Sappho, The Poetess of Ancient Greece. Her nine books are lost and only handful of lengthy sections of poems exist - maybe two are complete. All we have is a reputation and a very many tantalizing fragments quoted or found here and there.

Carson claims she finds the gaps exciting, as we can imagine our own various completions. She has put together a beautiful book, one for reflection as we look at a page of two incomplete lines and can spend some time, if we like, pondering them. As they are the only thing on the page, we might just do that, and then do it again on the next. Or you might find yourself trying to learn some Greek by finding the reoccurring words, or other such nonsense tasks. I really really like that this book exists. I can't, however, say that I truly got anything useful from reading it. And, if I did, couldn't possibly tell you what that was.

Oct 29, 2016, 5:09pm Top

No good reason why i skipped this, I just didn't notice at the time...

64. A Man Called Ove (Audio) by Fredrik Backman
reader: George Newbern
published: 2012
translated: from Swedish in 2014? by Henning Koch
format: 9:09 digital audio
acquired: library
read: Oct 6-17
rating: 3½

This popular Swedish novel centers around the life of a conservative old crank, recently a widower, stiff on the outside, but softer within. When in the opening he sees a feral cat and instantly doesn't like it, and can tell the cat doesn't like him either, it's, for Ove, this observation and response, a form a admiration.

The book is catchy despite itself and its pseudo formal tone and eventual silliness. I found Ove about as charming as he was meant to be, and even thought the book had its moments of depth. But it plays out very light, going with humor and charm and finally pulling a bit on the emotional strings (that last phrase has me thinking of myself as a puppet). A lot of movies do that, and I don't seem to mind.

Anyway, this was nice on audio. Ove is entertaining enough you probably won't mind spending some time watching him. (I say "watching" because a man called Ove is always told about in 3rd person.) I was thinking we all surely have a little Ove in us. Those times when everything clearly has a right and wrong way and we can't understand why everyone just won't do it the right way. But that could just be me.

Oct 29, 2016, 7:06pm Top

Daniel- It sounds as though you had a few quasi-duds recently. I hope your next set of books proves to be more informative.

I am still on the fence about A Man Called Ove. Recent ratings from friends have been all over the place, including a 1 star rating. Ouch!

Oct 29, 2016, 7:20pm Top

Well, I seem to be in an odd place myself, just a reflection of that maybe. I wouldn't really call them duds, they were all nice in their own way.

As for Ove, no need to worry. He's not necessary, but he is easily enjoyable. If you stumble in on him, I don't think you'll mind.

Oct 30, 2016, 2:04pm Top

Just checking in - glad to see you've been reading away with the usual dedication.

Nov 1, 2016, 11:40am Top

Interesting that you are the first to review It's all Greek to me: From Homer to Hippocratic oath

If not, Winter : Fragments of Sappho. Many people have heard of Sappho and so it is great that this book exists, if only for the curious.

Nov 2, 2016, 2:12pm Top

I read your review of if not winter last week - I loved the version of Sappho I read a few years ago (version of fragments as we must say), and was directed to further that with this highly rated translation, but have not managed to get into it, though the Greek will be valuable one day, if I ever learn it.

But then I read this this last weekend:


and thought you'd be interested. Her tone did not remind m of that I'd associate with Sappho. Thought it may be very harsh of me to say. I will look at if not winter in this light though, now.

I can see a point i art not being therapy. But saying that is pointless - for me art can be anything. I know both reading or viewing or hearing art can be therapeutic and I also think writing or creating it can be. I'm cautious of making that the goal of it, but i think its intrinsic to it. And also think of Epidavros, where the Greeks linked drama to therapy.

Nov 2, 2016, 4:17pm Top

>158 tonikat: You make a vaild point. Somehow it would seem more fulfilling to approach art as something that is interesting or enjoyable, and let any therapeutic value be secondary.

Nov 2, 2016, 6:23pm Top

>156 AlisonY: - hey Alison. Thanks for stopping by.

>157 baswood: - Bas, I'm so happy that Sappho book exists. I think It's Greek to Me was not such a major publication. Not sure. Charlotte Higgins was short listed for some awards for Under Another Sky: Journeys in Roman Britain - and that is a title that appeals! (at least to me)

>158 tonikat: - uh oh...not a promising article title. I need to read the article before I comment.

>159 This-n-That: Lisa - I'll have to follow this up. Interesting thoughts.

Nov 2, 2016, 6:35pm Top

well...there's not much there. I'm afraid I'm not sure what she means by "I do not believe in art as therapy." I think her contrition is intentionally, playfully (?) obscure. She might meant that writing doesn't make her feel better. ?? Or even simply that writing about herself, revisiting whatever torments she's had, sucks. ?? Maybe she just means that writing is hard, costly but not so rewarding, or at least not as rewarding as she might have hoped. Don't know.

I'm not naturally a creative person so I can't comment on how art helps or doesn't. I think, and hope i'm right, that this is different for all of us, that the spectrum is wide and deep and has more than 3 dimensions. As for experiencing art, if it doesn't have a therapeutic values, then the world no longer makes sense to me.

Edited: Nov 3, 2016, 9:50am Top

I can be a Cubs fan for a day. Special game last night:

Nov 4, 2016, 8:33am Top

>158 tonikat: >161 dchaikin:
I love that sort of interview, where the hapless interviewer is flailing around trying to pry out an interesting comment whilst the subject bats away all the questions with answers that kill any kind of follow-up. Possibly it's a mistake to read anything profound into her comments in that sort of situation, though.

In the context of the question "How suited is poetry to memorialising?", I wondered if what she meant might be that she doesn't consider work undertaken mainly for therapeutic purposes as art. Anyone who's ever had anything to do with unpublished poetry in bulk might well share that opinion.

Nov 5, 2016, 5:33am Top

>163 thorold: - thanks for that. I hope its ok to reply on your thread Dan.

I read a short comment in the Paris Review and agree about the nature of this interview, seems like she could not be bothered. Unfortunately she then cuts a distant figure, high and looking down. We may all be able to fall into such. I just find it a pity and it does make me wonder about her.

Sincerity is important to me - there can be sincerity even in wackiness and irony. I suppose it seemed a bit insincere. But I have to be cautious about that -- and in a way her disengagement with it is so clear it may unpick itself, but how clear is that really.

I'm a counsellor. I started writing poetry when I did my MA research (unintended outcome). I'm a person centred counsellor - time and again I find that failure to be with people in the terms they understand and at the place they are in their lives misses the point and stymies them from making the progress and growing in the ways they could - often because we cannot put aside our own (often validated and educated) view of the world. It can be hard to do this.

Since I started writing poetry I've attended a number of classes. Including some on writing as healing. I am also cautious of how this is done - it can seem somewhat naff...but in all things people do there are different ability levels, levels of awareness. I am certain this can be therapeutic for people - I am also sure that may vary for them in how it is done/encouraged as well as how they approach it. For myself my own ability with words and thinking has been affected by medication - think about that for a minute, disabled by medication, vulnerable to easy judgement of quality of what i write and distant from my best ability.

As to quality of output - would we go to a life drawing class and moan about differing ability? I'd say variable quality as to publishability may be a sign of a thriving literary culture - people are learning, even if they do not make the progress we find helpful. Also what people write may make a huge difference to them in themselves. We all have poetry in us is my belief...of as many different types as there are people.

Engage with this unpublished poetry and help people grow! I increasingly feel creativity has an important source in not doing what has been recognised as good at all - and then maybe we come to understand where the greats come from and the traditions they sit in. Like Carl Rogers I believe that if we do help such what will come out of it is people becoming themselves and that as they do this will be intrinsically good for the community.

