I didn't enjoy this book as well as I had hoped to as much of it is a rather dry analysis of Shakespeare's use of syntax, meter and other grammar. How...moreI didn't enjoy this book as well as I had hoped to as much of it is a rather dry analysis of Shakespeare's use of syntax, meter and other grammar. However, as with several recent books, the last chapter lifted it from the 2-2.5 region to a 3-star rating.
(As an aside, the author has elected to represent quotes in their orignal Elizabethan spelling and orthography. Thus, one must struggle through By vs perform'd before. Most dearly welcome, / And your faire Princesse oh: alas, / I los a couple, that 'twixt Heauen and Earth / might thus haue stood..., and so on. I understand Crystal's purpose -- he's trying to show that the original language is not that far from modern English -- but it is hard to read for the unpracticed eye and it unnecessarily (I think) slows the reader down.
In terms of "translating" Shakespeare into English, I'm more sympathetic to John McWhorter's view (cf., The Power of Babel that we shouldn't be afraid to modernize at least those problematic passages that only an EngLit scholar could interpret. As he points out, when Shakespeare is translated into French or Japanese, the translator doesn't use the Parisian dialect of the Sun King's Court or the Japanese of the Tokugawa Shogunate, they use the modern form.)
For me, the most interesting parts of the book were the first chapters, where Crystal discusses Shakespeare's influence on English and the textual history of the plays. In regards to influence, Shakespeare is not the "inventor" of modern English, though he's often the first citation in the OED for a lot of coinages. The Bard's genius lay in how he used the language both stylistically and to expose the human "soul."
The textual tradition is also fascinating. The "definitive" First Folio was only published in 1623, seven years after Shakespeare's death. Before then, quartos of various quality were published from 1594-1622. Ultimately, it's impossible to know exactly what was said on the Globe's stage. In illustration, Crystal reprints three versions of Hamlet's "to be or not to be" soliloquy:
First Folio: To be, or not to be, that is the Question: / Whether 'tis Nobler in the minde to suffer / The Slings and Arrowes of outragious Fortune, / Or to take Armes against a Sea of troubles, / And by opposing end them: to dye, to sleepe / No more; and by a sleepe, to say we end / The Heart-ake, and the thousand Naturall shockes / That Flesh is heyre too? / 'Tis a consummation
"Good" quarto version (1604): To be, or not to be, that is the question, / Whether tis nobler in the minde to suffer / The slings and arrowes of outragious fortune, / Or to take Armes against a sea of troubles, / And by opposing, end them, to die to sleepe / No more, and by a sleepe, to say we end / The hart-ake, and the thousand naturall shocks / That flesh is heire to; tis a consummation
"Bad" quarto version (1603): To be, or not to be, I there's the point, / To Die, to sleepe, is that all? I all: / No, to sleepe, to dreame, I mary there it goes, / For in that dreame of death, when wee awake, / And borne before an euerlasting Iudge, / From whence no passenger euer retur'nd, / The vndiscouered country, at whose sight / The happy smile, and the accursed damn'd. (pp. 24-5)
The rest of the book, as I wrote above, is taken up with a rather dry dissection of the plays but Crystal's concluding paragraph perfectly spells out why Shakespeare continues as the nearly undisputed masterof the English language and its use: In his (Shakespeare's) best writing, we see how to make a language work to that it conveys the effects we want it to. Above all, Shakespeare shows us how to dare to do things with language. Dare we invent words to express the inexpressible? We dare.... Dare we manipulate parts-of-speech as if they were pieces of plasticine? We dare.... Dare we take the norms of (meter) or word-order and make them do our bidding? We dare.... In a Shakespearean master-class, we would receive an object-lesson in the effective bending and breaking of rules. (p. 233)(less)
I picked this book from the New Books shelf at one of my libraries because I was intrigued by the title and because they had chapters on Ursula le Gui...moreI picked this book from the New Books shelf at one of my libraries because I was intrigued by the title and because they had chapters on Ursula le Guin and Philip Pullman (whose Golden Compass books I had just finished reading). It wasn't until I started reading that I realized the authors were evangelical Christian apologists (not a "bad" thing in and of itself).
