Books I Read in February 2015

The Tragedy of Coriolanus, by William Shakespeare — An amazing play, thought to be one of the last two tragedies by Shakespeare. Caius Marcius earns the name Coriolanus when he almost single-handedly turns the tide of a battle and takes the city of Corioli. Covered in glory, he returns to his home in Rome where he attempts to enter a political career. His pride and contempt for the people he wishes to represent, along with a couple of envious tribunes, result in his banishment. Enraged, he allies himself with his former enemies and leads an army against Rome. The end, of course, is a tragedy. Coriolanus is a powerful character and the play moves at a brisk pace. Coriolanus’s mother deserves special mention as a mother everyone would be glad not to have.

• The Odyssey, by Homer, a prose translation by E. V. Rieu — If the point of an adaptation is to get people to read the book on which it is based, the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000, starring George Clooney) succeeded — at least with me. (Rather amusing since, as I understand, neither of the writers/producers/editors/directors, Joel and Ethan Coen, have read The Odyssey.) Obviously, the movie is only loosely based on the book. After reading it, I think that the biggest similarity between the book and movie are the characters Odysseus and Everett. They are both clever, resourceful, opportunistic, and conceited men. Neither of them has any qualms about lying and each can come up with quite the elaborate story when they think the occasion calls for it. Also, given the number of descriptions of Odysseus’s physical appearance and accounts of his being bathed and oiled, it is obvious to me that, in the appropriate time period, he would definitely have been a “Dapper Dan man”.

I read a prose translation because it happened to be in the house. Perhaps someday I’ll look up a verse translation, but I found E. V. Rieu’s translation to be quite readable and not at all the intimidating piece of literature I half-expected The Odyssey to be. It was, overall, an interesting story, though quite gory occasionally. Unfortunately, I cannot give the movie an unqualified recommendation, due mostly to liberal amounts of bad language. It is, however, very funny and very quotable.

Florence Fuller - Inseparables - 1900• The Mill on the Floss, by George Eliot — The second of Eliot’s seven novels. “Sophie” of A Reasonable Quantity of Butter and I are reading through all of Eliot’s novels in chronological order and writing our thoughts on them. Links to all of our notes can be found here: Eliot Project.

• Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce, with a new epilogue, by Stanley Weintraub — The first Christmas of World War I (1914-18), in numerous places along the front lines, enemies laid down their weapons and celebrated the holiday together. In his book, Stanley Weintraub gathers together many first-hand accounts along with stories and comics written about the truce. I sometimes had trouble remembering which characters were real and which fictional, but it was a pretty good book otherwise. The author writes about how the truce started, the forms it took, and how it ended. It was surprising even to many of the participants. One of them, Lieutenant Sir Edward Hulse, wrote in a letter to his mother about how the enemies began singing together, song after song. They “ended up with Auld Lang Syne, which we all, English, Scots, Irish, Prussians, Württembergers, etc., joined in. It was absolutely astounding, and if I had seen it on a cinematograph film I should have sworn that it was faked!” Another participant, Corporal Josef Wenzl recorded, “For the rest of my life, … I shall never forget this scene. Which goes to show that human feelings continue to go on even if, in these times, men do not know anything but killing and murdering.” The tragedy is that it ever ended.

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Painting is “Inseparables” (circa 1900) by Florence Fuller (1867-1946).

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3 Responses to Books I Read in February 2015

  1. Coriolanus was surprisingly good. I read it recently after seeing the play performed. If you get a chance to see it, do so. It works really well on the stage. Cheers!

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