Art can be anything. The highest art may slip many easy definitions and analysis of motivation - it's become such that it just is, for us all to bounce off and into. I've not written with therapy an aim a lot of the time - and am cautious of how that is done and understood. But it often has been therapeutic and has been consistently helpful for me. Tarkovsky suggests the 'young woman with juniper' is both attractive and repulsive and that is art - it contains all these possibilities and this may be where a straightforward path towards healing may seem one dimensional I think - yet to be able to see both those things may call on a process of being well in the viewer to see such, yet that is not its aim. As I've said on my thread I do believe in art as communication between people, after Tolstoy. Communication and understanding seems intrinsically linked to therapy - but so much more. The world seems to sadly lack it now, and we often seem blinded from each other by what we 'know'.

Nov 5, 2016, 10:37am Top

Mark and Tony - I haven't had time to work up any response in kind, if I have one in me, but, of course, these posts are most welcome - and rewarding.

Nov 5, 2016, 11:56am Top

I meant to ask, Tony, what is 'Young woman with Juniper'?

Edited: Nov 5, 2016, 12:15pm Top

Was typing quickly and should have checked the title I gave it (as i had not known this painting until recently) - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ginevra_de%27_Benci (I think it is known as 'young lady with a juniper').

Edited: Nov 6, 2016, 4:26pm Top

The Revenant : A Novel of Revenge (Audio) by Michael Punke
reader: Holter Graham
published: 2002
format: 9:12 digital audio
acquired: library
read: Oct 24 - Nov 1 - quit at 80%
rating: 1½

For some reason I kind of assumed, based on the well-regarded movie that I haven't seen, that this book was at least pretty decent. It has a wonderful setting and underlying mythology. But the writing - it's so simple and straight-forward and uncomplicated to the point of, well, deadness. For all it's cleanness and TLC (Punke put about 4 years into this), it falls flat on reading. It's not just me and it wasn't just the reader, who was capable but made some odd choices. See Brian Ted Jones's review here. But, I do have the lowest rating of the book on LT.

The fiction is based on the true mythology around mountain man Hugh Glass. Beyond the fringe of western civilization, and during the height of the Arikara War in 1823, Glass ventured into barely know world of the upper Missouri River with a group of mountain trappers. He was apparently mauled by a grizzly bear, left for dead, but somehow managed to survive and find fort Kiowa. It's a testament of sorts to his character that he then set back out west again looking, apparently, for some kind of revenge. But Glass never wrote anything and never told anyone much about his story. So, in the factual world this is all mythology.

I had a period when I was absolutely fascinated by these men, horrified by their cruelty, yet intensely jealous of the unspoiled natural and human world they wandered into so destructively. I counted Jedidiah Smith, another grizzly bear attack survivor, as something of a hero. I still have some fondness and imagination left for this era. This could be rich fictional stuff.

Punke, apparently, is a political writer and writes a lot of non-fiction. His vocab is sharp and his prose is clean. He has a romantic attachment to the landscape and outdoor activities, and that is what he really tried hard to capture here. Wikipedia says "He started archival research and writing in 1997, and it took four years for him to complete the novel, with the long hours taking a toll on his health." That is to say his soul was apparently all-in. Unfortunately, he's not a novelist. The landscape doesn't come to life. I found his characters embarrassingly unrealistic, and certainly they are uncomplicated. The philosophy is simplistic at best. And, he carried it out too long. When Glass makes Ft. Kiowa, the book has done everything it could. I think maybe, if he had stopped their, I would have had more appreciation. But, it keeps going, padding out it's limited scope, and in the process it unveils its flaws so fully, I finally found I just didn't want to listen anymore.

Without the movie and praise this book gets maybe 2.5 or 3 stars. But, in light of my disappointment, 1.5.

Edited: Nov 6, 2016, 11:08pm Top

Daniel- I finally realized that the comments I made yesterday in response to your post about The Revenant were in the group's What Are You Reading Now thread. Ha! It didn't occur to me that it wasn't your personal thread until much later. Guess it doesn't matter though.

It seems you might be in need some type of upbeat literary book or something humorous to read after all that.

Edited: Nov 7, 2016, 3:59pm Top

>168 dchaikin: Honestly, I didn't feel all that much differently about the movie than you do about the book. Visually, at least, it was gorgeous, but as a story, it was just a dull, uninspired revenge narrative, and I swear, I had almost the same thought about how I would have been happier if we didn't have to keep going after he reached the fort.

Nov 7, 2016, 5:14pm Top

Lisa - Funny how these threads can get so confusing. No worries, of course. My library got Mary Roach on audio. That's a nice change about The R.

Betty - Bummer about the movie - well the dull part. I'm curious, but not in a rush to go see it. (Apparently the movie adds in a son for Hugh Glass, which seems like a very awkward addition.) I'm thinking, after the survival story, the revenge is just epilogue. Well, maybe in another book that continuing story work - if the landscape is more built in the books structure and tensions...or maybe if Cormac McCarthy is writing it...

Edited: Nov 7, 2016, 7:07pm Top

66. Travelling Heroes : In the Epic Age of Homer by Robin Lane Fox
published: 2008
format: 419 page paperback (plus 80 page bibliography/index)
acquired: July from Half Price Books
read: Oct 20 - Nov 5
rating: 2½

The cover blurb says, "Multilayered and beautifully written..." Don't be fooled by that nonsense, Fox's text is so dense that it's barely readable. As he sees it, he's really trying to do something new and dynamic with this book, combining as much archeological evidence as he can find and with all the obscure Greek mythologies and their variations and influences and histories, and constructing a history and timing of Greek storytelling itself. The book is the building of the argument he constructs, starting with raw archeological evidence. It presents a huge amount of information and in sometimes exhausting detail, mixed with various iffy but interesting inferences. A kind of survey of the archeological and mythological record comes out of this. The bibliography is enormous and there is a lot good stuff collected within - although keep in mind most of the information is not original. Also, and unfortunately, in my opinion the argument he makes is nothing more than interesting but imaginative hand waving.

The odd aspect of the archeological record is that Greeks enter the larger Mediterranean world through the island of Euboea. In the 700's bce, when Homer and Hesiod were supposed writing, Euboeans were sailing from the Levant to Spain and leaving their pottery everywhere - along with their graves and many other bits and pieces. They were clearly deeply involved in the trade runs, filling in gaps in the Phoenician routes, or competing with them, creating their own colonies in many different places, some long lasting and influential. In places they were competing among themselves. This appears to be a dominant source of Greek wealth for a long period time in a fruitful creative period - when east was influencing west and vice versa. And yet, there isn't a lot of Euboea in the Greek mythologies. Hesiod, interestingly enough, claims to have won an award on Euboea, presenting his Theogony in Chalcis. But he doesn't mention any special connection of the gods with Euboea. Homer mentions three locations in this catalogue of ships, and that's it. So, where does this leave us and Fox - apparently with a curious mystery of missing Euboeans.

Fox's story is essentially that the Euboea is in Hesiod. For example he claims that Hesiod pulled mythologies that he learned specifically in Euboea and added them to his story in a decipherable way. But to get to that somewhat anticlimactic contribution he must create a history of mythologies. So, he culls the record (readily available in many surveys, I might add) pulling stories and locating them with landscapes and geology and trade routes. Typhon and the Giants become a big deal, as do Aphrodite and Adonis, who tie in so well with Astart/Ishtar/Inanna and Dumuzi/Tummuz (a well known but really cool tie-in that also has nice links to Hittite mythologies ). He's really proud of what he creates. I'm more skeptical.

Early on I made a note to myself that when Fox says "no doubt", or "surely" it really means "it's possible". He presents what tend to be good ideas, but they don't exactly follow from the data. Often they are really unlikely and no better than numerous other possibilities. He also has an odd characteristic of stating his belief in the sources he cites - stating "I don't believe" or "I think" or "I doubt" or whatnot. I find that all very odd phrasing for a supposedly empirical approach. I'm not an archeologist, but it seems to me he could be cherry picking the evidence that fits his story, and it certainly feels like he's constantly hand waving, and then presenting this as a conclusion(!). All this stuff is possible, but the accumulation of unlikely idea on top of unlikely idea, mixed in with some solid facts, all presented together as a coherent story... I mean maybe there is some truth to this. But the world is a complicated place and the Mediterranean was crazy complex in this era. There are no clean stories and histories, it's all a mixed bag. That's really what the mythology tells us, and what the archeology confirms.