As Christians, the authors have little use for myth that doesn't conform to their notion of usefulness; and part of that usefulness is the struggle between objective, transcendent Good and Evil. Thus, their chief objection to Le Guin is her rejection of that world view in favor of a more East Asian-flavored one of balance and karma. The authors dismiss Le Guin because she doesn't subscribe to a notion of good and evil that transcends a particular context. For Le Guin, a "good" action is one that maintains the "balance"; an "evil" action is one that disrupts it. Now, admittedly, what Le Guin might mean by "balance" can be a bit fuzzy (she's an author telling a story, not a philosopher, after all) but the context is a fantasy, where long, didactic passages are to be avoided. Particularly in her latest work, however, I think Le Guin has shown how her morality works out in practice. As she has written about her Earthsea novels, she would have written parts very differently.
The authors don't believe in Le Guin's basis for moral acts, and are in the habit of dismissing her justifications as "unsatisfying" or "evasive" -- which, of course, they would be to someone who believes Good and Evil are defined by a transcendent Superior Being (God, Allah or Iluvatar, as the case may be). The authors are great fans of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis because both base their mythologies on essentially Abrahamic foundations.
What really galls me is that Dickerson and O'Hara think it's a failing that Le Guin's morality "places a burden on people without giving them any means to lift that burden." (p. 185) They believe it's better to do something because it is ordained by God, who bears the responsibility for its consequences, than to do something because one has weighed the consequences and has consciously chosen to bear them. It's all well and good to let God "bear the burden" but in the real world it's real men and women who wind up bearing it. Le Guin's notion of a constant struggle between actions that are not wholly right or wrong is far closer to reality than a bold hero, confidentally choosing Good over Evil. A struggle, ironically enough, Tolkien clearly recognized. The example the authors employ to illustrate their point -- Aragorn's decision to follow Merry and Pippin instead of Frodo and Sam or go directly to Gondor -- undermines their argument. Aragorn's dilemma is precisely that he doesn't know what the Good is and must rely on what he believes will result for the best, knowing that the consequences will fall entirely upon him and his fellows. In the context of Earthsea, the authors are upset that Le Guin's resolutions tend to be "ambiguous, and the problem winds up being skirted by unfounded dogmatic assertions." (p. 186)
They also complain that in Le Guin's moral universe, the best choice is often to do nothing as the more power one can wield, the wider the consequences. But this is exactly the conundrum that faces the Valar and Gandalf and Aragorn and Frodo, all in their own ways. Gandalf, potentially as powerful as Sauron, his fellow Maia, cannot exert his power without risking his "integrity" (or "soul," if you will) and becoming Sauron (a trap Saruman doesn't escape). Of course, there are times to act -- Radagast is an example of falling into the opposite hole that snared Saruman, doing nothing regardless -- but the choice is fraught with perils and it's not easy to know when it's necessary, i.e., it's AMBIGUOUS!
I think the authors are right, however, in their distinction between Tolkienesque worldviews and Le Guin's ("leguinian"?) -- Tolkien sees a permanent, eternal life beyond this one; Le Guin sees a transient flame that burns briefly and then is gone, making it just that more precious. They dismiss Le Guin's views as "unfounded dogmatism" but Tolkien's are just as baseless. It's a matter of how one chooses to understand their place in the world.
Despite my "one star" rating, I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the issues raised by the authors; I just profoundly disagree with their conclusions.(less)
This is a collection of essays tracing the influences on Chabon's writing and some of the reasons he writes. All of them are interesting to varying de...moreThis is a collection of essays tracing the influences on Chabon's writing and some of the reasons he writes. All of them are interesting to varying degrees. The following notes are about the essays that aroused my particular interest but the entire volume is recommended for Chabon fans (of whom I'm not really one) and anyone interested in that genre of authorial self-examination (of whom I am one).
The first essay, "Trickster in a Suit of Lights" takes up the argument that the short story needs to push or even cross genre boundaries in order to renew itself.
