The Believer Book of Writers Talking to Writers
Teutoburg Forest AD 9: The destruction of Varus and his legions (Campaign)
Fragments (Penguin Classics) (English and Greek Edition)
Teach Yourself VISUALLY Access 2010 (Teach Yourself VISUALLY (Tech))
Guys Read: Funny Business
I Can’t Keep My Own Secrets: Six-Word Memoirs by Teens Famous & Obscure
Prometheus Bound/ Loeb Classic LIB/Aeschylus
Prometheus Unbound/NORTON ANTHOLOGY OF ENGLISH LITERATURE
McSweeney’s Book of Poets Picking Poets
Sol Stein on Writing
Remembrance of Things Past
King Arthur and His Knights of The Round Table (Puffin Classics edition)
Anyone who’s ever been to college could recognize a Norton from twenty paces. Books four and five inches thick with onion skin paper and teeny-weeny eyestrain-o-vision print set wall to wall with text. Anything written by T. S. Eliot or using images from Greek mythology was bloated with annotation (Percy Shelley). Those symbolist poet bastards! Ezra Pound? Three lines of poetry and the rest of the page is annotation. Those were the ones to avoid if you could. Me? I used to get a kick out of finding those pages where tiny fairy print was 7/8 of the page. I don’t know why that tickled me so much. Then as you go farther into the modern writers, the annotations decrease exponentially. Is it because they have ceased drawing from Classical sources? Is the imagery too obvious? Does our shared history make annotation unnecessary?
The problem with Norton is that one volume is not enough. They should probably go to three volumes and make students take three semesters of English Lit, three of American and three of World. In a pinch, let them chose between English and World. World is more depressing, though. Rilke, Camus, Kafka, Chekov, Proust. Oy! English Lit is downright chirpy compared to Proust and Kafka. Kafka probably thinks Proust is an optimist.
On the subject of English Lit, I am distressed as a human being and as a teacher that my students have no knowledge of Robin Hood and King Arthur. No thing! Nada. Zero. Zilch. Keiner. The foundational characters of our language, going back even before Chaucer. As far as I know, they are no longer taught. So I’ve done my de rigeur Morte by Malory, but now I’m reading Roger Lancelyn Green’s kiddie version from Puffin Classics. I also have a Reader’s Digest Condensed Books version of, I think, Malory’s. The PC version moves fairly swiftly from story to story. The thing is, lots of connective tissue is excised in order to keep the story moving. Merlin tells King Arthur that if he marries Guinevere, he will hasten the end of his reign and the end of Britain as he knows it. War will be fought over her honor. People – good and faithful knights – are going to die because marriage to her will set them both up to be shamed. Okay. Something to think about. Yet, in this version, Arthur’s response is, essentially, “Yeah, but she’s hot. I love her.” Ooooooooh, weeeeeeeeellllllll aaaaaaaaaaallllrighty then!
Seriously though, Robin Hood and King Arthur should be taught still. What they represent is still important. National unity, justice, honor, high ideals, doing for others, striving. Do we not need them now? Are not our children’s spirits starved for these high ideas whose words do not even appear in their vocabularies? Do they mention honor and justice in the Harry Potter books? Do they mention them in the Twilight books? In Goosebumps? Yeah, I didn’t think so. Any honor to be found in a vampire is strictly deus ex machina. If they are not to be taught anymore, do we have something better?
What led me to the Norton was my LOEB Aeschylus. I picked up Prometheus Bound on a lark because my classes are reading the pantheon stories. Most of them are reading these stories for the first time – at 13-14 years old. Sad. Sad. Sad. So I’m reading it and liking it more and more as I go along. It’s a fantastic, fantastical story. Pro talks about geography and history. When he was talking about Io and her life as a heifer, he beautifully describes her journey across what is now eastern Europe and northern Asia and how her journeys influenced the development of those areas. For example, Io crossed a river that eventually became the Bosphorous. Is that why we call cows “Bossie”? Just thinking aloud. Hold your tomatoes.
So PB led me to Prometheus Unbound. It seemed the obvious thing to do. Percy Shelley’s long poem is a re-telling of PB in the form of a drama written as a poem. Stylistically, Percy lays it on with a trowel.
Misery, O misery to me,
That Jove at length should vanquish thee.
Wail, howl, aloud, Land and Sea.
The Earth’s rent heart shall answer ye.
Shelley is a poet’s poet. He knows what he do. If you can get past the bombast and the treacly text, it’s actually quite easy to understand, which is great because PU covers a lot of territory in history, geography, mythology, politics, and philosophy.
In the poetry vein, the McSweeney’s book is a sweet book of poetry. It’s a bit oversized for a vade mecum but it’s good reading when you’re waiting in line somewhere. It’s chains of poetry linked by the whims of the contributors. First, McSweeney chooses a poet and poem. Then the chosen one chooses another one of their own and a poem by another poet. The “another” choses one of their own, and one by another “another”. I’m not sure I have the math right, but it ends up being a chain of five poets per group. Anyway, it explains it the “About This Book” on page iii. It’s almost like Grammar B poetry. Rhyme is kind of scarce. But there is rhythm and concrete imagery and symbolism. Most of the poems are moody yet energetic, clever yet plain. Most of the titles are boring, but who reads poems for titles.
Sol Stein on Writing. Awesome! Get it! Don’t be a writer without it.
Remembrance of Things Past. Oh my freaking Gawd! I’m on page 114 and every sentence but 3 are like 70, 80, 90 words long. WTF! If you’re looking for a reason to hate the French, this one will do nicely. Labyrinthine sentences that snake across the page word after word slithering through your right brain as your left brain stands to one side making sure every word is accounted for entangle you in the life of a young boy who, sadly, spent waaaaaaay to much time alone in the same way that the lady in “The Yellow Wallpaper” spent too much time alone and ended up trying to insinuate herself into said wallpaper, instead of going outside to play because he was smothered by concern and reverse hypochondria wherein his parents always thought he was sickly. So, yeah. Like that. Page after page after page of diarrheic introspection. The diary from hell!
I Can’t Keep My Own Secrets: No surprise there you whinging, melodramatic, gadget-fixated, anti-intellectual namby-pamby cry-baby. Get a job or get an education. Make yourself useful then maybe you’ll be able to keep secrets instead of crying into your Red Bull and vodka that life is not fair and that you’re expected to contribute to this planet instead of bitching about how nothing is free.
Conquest: So much promise before you open the book. So much suckage after. So many jumping off points that went nowhere. The Khan-Gor legend which has now claimed two brides from the house of Q’an Tal. Stories of characters left untold. It has – if you’ll pardon the expression – petered out. This collection sucks like a Hoover on crack. The stories and characters were flaccid. (Ooooh, naughty!)