In sum, Fox has a lot of good info, but this is difficult and unpleasant to read and constructs a terribly weak argument - hence a mildly annoyed 2.5 stars.

Nov 7, 2016, 10:33pm Top

I think I would be annoyed too. Who are these Euboeans? Where did they come from? Where is the island of Euboea? (I'm obviously showing my ignorance here). What is their relationship to the Minoans and Myceneans?

Nov 7, 2016, 11:03pm Top

Post Minoans and post Myceneans. Maybe I'll post a map sometime, but Euboea is the big long Island off the coast of Attica.

Nov 7, 2016, 11:07pm Top

Nov 8, 2016, 11:21am Top

>171 dchaikin: I really want to read Cormac McCarthy's version of The Revenant now.

Nov 8, 2016, 1:06pm Top

>176 bragan: I was thinking of Blood Meridian - although it's in New Mexico/Mexico. I reviewed it last year...but careful what you wish for. : )

I have two lengthy posts in BM:

Nov 8, 2016, 2:18pm Top

>177 dchaikin: Blood Meridian is already on my TBR shelves!

Nov 8, 2016, 3:34pm Top

174> I wonder how I've lived all these years and never heard of Euboea -- though Chalcis and Eritrea are vaguely familiar. Chalcis, of course, from Agamemnon's ships stranding and the sacrifice of Iphigenia.

Nov 8, 2016, 10:55pm Top

Randomly stopping by to say that that election is making me sick...

Nov 9, 2016, 12:44am Top

Me too!

Nov 9, 2016, 6:56am Top

I'm devastated.

Nov 9, 2016, 3:01pm Top

Well, the sun came up today, but on what I can't fathom.

Nov 9, 2016, 3:30pm Top

Just shocking. I was so confident that there was no way this could happen.

Nov 9, 2016, 4:37pm Top

And we thought Brexit was shocking. Is it just me or is the world starting to go completely barmy this year? Have we finally totally lost the plot as a human species?

Nov 9, 2016, 8:16pm Top

Too depressed to give a coherent reply. Yes, shocked, disappointed in humanity. Feels like we hit the self-destruct and now we just have to wait a few months before it activates. Feel very bad for my daughter - it feels like we let her down. Sorry for the dreary post. It seems the more I type the worse my thoughts go.

Nov 10, 2016, 12:01pm Top

Feeling much the same, Daniel. Still processing things, if that is even possible. Someone had mentioned the Kübler-Ross model of grief. Quickly went from denial, skipped bargaining, and onto anger/depression. I never discuss politics within online forums, as they are my escape and also out of respect to others with different beliefs. This time is different though.

Nov 10, 2016, 2:59pm Top


This Balkan 'Nostradamus' prophesied that Obama will be the last American President (cue spooky music).

Wouldn't worry too much - this is the Daily Mail after all.

Edited: Nov 10, 2016, 3:40pm Top

Lisa - me neither but this hit hard. And I think it's safe here. (ETA - talking about politics)

Alison - that made me smile. : )

Nov 11, 2016, 4:58am Top

Maybe this will make you laugh Dan, or maybe not.


Nov 11, 2016, 8:36am Top

: ) Thanks Bas.

Edited: Nov 11, 2016, 3:02pm Top

>190 baswood: That was funny!! Sadly, he got his wish. Thanks for posting the link.

Edited: Nov 13, 2016, 7:04pm Top

67. The Gods of the Greeks by Karl Kerényi
translation: from German by Norman Cameron
published: 1951
format: 286 page paperback (1994 reprint of 1979 edition)
acquired: March
read: Nov 5-12
rating: 4

wikipedia tells me Kerényi was a classical philologist and that he was a Hungarian who spent a year in Switzerland and then never left. Hungry had swung Nazi right. It also tells me that his "scientific interpretation of the figures of Greek mythology as archetypes of the human soul was in line with the approach of the Swiss psychologist Carl Gustav Jung." This curiosity is not in display here, except for a brief comment in the introduction where he says that Greek mythology of interest for the study of human beings and that in the contemporary world that meant "of course, an interest in psychology."

Instead the The Gods of the Greeks is a straight-forward summary of everything the classical sources have to say about the Greek Gods. He cites only about 200 sources and they are all classical. He calls it a mythology of the Greek for adults. It is however, anything but straightforward. The mythology of Greeks is nowhere near as simple as Edith Hamilton, or anyone else presented it. There is simply no consistency, but numerous and endless variations. And presented in this form, in the way Kerényi does, it is a bit overwhelming, a constant barrage of uncondensable information.
"The archaic forms of so many tales have been lost that the whole body of what has reached us and can be presented has become exceedingly compact. This compactness should not be artificially loosened. Already in Ovid we find the archaic spirit has been spoilt in a process of dilution. The author has decided against trying to provide any relief of this kind. The reader's best plan, therefore, is to not absorb too much of this solid fare at a sitting, but to read only a few pages at a time—and preferably more than once, as he would read an ancient poem."
I quickly learned to follow his advice. Somewhere around ten pages at a sitting my eyes would start to cross and pressing any further, I could feel my brain actively shrinking.

What comes out of this is no one single thing. It's something of a massive compilation of information, in a very pure form. It's also striking not only how unstructured all this was, but how one thing was many things and how associations and combinations means that many of these characters whom we see as distinct - Gaia and Ouranos, Cronos & Rhea & Demeter and Persephone, Zeus & Hera, Aphrodite & Adonis, Ares, Athena, Apollo, Hermes, and Dyonisos... Prometheus, Io, Fates, Furies, Typhon etc are merely variations on the same theme - the same god or goddess concept could come in many variations then get recombined and forced apart by divine lineages. Flexibility and openness seems to have been one rule - perhaps variation from many forms of communal isolation and connection might have been another.

Certainly recommended to anyone who wants to know enough about mythology that they can finally rest assured they still really know nothing.

Nov 13, 2016, 7:05pm Top

not sure what's up with the touchstone, but the link to The Gods of the Greeks is here: https://www.librarything.com/work/230726

Nov 13, 2016, 10:52pm Top

I quickly learned to follow his advice. Somewhere around ten pages at a sitting my eyes would start to cross and pressing any further, I could feel my brain actively shrinking.

Ha! Thankfully it was four stars and hopefully worth the effort and brain shrinkage. ;)

Nov 14, 2016, 7:38am Top

Lisa - I think I appreciate more than I really enjoyed it. I'm happy to have read through it, and to have it close by in case I want to refer back to it. (I'm ready for Romans now - but still, Ovid is Greek mythology all over again. )

Nov 14, 2016, 9:41am Top

Interesting thought on reading the ancients: The reader's best plan, therefore, is to not absorb too much of this solid fare at a sitting, but to read only a few pages at a time—and preferably more than once, as he would read an ancient poem." It makes me want to take a fresh start at reading Viking sagas. It also makes me wonder about trying to read them aloud. Have you done this with the Greeks?

Nov 14, 2016, 10:19am Top

>196 dchaikin: That is a good way to put it, Daniel. Well stated. Sometimes we don't especially enjoy the process but in retrospect appreciate the journey and end result.

Nov 16, 2016, 2:09pm Top

>193 dchaikin: - nice one Dan - I'm no further forward with Kerenyi and feel a bit less guilty now. He does say he wanted to write it the way the Greeks understood it i think, so I had a high hope he may make it understandable. But now see my slowness with it makes sense. Maybe Ovid will come first.