In another essay, "Fan Fictions: On Sherlock Holmes," Chabon indulges in a Freudian analysis of Conan Doyle and the origins of his greatest, if self-avowedly least loved, character, Sherlock Holmes. He also explores the consequences when Doyle blurs the line between fact and fiction by presenting the stories as taken from the notes kept by Dr. Watson. The concluding paragraph is my favorite: "Through parody and pastiche, allusion and homage, retelling and reimagining the stories that were told before us and that we have come of age loving...have left for us, hoping to pass on to our own readers...some of the pleasure that we ourselves have taken in the stuff we love; to get in on the game. All novels are sequels; influence is bliss." (p. 57)
In "Kids' Stuff," Chabon pleads for a return to comic books written for kids (not that he hates the "graphic novel"; other essays heap praises on some of its most noted authors) and suggests four principles to follow to make them competitive with all the other media bombarding children today:
1. We should tell stories that we would have liked to hear or read as kids.
2. Build stories that build up an intricate mythology that is accessible and comprehensible at any point of entry. Every story should be a self-contained thread in a tapestry. The thread can be intricate and beautiful all on its own but is also part of a larger picture that could enrich the understanding of the viewer.
3. Cultivate a readiness to retell the same stories with endless embellishment -- repetition with variation.
4. "Let's blow their little minds" -- and not just with over-the-top action sequences. Let's shake up their world and show how much vaster and marvelous it can be. (pp. 92-94)
In "Dark Adventure: On Cormac McCarthy's The Road," Chabon argues "the audacity and single-mindedness with which The Road extends the metaphor of a father's guilt and heartbreak over abandoning his son to shift for himself in a ruined, friendless world that The Road finds its great power to move and horrify the reader." (p. 120)(less)
I kind of hate reading books of this sort as they leave me with a heightened awareness of style, character, rhythm, etc. that makes it difficult to re...moreI kind of hate reading books of this sort as they leave me with a heightened awareness of style, character, rhythm, etc. that makes it difficult to read average or sub-par fiction. Of course, the benefit of reading books like this is that I do cultivate a more discriminatory taste so that I read only the best "trashy" novels.
I haven't read any of Wood's criticisms but if this brief tome is any indication of the author's style, erudition and insightfulness, I have been missing out.
As with other books in this genre, Wood covers the elements of the novel - narrative, detail, character, dialog, realism & style - and briefly discusses its evolution (tracing some of those elements as far back as the biblical David).
While the whole work is impressive, I was taken with several particulars:
NARRATIVE: Here, Wood doesn't focus so much on differences between 1st person and 3rd person so much as on what he terms "free indirect style" - which is the tension between the author's perceptions and language and the character's. As examples of this he quotes from Henry James' What Maisie Knew (a successful balance) and John Updike's Terrorist (an unsuccessful attempt):
She knew governesses were poor; Miss Overmore was unmentionably and Mrs. Wix ever so publicly so. Neither this, however, nor the old brown frock nor the diadem nor the button, made a difference for Maisie in the charm put forth through everything, the charm of Mrs. Wix's conveying that somehow, in her ugliness and her poverty, she was peculiarly and soothingly safe; safer than any one in the world, than papa, than mamma, than the lady with the arched eyebrows; safe even, though so much less beautiful, than Miss Overmore, on whose loveliness, as she supposed it, the little girl was faintly conscious that one couldn't rest with quite the same tucked-in and kissed-for-good-night feeling. Mrs. Wix was as safe as Clara Matilda, who was in heaven and yet, embarrassingly, also in Kensal Green, where they had been together to see her little huddled grave. (p. 14)
Ahmad is eighteen. This is early April; again green sneaks, seed by seed, into the drab city's earthy crevices. He looks down from his new height and thinks that to the insects unseen in the grass he would be, if they had a consciousness like his, God. In the year past he has grown three inches, to six feet - more unseen materialist forces, working their will upon him. He will not grow any taller, he thinks, in this life or the next. If there is a next, an inner devil murmurs. What evidence beyond the Prophet's blazing and divinely inspired words proves that there is a next? Where would it be hidden? Who would forever stoke Hell's boilers? What infinite source of energy would maintain opulent Eden, feeding its dark-eyed houris, swelling its heavy-hanging fruits, renewing the streams and splashing fountains in which God, as described in the ninth sura of the Qur'an, take eternal good pleasure? What of the second law of thermodynamics? (pp. 27-8)
