King Lear

Shakespeare, William. “King Lear.” The Riverside Shakespeare. Ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974. 1249-1305

Reason read:Billy the Bard was born in April.

I think I have had to read King Lear half a dozen times in my academic career. It keeps coming back. It is interesting to note that this time I didn’t read it as a Pearl pick, but rather as a Pearl comparison. King Lear is compared to a Jane Smiley novel in More Book Lust in the chapter, “Big Ten Country: The Literary Midwest (Iowa) (p 27).

So, back to Mr. Shakespeare and his brilliant tragedy. To sum up the play in one sentence: this is the story of a king seeking to divide his kingdom among his three daughters based on who could articulate her love for him the best. Beyond that it is the tragedy of emotional greed – of wanting to be loved at any cost. It is the tragedy of politics and family dynamics. Youngest daughter Cordelia is unwilling to conform to her father’s wishes of exaggerated devotion. Isn’t the last born always the rebel in the family? As a result Cordelia’s portion of the kingdom is divided among her two sisters, Goneril and Regan. The story goes on to ooze betrayal and madness. Lear is trapped by his own ego and made foolish by his hubris.

Author trivia: it makes me giggle to think that Shakespeare was married to a woman named Anne Hathaway, only not that Anne Hathaway.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called (as mentioned before), “Big Ten Country: the Literary Midwest (Iowa)” (p 27).

In the Gloaming

Dark, Alice Elliot. In the Gloaming: stories. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000.

When I first saw Ms. Dark’s photo on the inside jacket of In the Gloaming I thought it was a gloomy picture and hoped the stories inside would not reflect the author’s sad expression. In a way it was a premonition. Of all the stories in In the Gloaming only two were not tinged with sadness and general dissatisfaction. Every story is comprised of three components: characters with dilemmas or decisions to make, human interactions that depend on the outcome of the dilemma or decision, and a sparse plot serving as a thin backdrop to the character conflict.
Case in point: Mother and son get to know each other in the title story. Son is dying of AIDS while father slips out of the picture. Mother’s dilemma is whether to acknowledge her son’s inevitable demise or pretend his life has hope. Another example, in “The Jungle Lodge” two sisters are on vacation in the Amazon. One sister has the dilemma of whether or not to tell the other she had been raped while discovering her sister’s improper relationship. One last dilemma. In “Close” a man’s dilemma is which woman to continue a relationship with, his pretty mistress or his pregnant wife while learning his childhood home is up for sale.Each dilemma or decision has an impact on the supporting characters.

Favorite line, “There was something about the way they were touching that seemed to surpass the medicinal purpose they’d claimed” (p 54).

Author Fact: Alice Elliott Dark has her own blog on blogspot. I checked it out and was surprised to see only 15 posts, but then again it was only started in September 2010.

Book Trivia: The title story was made into a movie for HBO starring Glenn Close and directed by Christopher Reeves. Yes, another movie I have yet to see.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “My Name is Alice: (p 1). Funny thing, In the Gloaming was somehow omitted from the index of Book Lust. It should have been indexed between In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz and In the Kingdom of Air. Oh well.

Night Before Christmas

Moore, Clement Clarke. A Visit From St. Nicholas. Mount Vernon: Peter Pauper Press, 1950.

When I was a child no five words filed my head with more wonder than, “Twas the night before Christmas…” On Christmas Eve my sister and I would crowd around the cb radio and listen to a local fisherman read Moore’s famous poem. When did he start this tradition, I have no idea. When did he stop, I haven’t the faintest. But while I was young and believed with a capital B I hung on his every word.

Who doesn’t know the rest of that first line, “Twas the night before Christmas”? It has got to be the most recited, most beloved poem of Christmas and all year round. I went years without knowing who wrote it but could recite it line for line.