Nov 16, 2016, 10:08pm Top

>198 This-n-That: yup, exactly.

>199 tonikat: i'm getting closer to Ovid. Kerenyi's book reads ok in small bits.

Nov 17, 2016, 11:42am Top

>193 dchaikin: Great recommendation Certainly recommended to anyone who wants to know enough about mythology that they can finally rest assured they still really know nothing.

Edited: Nov 25, 2016, 8:37pm Top

68. Gulp: Adventures On the Alimentary Canal (audio) by Mary Roach
reader: Emily Woo Zeller
published: 2013
format: 8:21 digital audio
acquired: library
listened: Nov 7-16
rating: 3½

Gulp is Roach's 5th major non-fiction book and I think that colors a lot of its character. It feels very casual, and to a large extent Roach is simply having fun in her own way. She follows the topics that interest her, the ones that lead to some of the oddest places. That means as a reader you will be entertained (a word that has a one-off shade of meaning here), but if it changes your life in anyway, its purely accidental. You won't come away with a feeling that you now know the digestive system. Instead you'll feel terrible for Elvis Presley, fascinated and disgusted and slightly impressed by the culture smuggling up there in prison, and you might pause for a second when she slightly modifies the advice of 8 glasses of water day with "but not all at once."

The book has a loose structure, from one end of digestive tract to the other, but mainly this is a collection of essays on specific odd digestive trivia. That makes it perfect for background audio on my daily commute, and I'll continue to seek out her other books.

The reader gets mixed grades. She reads mostly fine, but she struggles with voices and then compensates for this by doing a lot of voices. (note to narrators of nonfiction - every person quoted doesn't need to be given a unique voice, especially not a strange one that likely has no connection to the voice of the real person quoted.)

Nov 25, 2016, 8:26pm Top

>201 baswood: Bas - just trying to be helpful. :)

Nov 25, 2016, 8:31pm Top

>202 dchaikin: Emily Woo Zeller won an "AudioFile Earphones Award" for Gulp, whatever that is. So, take my criticism with that in mind.

Nov 26, 2016, 12:23am Top

>202 dchaikin: I have this one on my tbr list.

Nov 26, 2016, 5:07pm Top

Lisa - Roach is fun. My library has Stiff, so that's on my own tbr list (or sorts).

Edited: Nov 26, 2016, 5:51pm Top

69. H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
published: 2014
format: 300 paperback
acquired: Half-Price Books in November
read: Nov 6, 13-25
rating: 4½

I went back over my entire list of books read after finishing this, deciding which ones I could add the subject of "nature" to. I was struck by how many have that sense of nature writing around the edges, or, especially, by mere implication in the title. I even started to wonder whether I should revisit Cormac McCarthy as a nature writer(!). But what I also found is that it's been a long time since I got really into a book with such an overt call to nature - although, really, even here it's not totally direct.

This is a memoir on grief. Helen Macdonald, a professor of history and an expert falconer, lost her father very suddenly and she began to break down. She decides to train a notoriously difficult hawk, the goshawk, and then gets obsessed with an author and terrible falconer, T.H. White, English author of The Once and Future King (cited twice in X-men 2...but that was a long time ago, movie-wise).

T. H. White left his teaching job and moved to a somewhat isolated cottage and began training a goshawk with no knowledge of what to do. He consulted the available literature of the 1930's, some dating back to the 1600's, and then began to make continuous and terrible mistakes, capturing it all in something like a journal of personal psychology. And he published it years later, in 1951. He also captured himself as a falconer (he got better) in his literature in various ways. For example, his own cottage became Merlin's.

Helen explores White in some depth and at the same time begins to closely associate her own psychology with that of her goshawk, Mabel. She tries thinking and looking at the world through the eyes of a goshawk that lives to hunt, catch, kill and eat. She clearly tips over some kind of edge, even as she discovers Mabel has an unexpected playful side, with adrenaline rushes from misses, and an affection for playing catch.

I got very into this at the beginning, involved in her grief and her distraction of it with the goshawk, and how she dealt with friends and saw challenges that were real for White, but only a kind of perception or anxiety for her. Several of my own personal distractions later I lost that sense and the book began to feel, well, normal. But neither sense was entirely appropriate for this book. As Helen wanders mentally into and out of hawk mentality, something a bit different in nature writing comes out, a nature writer with a hand holding onto the civilized world affectionately. It's, I think, a bit of gem, almost by accident. I'm very happy to have read this (and to have been encouraged by reviews here in CR).

Nov 26, 2016, 6:34pm Top

>207 dchaikin: Wow, that is great Hawk ended up being almost five stars for you. It sounds like an odd topic for a book, yet I have noticed many surprisingly good reviews.

I will wait for your reaction to Stiff, when and if you read it. Somehow it just sounds too morbid.

Nov 28, 2016, 9:26pm Top

Lisa - H is for Hawk works. It's terrific.

Nov 30, 2016, 2:44am Top

>207 dchaikin: Glad you liked H Is for Hawk. I was really surprised by how well that one worked for me, too, especially as I went into it at least half-expecting that I was going to come out thinking it was over-hyped.

Nov 30, 2016, 7:03am Top

Over-hyped? - sometimes it's good when I'm a little oblivious. I hadn't noticed that. It's not for everyone, but it certainly worked for me too. I think it maybe appeals in kind of the way just watching stuff in general appeals.

Edited: Dec 1, 2016, 2:32am Top

>211 dchaikin: I think part of the problem was that I happened to frequent a couple of places (bookish websites or podcasts) where there were some people who were really crazy about the book. So it wasn't that everybody kept telling me how great it was, just that I kept hearing it some of the same people very loudly over and over.

Dec 1, 2016, 5:47pm Top

Being overly exposed to a lot of hype about how great a book is, certain raises expectations. I'd rather avoid reading about all the publicity and rave reviews as well, if possible.

Dec 1, 2016, 7:23pm Top

I agree Lisa, hype ruins books. Instead of reading with a sense of discovery, I end up reading with an expectation of ... I don't even know exactly what. I can really enjoy an OK book that I stumbled across, and then hate a good book that was somehow less than whatever I was expecting.

But, if we miss the hype, we miss the book. So, it's kind of a no-win.

Dec 2, 2016, 1:44am Top

But, if we miss the hype, we miss the book. So, it's kind of a no-win.

True! Okay, some promotion without over exaggeration. How is that? :-)

Edited: Dec 2, 2016, 9:45pm Top

>214 dchaikin: I find that sometimes waiting until the hype has died down and is no longer fresh in my mind or giving me that irritating "everybody is trying to push this on me" feeling helps.

Dec 2, 2016, 10:22pm Top

>215 This-n-That: - Lisa - send that message to the publishers and reviewers.

>214 dchaikin: - Betty - that can work. Well, I imagine so. Not reading many hyped books lately.

Dec 3, 2016, 12:23am Top

70. The Eclogues by Virgil
composed: 37 bce
format: ~46 page project Gutenberg public domain translation (translator unknown)
acquired: Project Gutenberg, here: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/230/230-h/230-h.htm
read: Nov 26-27
rating: ??

I did actually read this in the sense that my brain processed the words coming into through my eyes and getting silently pronounced in my head. Please don't ask me anything else about them. I have hardly any clue what I actually read.

Dec 3, 2016, 7:33am Top

>218 dchaikin: I've been so far behind on everyone's thread that I wasn't sure where to begin. I finally have read through yours, and, as usual, there is a lot of interesting (and depressing ....cue the election) discussion. Your last sentence kind of sums up my state of mind lately. Hence all of the very light, casual reading I've been doing.

Dec 3, 2016, 8:50am Top

That's no fun, Colleen. Thanks for stopping by and even catching up. There have been some great conversations here. Wish you better reading and a better state of mind. As for the election, every day I read the news and get depressed all over again. A little too predictable, even.