In the first excerpt, Wood argues that James authentically inhabits Maisie's mind and yet can pull away to show the world around her. Whereas, Ahmad is thinking the Updike's thoughts, not his own (As soon as we imagine a Christian version of this narration, we can guage Updike's awkward alienation from his character (p. 29))
CHARACTER: Character is the most difficult aspect of the novel to invoke. All too often authors fall back on static imagery. (p. 95f) Good characters are invoked using the telling detail or the nontelling detail. I.e., we remember them because of what they do or fail to do. This applies both to main characters and incidental ones:
Ford Madox Ford...writes wonderfully about getting a character up and running - what he calls "getting a character in...." Ford...loved a sentence from a Maupassant story, "La Reine Hortense": "He was a gentleman with red whiskers who always went first through a doorway." Ford comments: "That gentleman is so sufficiently got in that you need no more of him to understand how he will act. He has been 'got in' and can get to work at once." (pp. 96-7)
Word's section titled "Brief History of Consciousness" also stands out in my mind. Here, he traces how story telling evolved from King David, all external action, to Macbeth, a tale of "publicized privacy," to Raskolnikov (Crime and Punishment), where the character "is being watched by us, the readers." (p. 146) This makes possible the novel as analyst of psychological/internal motives like no other medium before or since. (pp. 147-8)
As before with "character," Wood quotes extensively from Ford's The English Novel and his memoir of Joseph Conrad: It was to Diderot...that the Novel owes its next great step forward.... At that point it became suddenly evident that the Novel as such was capable of being regarded as a means of profoundly serious and many-sided discussion and therefore a medium of profoundly serious investigation into the human case. (p. 165) And, What was the matter with the Novel...was that it went straight forward, whereas in your gradual making acquaintanceship with your fellows you never do go straight forward.... To get such a man in fiction you could not begin at his beginning and work his life chronologically to the end. You must first get him in with a strong impression and then work backwards and forwards over his past. (pp. 166-7)
A few other highlights from the book: Section 97: The novel explores the complexity of human life - the contradictions and compromises all must make with themselves and others to live: Of course, the novel does not provide philosophical answers.... Instead...it gives the best account of the complexity of our moral fabric. (pp. 178-9)
In these sections, too, Wood raises problems of translation. E.g., Flaubert's original "L'idee d'avoir engendre le delectait" loses its "music" in English. I've always wished I could read the original Russian because I can't know whether I like Chekhov and Dostoyevsky or their translators.
To finish out this section, an observation (paraphrased): The good novelist balances free indirect speech with style - the "music" of a sentence.
Finally, toward the end of the book, Wood illustrates the competent but uninspired prose of much fiction (using an excerpt from Le Carre's Smiley's People (p. 231)). It's not bad writing but it takes few risks ("thin" hotel). The serious writer should reject "mere photographic fidelity, because art selects and shapes." (p. 240)
I read a review in The New York Review of Books (Nov. 20, 2008, Vol. LV, No. 18) after finishing this book that, I think, nicely sums up what Wood is doing: This, surely, is the heart of Wood's argument, that we go to fiction for many reasons...but what we are really in search of is not fiction, but life itself. Like the figures in our dreams, the characters we encounter in fiction are really us, and the story we are told is the story of ourselves. (NYRB, p. 88)
If the length of this review is any indication, you can see that I'm quite taken with this book and will be buying my own copy as soon as it comes out in paperback or I can get a cheap, used copy.(less)
OK, so why put this on your "must read" list? To start, Mendelsohn is a brilliant critic who writes insightfully and without condescension t...moreBrilliant!