Here’s the basic premise for a poem you all know by heart. It’s the night before Christmas and an overly observant man is just getting ready for bed. He makes comments about how still the house is, how the kids are sleeping, and so forth when suddenly he hears something. His wife must be a heavy sleeper for only the man hears a commotion outside. A portly man driving a sleigh with a herd of deer leading the way flies across the sky. They land on the roof and enter the house via the chimney. Somehow this doesn’t faze the homeowner at all. He takes his time describing the intruder and accepts the gifts he leaves. I suppose the detailed description would come in handy for the police should the homeowner later report the odd event. When the little man has finished unpacking his sack he disappears up the chimney again and drives out of sight exclaiming my favorite line, “Happy Christmas to all and to all a Good Night!” (p 16).

Author Fact: Moore was a professor at Columbia and taught Oriental and Greek literature.

Book Poem Trivia: Since A Visit From St. Nicholas was first published anonymously there is some controversy surrounding the true author. Interestingly enough, Nancy Pearl doesn’t give any author credit.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “Christmas Books for the Whole Family” (p 55). I have a confession to make. Because Nancy Pearl called it “The Night Before Christmas” and not “A Visit From St. Nicholas” I am assuming they are one and the same.

ps~ the version I borrowed from the library had sign language as an accompaniment to the story. Very cool.

Goodbye, Columbus

Roth, Philip. “Goodbye, Columbus.” Novels and Stories. 1959 – 1962. Ed. Ross Miller. New York: The Library of America, 2005. 7 – 108.

Neil Klugman is a 23 year old man living with his self martyred aunt and uncle in Newark, New Jersey while his asthmatic parents convalesce in Arizona. “Goodbye, Columbus” is told from his point of view and could be seen as a Jewish American coming-of-age story about Neil’s summer romance with wealthy, snobbish Brenda Patimkins. It is closer to the truth to say “Goodbye, Columbus” is a commentary on class. Neil and Brenda’s socioeconomic differences create subtle tensions between the couple until they discover their relationship is built on lust rather than love. This is most apparent when Neil says, “Actually we did not have the feelings we said we had until we spoke them – at least I didn’t, to phrase them was to invent them and own them” (p 19). I have to admit it took me a while to figure out where the title of the story came from. Turns out, Brenda’s brother would listen to what Neil referred to as the “Columbus record” before bed – a recording of his Ohio State sports career. Neil could hear a moaning of the words, “Goodbye, Columbus” over and over again.

Favorite lines: “…it was disturbing to Aunt Gladys to think that anything she served might pass through a gullet, stomach, and bowel just for the pleasure of the trip” (p 9)., and “Ther proposed toasts…Brenda smiled at them with her eyeteeth and I brought up a cheery look from some fraudulent auricle of my heart” (p 88).

Author fact: Philip Roth is so popular that in Texas there is an organization called the Philip Roth Society and it for the scholarly study and general appreciation of Roth’s work.

Book Trivia: Goodbye Columbus was made into a movie starring Richard Benjamin and Ali MacGraw. I was stunned by how many different actresses turned down the role of Brenda before Ali came along. Yet again, another movie I haven’t seen.

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in two different chapters. First, in the chapter called “Jersey Guys and Dolls” (p 130), then in the chapter called “You Can’t Judge a Book By Its Cover” (p 238). This last admission cracks me up because MY cover of “Goodbye, Columbus” is a photograph of Philip Roth’s face!

Palace Thief

Canin, Ethan. The Palace Thief: Stories. New York: Random House, 1994.

What can I say about The Palace Thief that hasn’t been said before? The writing is brilliant. Being only 202 pages long I burned through it in a matter of days. The Palace Thief is comprised of four short stories, Accountant, Batorsag and Szerelem, City of Broken Hearts and The Palace Thief. Each story centers around a main character who is always male, always a little egocentric, always misguided, and always more than a little lonely and misunderstood. Canin’s style is to give you a peep show sampling of these characters and the lives try to lead. As the reader you are allowed only a negotiated proximity to what really makes each man tick. It’s teasing and tantalizing and because the stories are that good you find yourself forgiving Mr. Canin for this.
I don’t think this is a spoiler of any sort to question if Canin speaks Hungarian on a regular basis.