Dec 4, 2016, 3:46am Top

Have been finding it helpful to avoid the news lately. Yes, I feel uninformed but also far less aggravated and worried. Sometimes it is better not to know; or take a break from knowing too much.

Dec 4, 2016, 12:42pm Top

An extra note on The Eclogues, relevant to the Georgics and the Aeneid: the Eclogues touch on both praise of Ceasar (gently, he wasn't fully in power yet) and the human cost of his homeland where land was taken from owners and given to veterans. It's state vs individual. Virgil touches both sides. He does this again in the Georgics and, apparently again in the Aeneid. It was not an easy thing to balance and so he obscures it a bit.

Dec 4, 2016, 1:29pm Top

>222 dchaikin: That seems like an ongoing theme that is relevant today; trying to find the right balance between the rights of individuals versus the nation (or supposedly, "the greater good" for lack of a better term). It is still being obscured today, by many who are in positions of power.

Edited: Dec 4, 2016, 2:57pm Top

>221 This-n-That: I feel the same way. After the 2000 election I blocked out the news altogether, until I discovered Jon Stewart. Ha! Trying to be better this time around. Still, it's a bitter pill.

>223 This-n-That: better constrain myself, as my brain jumps straight to Kennedy's ask not line versus alt-right/neocon selfish tax cuts and it, my brain, wonders. I better quit now, Lisa. !! But, for Virgil, it's a very moving balance. He had to toe the line, and although it's not mentioned in regards to Virgil, enemies of Augustus didn't live long. He had to balance being artistic and meaningful with begin relevant, sponsored and in Octavian/Augustus's goodwill.

Dec 4, 2016, 2:56pm Top

from L.P. Wilkinson's introduction to his translation of The Georgics:

on the influence of Lucretius, who I might just read, on Virgil.
"Lucretius escaped into Epicurean philosophy, Virgil into contemplation of country life, both into their art. Temperamentally they were very different — Lucretius an uncompromising rationalist, Virgil an eclectic visionary. "

Book 4 of the Georgics is on bees (remember, no sugar in Europe before Columbus). And it has a long mythological tale that references Homer and tells the story of Orpheus, all for a very minor, and unrealistic, point on bees. This version dwells on Orpheus losing Eurydice the second time, when he looked back. It's a version that may be original here (or, likely, the source is lost). This is Wilkinson take on the insertion the Orpheus story:
"The bees' kingdom represents the old Roman ideal of an impersonal and collective state, which Augustus was to some extent to revive. ... Orpheus...stands for the life of the individual, associated in particular with the bitter-sweet pains and pleasures of love. "

Edited: Dec 4, 2016, 5:50pm Top

71. The Georgics by Virgil
composed: 29 bce
format: 92 page Kindle public domain e-book (translator unknown)
acquired: from amazon in November
read: Nov 27 - Dec 3
rating: ??

This was much easier on me than the Eclogues. I could follow at the sentence level, and could follow the general themes, and, occasionally, get the references. And there is a nice story at the end on Aristaeus (a god I had never heard of), that includes a wonderful take on Orpheus and Eurydice, and that somehow made the whole book better. But, on the other hand, reading without notes (and reading a public domain translation without even knowing the translator), I was constantly lost. Names and nicknames and place names all passed me by, and somewhat odd English didn't help. Sometimes I would read a sentence several times until concluding that I just didn't understand enough of the words to make any sense of it.

About halfway through this I was able to get a translation by L. P. Wilkinson from my library. So the first half I read very slowly, struggling the whole way...and still mostly missing whatever points there were. The second half I steamed through, thinking I'll just re-read through Wilkinson. Oddly, that worked better for me...or maybe I just really liked Orpheus.

I'm finding this difficult to review without thinking on the introduction by L. P. Wilkinson in his translation, which I read after I read this.... in brief Virgil was doing a lot of things here, but mainly he is playing off Hesiod's Works and Days, and heavily under the influence of Lucretius's epicurean manifesto - The Nature of Things (which I haven't read). The four books of poems form a romantic notion of farm life. Noxious things, like absentee landlords and slaves, aren't mentioned. This is about an idealized farmer running his own farm, and it's very much a celebration of this kind of life. Each book covers a topic - Book 1 farms and fields, Book 2 trees, Book 3 livestock (first large, then smaller), and Book 4 beekeeping. From Hesiod is the idea of giving advice directly to a person on farm management and from Hesiod, somewhat, is the method of how Virgil presents it. Book 1 takes heavily from Hesiod. From Lucretius is a love of extensive details and description - and this is where Virgil excels. The Georgics is considered the first descriptive poem.

It's not, however, a very good farm manual. One might kindly call it a simplification as it lacks critical detail, while giving some ridiculously fanciful advice. Virgil likely grew up on a farm, but he didn't go out and study farming, he studied literature. And it seems almost all his ideas come from the literary pool, as he references freely. That seems to be an important point. But the sense within the descriptions and the charm of them seems to be mostly Virgil's own, and maybe reflects his own experiences.

I read this while thinking about how Virgil might have related to his childhood farms and how, in the Eclogues, he openly mourned the farmers who lost their land. That is, after different stages in the various Roman civil wars, farmers were evicted from their land, and it was handed over veterans in reward for their service. This happened in the exact area, near modern Mantua, where Virgil was from. I like to think that Virgil saw these new comers coming in and taking over land they didn't know and thinking how they must be trying to figure out how to work this land. Could he, perhaps, have thought to give them a book of facetious and obvious advice, sometimes ridiculous, to sort of mock their ignorance of their poorly acquired land? Just my own silly idea....probably better left unsaid.

Dec 6, 2016, 10:32am Top

>224 dchaikin: Oh, I miss Jon Stewart's version of The Daily Show, so much!!

Edited: Dec 7, 2016, 12:59pm Top

Georgics Book 3 lines 323-339 from the translation above. I'm reading Wilkinson's translation, which I'm liking a lot. But he couldn't replicate this, on tending goats.

But when glad summer at the west wind's call
Sends either flock to pasture in the glades,
Soon as the day-star shineth, hie we then
To the cool meadows, while the dawn is young,
The grass yet hoary, and to browsing herds
The dew tastes sweetest on the tender sward.
When heaven's fourth hour draws on the thickening drought,
And shrill cicalas pierce the brake with song,
Then at the well-springs bid them, or deep pools,
From troughs of holm-oak quaff the running wave:
But at day's hottest seek a shadowy vale,
Where some vast ancient-timbered oak of Jove
Spreads his huge branches, or where huddling black
Ilex on ilex cowers in awful shade.
Then once more give them water sparingly,
And feed once more, till sunset, when cool eve
Allays the air, and dewy moonbeams slake
The forest glades, with halcyon's song the shore,
And every thicket with the goldfinch rings.

Dec 7, 2016, 9:17pm Top

How lovely!! I can just picture the goats heading for the cool shade, under the oaks. Is ilex referring to holly? Thank you for sharing. :-)

Dec 7, 2016, 10:04pm Top

Sadly I have no idea what ilex is and never looked it up. Correcting that...Yup, it's holly


And yeah, lovely. I'm drawn to this picture of escaping the heat and enjoying the shade and the dawn dew on the grass and the peace at dusk.

Dec 9, 2016, 3:27pm Top

By some quirk, the radio is playing Leonard Cohen and I am reading

Soon as the day-star shineth, hie we then
To the cool meadows, while the dawn is young,

Somehow they seem to go together.

Dec 10, 2016, 9:43am Top

Sadly I don't know much about Leonard Cohen...other than Hallelujah. But I love the serendipity.

Dec 10, 2016, 2:58pm Top

I think you might like Leonard Cohen, Dan. At least the words. I don't know anything about your musical tastes.

Dec 11, 2016, 12:42pm Top

And if you don't like the music, there's always the poetry and fiction: Let Us Compare Mythologies, Beautiful Losers and so much more.