OK, so why put this on your "must read" list? To start, Mendelsohn is a brilliant critic who writes insightfully and without condescension to author, work or audience (reader, movie-goer, etc.). Even when he utterly demolishes his subject, he never descends to snark or gratuitous sniping. Many times, I got the sense of a man exasperated with how close these artists get to creating something of real meaning/value but keep missing the target.
In his introduction, Mendelsohn explains the criteria by which he judges -
(1) Meaningful coherence of form and content; (2) Precise employment of detail to support (1); (3) Vigor and clarity of expression; and (4) Seriousness of purpose (p. xv)
Quite independent of Mendelsohn, I'm happy (and perhaps a bit smug) to say my own judgments have come around to these selfsame points, even regarding the "brain candy" I may read when the "big issues" get tiresome. I find it nearly impossible to read a book anymore (or watch a movie for that matter) where the author can't write, doesn't take her job seriously, or both - even when it's "just" book #347 in Space Bimbos of the Black Sun series.
Oh, but we live in a "dark age" of culture where far too often we eschew wrestling with real tragedy for sentimentalism; melodrama; and feel-good, Lifetime movie endings. This is a common theme in many of the essays found here, from the first essay on Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones through stagings of Tennessee Williams and Euripides, reviews of Quentin Tarantino and Pedro Almodovar, to Oliver Stone's World Trade Center. (Regarding the latter, Mendelsohn compares Stone's film to Aeschylus' The Persians, and makes the point that, even writing of a glorious Hellenic triumph (Marathon & Salamis), the Greek playwright chose to portray the reactions of the Persians, asking his Athenian audience "to think radically, to imagine something outside of their own experience, to situate the feelings they were having just then...in a vaster frame" (p. 452), whereas Stone's "pretty much exclusive emphasis thus far on the `good'...in these entertainments is noteworthy, because it reminds you of the unwillingness to grapple with and acknowledge the larger issues...which has characterized much of the natural response to this pivotal trauma (9/11)." (p. 451))
Mendelsohn has inspired me to try opera - a genre for which I have little liking. I don't know why. I understand neither Italian nor French but it's not like I object to subtitles - I love Hong Kong martial arts flicks. And I dated a woman who adored opera and enthralled me with her enthusiastic descriptions of the medium. Whatever the case, the author's analysis of the Met's recent staging of Lucia di Lammermoor "forced" me to check out a DVD of Joan Sutherland's version from the library, and as I write this review, listen to a CD of Ion Marin's version with Cheryl Studer and Placido Domingo. Who knows where this could lead?
And, having read Mendelsohn's reviews of Troy and Alexander - the recent "epics" based on The Iliad and the life of Alexander the Great - I was again compelled. In this case to add them to my Netflix queue if only to see how badly they failed to capture their subjects. (Mendelsohn includes his review of 300 here as well but there are limits. The trailers were stomach churning enough.)
Lastly, I'm rereading Euripides' Medea in light of Mendelsohn's review of Deborah Warner's "vulgar, loud, and uncomprehending" (p. 418) Broadway staging of the play.
At the risk of spoiling your ability to enjoy guilty pleasures like Stephanie Meyer (as I know a few of my GR friends do :-), I strongly recommend this book to one and all.(less)
Michael Dirda's Classics for Pleasure is an eminently readable collection of three-to-five-page essays on authors of the less...more"Real" rating = 3.5 or so
Michael Dirda's Classics for Pleasure is an eminently readable collection of three-to-five-page essays on authors of the lesser known "classics" of Western literature (mostly - Dirda does slip in Laozi (China) and Ferdowsi (Iran)). I'm not about to rush out and find all of the works mentioned in this book but there are some that I am interested in reading. And the ones that I don't feel attracted to? Well, now at least I have an idea of what I'm missing. (Truly, I think in many cases, I would enjoy Dirda's essay more than the author's work itself.)