Favorite line: From City of Broken Hearts: “It was just that Wilson could never figure out when it was all right to ask” (p 112). Wilson is a man too wrapped up in his own selfishness and vanity to understand his philanthropic son. This line resonated with me because I know we have all had family members we want to grill but we never seem to figure out when is the best time (if ever).

Author Fact: Ethan Andrew Canin has no shortage of occupations. When he isn’t writing he is teaching…or practicing medicine. Biographies claim he has a BA in English or a BA in Engineering from Stanford (hey, both degrees start with ‘eng’).

Book Trivia: Two of the short stories were made into movies. Batorsag and Szerelem was made into a movie called ‘Beautiful Ohio’ in 2006 and the title story, Palace Thief was made into a movie called “The Emperor’s Club” in 2002. I have yet to see either one.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “Growing Writers” (p 107).

Best Nightmare on Earth

Gold, Herbert. Best Nightmare on Earth: a Life in Haiti.New York: Prentice Hall Press, 1991.

I love reading books that hold hands. The Comedians by Graham Greene is mentioned a bunch of times in Hebert Gold’s Best nightmare on Earth. Because I had read (inadvertently) The Comedians before Nightmare I knew what Gold was talking about. I could relate and it just worked out that way. Funny how Pearl didn’t call these two books “companion reads” because they seem like they were meant to read together.
Herbert Gold discovered Haiti on a Fulbright Scholarship. This was to be the beginning of an addiction to a hellish paradise. For the next forty years Gold traveled between the States and the Caribbean trying this craving. Through Best Nightmare on Earth Gold does his best to explain this curious attraction while holding nothing back. He peels back the layers of politics and corruption to reveal exotic grace and mystery. Papa Doc (both father and son) rule the land while voodoo rules all. Gold’s descriptions of the violence, the celebrations, the loves and losses are as vivid as the realities of greed and poverty.

Favorite quotes, “Despite my yearning for privacy, I also needed sociability, the opening and the shutting of the mouth to utter companionable sounds” (p 112), “Wasn’t running something that human beings took up in hostile environments, in worlds of desert hunting and forest seeking, chasing animals, preening for partners, sometimes being chased?” (p 191), and “Proud despair is the mood of everyone” (p 199).

Author Fact: Herbert Gold was a member of the Beat Generation and dear friends with Allen Ginsberg.

Book Trivia: For those wanting to know more about Haiti (the good, the bad and the ugly) Best Nightmare on Earth is almost always listed in the bibliography.

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called “The Contradictory Caribbean: Paradise and Pain” (p 55).

Made in America

Bryson, Bill. Made in America: an Informal History of the English Language in the United States. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1994.

Made in America has multiple personalities. It could be seen as a classification of American etymology, a short history of American culture, a collection of forgotten trivia, a handbook of conversation starters, a joke book of humor, or as most people see it, all of the above. The inside cover of Made in America sums up the book perfectly, “Bryson’s is a unique history, not only of American words, but of America through words.”

Favorite lines, “…Clark fared better. He became governor of the Missouri Territory and commanded it with distinction, though he never did learn to spell” (p122).

Favorite tidbits of information: Frederick Remington never saw a real cowboy and was too fat to ever get on a horse; foodcarts weren’t allowed to vend on residential streets so they moved to parking lots, removed their wheels and became restaurants; Sylvester Graham believed food with taste was immoral.

Book Trivia: You could call Made in America a history of American words or words describing an American history.
Author Fact: Bill Bryson once worked in a psychiatric hospital. Doing what? Making the patients laugh out loud when things got too manic?

Book Lust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called “Bill Bryson: Too Good To Miss” (p 36).