Dec 11, 2016, 7:55pm Top

When Leonard Cohen died and I admitted to my wife I didn't know anything about him, she was kind of stunned. I said what did he do. She said something like he did so much. I think I'll try to check out some music. I'm open to suggestions.

Edited: Dec 12, 2016, 5:46am Top

Personally I didn't know much except for the songs my parents listened to in the 70s. I didn't know Hallelujah and I still think I've never listened to it from beginning to end. The one that was most well kown in my world was Suzanne. I also liked Sisters of mercy. Then I grew up and forgot all about him. Then I subscribed to Qobuz, a streaming music service that I like because they also have recommendations prepared by humans, and that's how I rediscovered Cohen through his album Old Ideas. That was a revelation. I bought that album and the next, Popular Problems, and have listened a couple of times to the last one that came out a few days before he died, You Want it Darker, which I guess I will also buy. I don't know anything about what happened in between, I should probably look for some of his older albums.

What I like in his texts is this perpetual tension that I feel between the need to believe and the impossibility of it. Although that is my personal take, and maybe he was just a believer, but the way he talks about it is one that I, an unrepentant atheist who doesn't feel that need to believe at all, can somehow relate to. This is especially true in his late albums but I think it was already there is songs like Suzanne. Or maybe I'm just making all this up... anyway, I like his music (although it does feel a bit dated and annoyingly sweet at times), his voice is his late years, and his texts really speak to me, even if I don't necessarily know of why.

Dec 12, 2016, 8:36am Top

A nice commentary Florence. I'll look up Suzanne.

Edited: Dec 12, 2016, 9:18am Top

>236 FlorenceArt: What I like in his texts is this perpetual tension that I feel between the need to believe and the impossibility of it. Great summary.

Another facet that was really important to Cohen was Montreal, his city no matter where he was living. Images and echoes of this great city come out in so much of his writing, and I think that is part of why he was so wildly popular when he started, in an era of nascent Canadian nationalism. Cohen was buried in Montreal. His family brought him from LA after his death to be buried along with his parents and grandparents in the family cemetery. Here is an article from The New Yorker on Cohen and Montreal, and that odd mix between the French, English and Jewish cultures, all so pronounced in the city during his childhood and young adulthood.


Another huge influence perhaps not known outside Canada was that of the so called "Montreal poets", among them A M Klein and Irving Layton. Layton especially became a friend and a mentor. There is a wonderful poem Cohen wrote for Layton that I heard read by Cohen, along the lines of "For Israel Lazarovitch" (Layton's real name). Layton was nominated for the Nobel Prize in the year that Gabriel Garcia Marquez won.


Lastly, the background on Cohen's last release, You Want it Darker, has the cantor and choir from Cohen's Montreal synagogue Shaar Hashomayim, Gideon Zelermyer, singing on it. Zelermyer's beautiful voice is featured at the end.



I'll stop now, enough!

Dec 12, 2016, 11:51am Top

Jumping in here, because as a big Cohen fan, I cannot possibly resist any longer.

> 236 but the way he talks about it is one that I, an unrepentant atheist who doesn't feel that need to believe at all, can somehow relate to.

This matches my own experience exactly, and I have never, ever been able to figure out quite how Cohen pulls it off, how he uses that religious imagery and that religious feeling in a way that actually speaks to me, rather than one that puts me off.

By the way, for Cohen fans and book fans (as we naturally all are here), I can definitely recommend the biography I'm Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen by Sylvie Simmons.

Dec 12, 2016, 3:46pm Top

Well I'm glad I'm not the only one to feel that way! I was wondering if I was just making this all up...

Betty, I think it's his honestly in laying out his needs and fears and doubts. That's easy to relate to even if you don't share the object. What makes true believers insufferable (unless, I suppose, you share their beliefs) is their absolute certainty and smugness. Nothing of that there.

Dec 12, 2016, 5:26pm Top

>240 FlorenceArt: I think you are right about that. There is certainly nothing smug about Cohen. He can be angry, vulnerable, sardonic, yearning... but never smug. I'm also inclined to think that there's something in the way he uses religious imagery to evoke feelings and thoughts about things that transcend religion, or at least transcend the details of any particular religion.

Dec 13, 2016, 9:08am Top

Hi Daniel! I loved both Far From the Tree and Stiff, hope you're enjoying them. I'm currently reading Roach's book on space travel. Too bad you abandoned White Trash. It's one of the books I look forward to reading next year....I'm hosting a group-read of 6 books that the New York Times claims will help readers understand the populism movement behind Trump's win and White Trash is number 6. :) The others are The Unwinding, Hillbilly Elegy, Strangers in their Own Land, The Populist Explosion, and Listen, Liberal. Have you read any of them?

I'm currently gathering books for a literary reading of the Bible. I know that you had a similar undertaking a while back (perhaps just for the Hebrew Bible?) and was wondering if you had any thoughts. Specifically about whether The Art of the Biblical Narrative is worth slogging through for the content. But if you can think of other suggestions, that would be great. Here's the post on my thread if you're interested in what I've already gathered.

Dec 13, 2016, 9:43am Top

>242 The_Hibernator: White Trash was fine, I just got bored with it somewhere in the middle. I think it would read better not on audio, because I kind of got tired of the mixed formal tone and with the words "white trash" randomly thrown about- without really having much consistency in meaning other than poor.

The Art of the Biblical Narrative is the best book on a literary reading of the OT that I know of. It's a tough read, but very rewarding. As for a list - I'll need refresh my memory. A lot of stuff I read was historical/archeological analysis of thr bible - not literary.

Dec 15, 2016, 8:34pm Top

You all make Leonard Cohen sound so special. I'm tempted to pick up that book, Betty, I'm Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen. There is a movie of the same name.

>242 The_Hibernator: researching... : )

Edited: Dec 15, 2016, 8:59pm Top

>242 The_Hibernator:

A list of some books for a literary read of the bible...in no particular order:

- The Art of Biblical Narrative by Robert Alter - probably the best book on this

- Stories from Ancient Canaan by Michael David Coogan & Marks S. Smith - for bible writer source material

- The Bible Unearthed : Archaeology's New Visions of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts by Israel Finkelstein & Neil Asher Silberman - for a really interesting alternate perspective - text critical archeology combined with real archeology

- Reading the Lines : A Fresh Look at the Hebrew Bible by Pamela Tamarkin Reis - not really literary. Reis assumes there are no mistakes in the OT. Then she goes out to explain various oddities. Some very bold stuff here - but also very insightful. It's one-off from literary analysis, but still very in tune with the literary perspective.

- The Literary Guide to the Bible edited by Robert Alter and Frank Kermode - sadly I have found this painfully dull

- Purity and Danger : An analysis of concepts of pollution and taboo by Mary Douglas - but I never read this.

- Surpassing wonder : the invention of the Bible and the Talmuds by Donald H. Akenson - more on history than literary. I only read the beginning...but really wanted to read the rest.

- The Bible with Sources Revealed : A New View Into the Five Books of Moses by Richard Elliott Friedman - another that I haven't read

- Pen of iron : American prose and the King James Bible by Robert Alter - and another I haven't read

- Scribal Culture and the Making of the Hebrew Bible by Karel van der Toorn - this is brilliant. It's text critical, but not exactly literary. Toorn picks apart how the books appear to have been stitched together. He works mainly on Deuteronomy and Jeremiah, and uses the variations of Gilgamesh as a guideline.

- How to Read the Bible : A Guide to Scripture, Then and Now by James L. Kugel - again, not literary. I did read this and found it interesting, but it's oddly organized. And very big.

- The Rise and Fall of the Bible: The Unexpected History of an Accidental Book by Timothy Beal - Beal is very Christian and loves the bible. This is a history of responses to the book. It's terrific, if not exactly literary analysis.

- The Oxford History of the Biblical World by Michael David Coogan - no, I didn't read it.

- Mimesis : The Representation of Reality in Western Literature by Erich Auerbach - this is literary analysis. The opening chapter is a must - compares Homer and the OT. Highly recommended. The rest of the book is about other works.


Well, the one thing I notice while entering these is that very few are really about the bible as literature. They are mostly various text-critical types of books.

Dec 16, 2016, 3:33pm Top

>244 dchaikin: Yes, the movie is worthwhile, too.

I'd definitely recommend listening to his music first, of course!

Dec 16, 2016, 4:42pm Top

Hi Dan, I am also stunned by people who have never listened to Leonard Cohen, for us children of the 1960's he was such an important part of our lives. An artist friend of ours now in his mid thirties casually mentioned that he had heard Suzanne (the song) on the radio and asked me if I had ever heard of Leonard Cohen. I couldn't believe that he had asked that question.

Here is a link to The songs of Leonard Cohen: his first LP - its all here https://youtu.be/G5RlDCh9MSA

Dec 16, 2016, 11:01pm Top

>247 baswood: thanks so much. All new to me but I absolutely loved the first three songs. That was special. Will listen to more later...

Dec 17, 2016, 3:39am Top

>248 dchaikin: Wow. You weren't kidding when you said you knew nothing about him. I didn't take that literally because it never occurred to me that someone could not know Suzanne.

Dec 17, 2016, 9:33am Top

It's all new to me. It's not like I don't know anything about 60's music, but this entirely new.

Dec 17, 2016, 10:52pm Top

>249 FlorenceArt: I find the idea of someone actually listening to "Suzanne" for the first time practically before my very eyes oddly delightful. :)

Dec 18, 2016, 2:43pm Top

>245 dchaikin: Thanks a lot. I'll check those out. I'm currently working through Kugel's book and The Literary Guide to the Bible. I know Alter's The Art of Biblical Narrative is supposed to be the best, but after reading the introduction I'm worried Alter's writing might be a bit of a slog. But if it's worth it, then I'll do it. :) I'll start with what I've already got going, though.

Dec 20, 2016, 9:20am Top

Catching up - I've missed quite a bit. I will definitely have to get to a Roach book soon - they sound like a lot of fun. Also noting your comments on H is for Hawk - it's been on my wish list for ages, but I can't decide if it's one I'll totally fall for or if it's destined to be not quite my thing.

Dec 20, 2016, 9:09pm Top

>251 bragan: : )

>252 The_Hibernator: Good luck with all that. Kugel has some really good spots. Alter doesn't really get any easier. He is very precise in his language though.

>253 AlisonY: Alison - Reading destinies are such finicky things. I really took to H is for Hawk, and can recommend it. Of course, I can't promise you will like it. As for Roach, that's pure fun. I still need to review Stiff - which was really good (and has a good reader, if audio interests you)

Dec 20, 2016, 9:56pm Top

72. My Brilliant Friend (Neapolitan #1) (Audio) by Elena Ferrante
translation from Italian by Ann Goldstein
reader: Hillary Huber
published: 2011, translated 2012
format: 12:38 digital audio
acquired: library
read: Nov 16 - Dec 3
rating: 5

This is why I do audiobooks. Because it's so easy to just try them out (if my library has them) and I end up with a much more random selection of books then I would normally select myself, and sometimes I find a real gem that I likely would not have read otherwise.

I adored this, and got into way more than I have gotten into a book in a long time. I'm not sure I can explain why. It took some time (and a wonderful reader) but some ways in I suddenly realized I was completely taken by the story of Elena and her unusual friend growing up in the 1950's in a working class neighborhood in Naples, Italy. It's not a normal book-y deep-ish friendship. The world is rough, and the friendship has calculated aspects to that it never overcomes. A very young Elena finds in her rebellious and unusually sharp classmate, who she calls Lina, some things she wants for herself.

I think in a way it's a book about story telling, and a showing of it. Ferrante even talks about this in some interesting ways through her characters. Somehow, without really making the reader aware of it, the book accumulates tensions or whatever it is that can get your deeper attention. Ferrante has a lot of world to color that attention with, one that seems to get richer as the girls grow up.

Recommended for getting lost in.

Dec 20, 2016, 10:10pm Top

73. The Georgics by Virgil, translated by L. P. Wilkinson
composed: 29 bce
translation 1982
format: 160 page hardcover
acquired: library
read: Dec 4-9
rating: 4

A very different experience then the public domain translation I read earlier. Wilkinson was just really helpful. He has what I thought was a great introduction. And his translation is easy to follow. When I read the other version I spent all my effort just trying to understand the sentence I was reading, and I had a lot of trouble seeing the bigger picture. In this translation suddenly it was all really very clear, and I could spend more time entertained that Virgil would spend stanzas on soil types or other seeming mundane things (along with plagues, and many calls to mythology, some quite wonderful.) There is some cost to this clarity, something of the poetic affects are lost. But, well worth it, I think.

For more on the content, see my other review (>226 dchaikin: above)

Dec 20, 2016, 10:21pm Top

>256 dchaikin:

Did you know the story before you read it up in >226 dchaikin:? I wonder if it was just the translation that made the difference or if knowing the story before reading it helped as well. I find it a lot easier to read bad translations if I know the text in a different translation and/or language - less trying to figure out what is happening and more guessing properly what the translator tried to say...

Dec 20, 2016, 10:33pm Top

74. Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers (Audio) by Mary Roach
reader: Shelly Frasier
published: 2003
format: 7:57 digital audio
acquired: library
read: Dec 7-16
rating: 4

My second Roach. Having just read Gulp, her 6th book, what struck me initially in this, her first book, was the difference in the writing. Gulp is very causal. Here Roach is making an introduction, and a statement of sorts. She provides a whole polemic to justify writing a really not very serious book on corpses. I thought it was somewhat elegant.

There is just a lot more writerly efforts here than there. She does eventually relax a bit, although never completely. This isn't just fascination/disgust entertainment. But it also is that. It really is fascinating. A lot of readers comment on how well she does in making this not too disturbing, but I found my self a bit weak-kneed at times. So, read with caution, but expect some fun science-y stuff if you do read.

(reader was nice, despite reading a New England author with a southern twang.)

Dec 20, 2016, 10:35pm Top

>257 AnnieMod: Annie - re-reading definitely helped me. But still, Wilkinson is easy to follow. It's interesting, if you look at the reviews on LT. Some talk about the content and others about how difficult it is to read. I think this might say a lot about the translations they were using.

Dec 20, 2016, 11:15pm Top

75. The Odes of Pindar, Second Edition translated by Richmond Lattimore
translation 1947/1976
format: 178 page hardcover
acquired: library
read: Dec 11-18

76. Pindar's Odes translated by Roy Arthur Swanson
translation 1974
format: 358 page hardcover
acquired: library
read: Dec 10-20

composed: 498-439 bce
rating: ??

Oh dear... Pindar is tough. I used two translations to try to get through this, but apparently Pindar is tough on translators too. Not only were their poetics different, but the meaning was often wildly different (that is, when I understood the meaning).

Pindar of Thebes wrote numerous books, about 18 of which were known to have existed, and all but four are now lost. Those four consist of his poems in honor of the winner of various events at ancient olympic games. The poems are rife with mythological references, some particularly insightful (and early). They are also full of aspects of this world where where athletes were given a lengthy poem in song as a treat, and at some cost. (the music is lost).

I respect Pindar, but I'm afraid i can't recommend him to anyone not obsessed or really needing to know all the mythological elements preserved within. Pindar's main interest to me was that he wrote mainly before the great playwrights, making is mythologies some of the oldest preserved and influential versions.

In Pindar's defense, there is a great deal going in his poems, and, when you can follow, things seem to come from everywhere. There is energy. The more I read, the more I got used to his (translated) quirks and techniques and the more I could follow.

As for the two translations, Lattimore was the more poetic of the two. He uses few notes, only the bare essentials (not enough!), but has some insightful comments. Swanson is the more analytical. His book includes a lengthy introduction, extensive and quite wonderful notes (including a summary of each mythological story), and even, which I thought a treat, has an appendix of several classic English poems influenced by Pindar. His poetics had the occasional jarring fail. Both were so different as to, in sum, actually compliment each other.

Overall this was an interesting and hopefully useful but odd exercise.

Dec 20, 2016, 11:44pm Top

>258 dchaikin: You are braver than me! This is one book I will likely never read, even if it is interesting.

Dec 21, 2016, 2:34am Top

>258 dchaikin: were there things in Stiff that made you think "I wish I didn't know that..."?

Dec 21, 2016, 4:52am Top

Nice reviews of My Brilliant Friend and Stiff, Dan. After my Anatomy class in the first year of medical school and Pathology class the following one I'm not eager to see or think about cadavers ever again.

Dec 21, 2016, 7:01am Top

>261 This-n-That: I totally understand, Lisa

>262 AlisonY: Alison - actually no, it was just occasionally tough for me in progress. (Toughest chapter was this place in Tennessee for studying how corpses decompose over time. The research is used in crime and other forensic studies. It's a really odd curious one place, and I found it really hard to listen to the descriptions) I'm actually really happy to have learned what I learned.

>263 kidzdoc: sorry Darryl. She, Roach, talks about the pros and cons of medical students not doing these dissections (for example, using digital cadavers instead of real ones). It's interesting.

Dec 21, 2016, 7:33am Top

>255 dchaikin: I definitely agree it got better as the girls got older. The end of it had me ready to plunge right into the next one ... although I've put it on the back burner at the moment to get back into in the new year.

>258 dchaikin: At the time that I read Stiff, I had a friend who had gone to the body farm in Tennessee for one of his college courses. He said it was ... an experience.

Dec 21, 2016, 9:01am Top

>265 ursula: I was the same way with Ferrante - except I didn't have the next book at hand. I just got all four...

As for that place Tennessee - not for me!

Dec 21, 2016, 9:42am Top

>264 dchaikin: That is interesting, Dan; I hadn't heard of digital cadavers! I do agree that a detailed knowledge of the body that is learned in Anatomy class is very important, and those who are considering a career in general or specialty surgery would probably benefit from the use of cadavers in their training, but for those who aren't the traditional Anatomy course with cadavers is probably anachronistic (although I can hear the cry of horror from the head Anatomy teacher at Pitt, Dr. Rao, in my head). I can't remember how much anatomy is on Step 1 of the US Medical Licensing Examination, but I would assume that the medical schools who opt to not make all of their medical students use cadavers would ensure that they are receiving sufficient training to do well on the relevant portion of the exam.

Dec 21, 2016, 10:41am Top

>258 dchaikin: Most people seems to really enjoy the first Roach book they read and then are less enthused about the second. Stiff was my first and I loved it. I don't remember it being any grosser than the many graphic serial-murder-mysteries I have read and the idea of "ballistic gelatin" still makes me giggle.

Dec 22, 2016, 9:09am Top

>264 dchaikin: I remember seeing that cadaver place on a TV documentary a few years ago. It was immensely sad, as despite the scientific research it was impossible not to wonder about the people who once had life in those bodies and how their families came to terms with their bodies being there (I can't remember all the details, but expect they had donated their bodies to science).

Edited: Dec 22, 2016, 11:43am Top

>258 dchaikin: I really enjoyed Stiff, though I know people who found it very disturbing. I'm currently reading Packing for Mars and enjoying it quite a bit.

Dec 22, 2016, 1:12pm Top

>267 kidzdoc: interesting to get your view, Darryl

>268 ELiz_M: Roach is perfect for me on audio. Not sure I would be willing to dedicate the time to actually read her - one book would be enough. But passively listening while I commute is different. The only thing stopping me from going through them all is access. That said, there is no doubt that Stiff is a far better book than Gulp.

>269 AlisonY: Roach addresses this up front in Stiff, and does it terrifically. There is a difference between the person and the body of someone who has passed. It is sad, but no more sad then death itself. But, now add in your list of exceptions. Opinions vary. I can say that, for myself, it didn't make me sad. My reaction was more in the do-i-really-need-to-go-there mindset.

>270 The_Hibernator: I'd like to read PfM too.

Dec 31, 2016, 5:31pm Top

Happy, Happy New Year!! Looking forward to reading your posts during 2017.

Jan 1, 2017, 3:32pm Top

Hi Lisa. Thanks! and ditto.

Edited: Jan 1, 2017, 5:12pm Top

77. The Making of Donald Trump (Audio) by David Cay Johnston
reader: Joe Barrett
published: 2016
format: 5:47 digital audio
acquired: library
read: Dec 16-29
rating: 4

This was not a great book for me to read because I'm already overly worked up about what's going to happen to this world with this thing as our president and the book was terribly depressing, making him out to be much worse of a person than I had realized. But I'm trying not to hide under a friendly rock, trying to become informed.

I can knock the book around a little, but I should be gentle because it's important. If you like the idea of Donald Trump as president, you are not well informed. Period. There is no other answer. And...as a follow up, I would like to try to figure out why so many of us are ill informed, many willfully.

We all know he's narcissist in a class by himself, that he has a force of personality, is a highly effective salesman, that he goes his own way and doesn't listen to anyone, that he's all about his money and himself. That, however, does not make you informed. He's far worse. He perennial liar, and manipulator with adolescent ethics, no sense of consequences, a man with a wreckage in his wake everywhere, and who denies everything. He's someone that won't listen to anyone he doesn't agree with, and will listen to practically anyone who offers him the right kind of praise and loyalty. He has a long record of association with large-scale criminal and mafia elements, not to mention numerous scams, generally in the theme of real estate, but also in his charities and "university". This is the guy who will cause problems everywhere, and then blame everyone else, and get away with it. He more or less never suffers consequences. His record is a bit insane.

The book itself suffers a little because of its snark and the arrogance of Johnston. He's really well informed about Trump and really dedicated to his craft as a journalist, and that gives this book a lot of value. For this reason I recommend it, highly. But as you read it becomes clear that Johnston feels he can do no wrong as long he is honorable to the journalist's code of ethics. This is at best an incomplete story, and, if you like, a selection of highlights of the Donald Trump horror stories. It's rushed, and short, which is nice. But what is lost is much of the context in which all this stuff was taking place. I finished feeling very scared by Trump, aware of how bad he can get, but not feeling like I had a good sense of who he was day-to-day.

end rant.

Edited: Jan 1, 2017, 4:26pm Top

And that is the depressing end to my 2016 reading list. The year itself was decent. Lists can found in posts 4-7, and the numbers above in post >10 dchaikin:.

For something a little more uplifting, here is my 2016 shelf shortly before I take it down. These are the physical books I read this year that I actually own - 25 of the 55 books I read, and one of the 22 I listened to (the Ferrante).

Jan 1, 2017, 4:27pm Top

Jan 1, 2017, 5:24pm Top

Nice photo! That would be hard for me to copy, since I read so many ebooks now.

Sorry your final book of 2016 was such a downer. I can understand why it would be. Wondering if there is another book on the "T" subject that is more complete, in terms of context?

Jan 1, 2017, 5:34pm Top

Lisa - I haven't actually looked into more on Trump yet. I picked this one because it had a really nice review somewhere here in CR and because my library had it on audio and because it was finally available at the right time. I imagine there are some books in the works, I hope so.

At the moment I'm more curious as to why he had such wide appeal. This mystifies me - but, of course, it's not the first time this has happened in history. Openly terrible people can sometimes gain wide support and even inspire devotion. We're a weird animal.

Group: Club Read 2016

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