The book is divided into eleven sections:
I. Playful Imaginations: Here Dirda introduces masters of the lighter side of the human condition, starting with the Greek Lucian. Of the selection, Ivy Compton-Burnett looked interesting enough for me to follow up on. And, while I have no great interest in S.J. Perelman's collected work, Dirda does quote a passage from "Strictly from Hunger" that I particularly liked: "Our meal finished, we sauntered into the rumpus room and Diana turned on the radio. With a savage snarl the radio turned on her." (p. 27)
II. Heroes of Their Time: Starting with Beowulf (which I still believe is better heard than read) and moving through to James Agee, Dirda samples the authors who've explored what it means to be a hero. I'm almost tempted to find a copy of the Shahnameh or the Njal Saga. I have been tempted to track down Ernst Junger's Storm of Steel.
III. Love's Mysteries: This category's subject matter should be self-evident. Here, I was introduced to and became interested in George Meredith and Anna Akhmatova.
IV. Words from the Wise: I've always been a fan of Laozi, Heraclitus and Spinoza but I learned a few things about other wise men as well. (And, yes, alas, they are all men in this section; though I don't think Dirda is suggesting anything by this. He's got plenty to say about women writers of equal depth to anyone in this section elsewhere.)
V. Everyday Magic deals with writers of youth - The attempt to recapture, if not innocence, then the sense of wonder and of the new with which children see the world.
VI. Lives of Consequence: Here are authors who speculate about life's meaning(s). All of the essays were fascinating glimpses into the lives and works of the authors.
VII. The Dark Side - a favorite genre of mine. Many of the authors I've already met - Shelley, Le Fanu, Stoker, Lovecraft.
VIII. Traveler's Tales, being a loosely defined genre that includes real travelers as well as the fantastic sort (i.e., Jules Verne or Thomas More).
IX. The Way We Live Now: In this section, Dirda writes about the writers who "show us recognizable people making their way through 'the real world.'" (p. 233) Happily, Anton Chekhov makes the list but I also learned about Ivan Goncharov and Jose Maria Eca de Queiros.
X. Realms of Adventure: Another section where I've already made the acquaintance of most of the authors - Haggard, Doyle, Kipling, Wells, Chesterton, Christie and Hammett. Dirda's essay on Kipling almost, but not quite, makes me want to read Kim.
XI. Encyclopedic Visions deals with the writers who tackled subjects of vast scope - psychology, history, anthropology and the meaning(s) of reality.
One may quibble at the relative lack of authors post-1950 (in fact, most come from the late 19th and early 20th centuries) but Dirda points out several times that this book isn't an exhaustive list; many of his favorites have shown up elsewhere and he felt no need to repeat himself here. Read this volume simply to enjoy Dirda's essays and discover a bit more about our richly complex literary heritage.
This may also be a good recommendation for the bookish teenager looking to find out what's worth reading; or for anyone seeking to expand their reading experience.(less)
Shakespeare and Modern Culture is a related series of essays focusing on ten of the Bard's plays. Garber argues "Shakespeare was...a writer and thinke...moreShakespeare and Modern Culture is a related series of essays focusing on ten of the Bard's plays. Garber argues "Shakespeare was...a writer and thinker who changed the fundamental was in which people write, read, and think." (p. 270) A relatively uncontroversial position, at least in Anglophone literature and culture. Where Garber goes beyond that is in her position that Shakespeare, having created the framework by which we interpret the world, has been continually reinterpreted by subsequent generations (along with his plays) within those constraints. His purported "timelessness" is a result of his "timeliness."
It is the chief fault of this author's writing that this thesis isn't clearly expressed until the final four pages.
There were two things that marred my enjoyment of the book. The first was a personal failing - I don't have much of a literary/literature background and was often unable to fully grasp and appreciate Garber's points. The second thing lay squarely in the author's lap. Garber tends to write in a highly elliptical style, heavily laced with academic jargon. Too often a chore to read. If her prose had been a tad more user friendly, I could bring this book into the 4-star range (regardless of my personal ignorance).
Before moving on to mention some of the interesting points I found in the essays, I do want to mention that a good feature of Garber's writing is that she has an almost unerring knack for picking just the right quote to illustrate her point.
In the first essay, "The Tempest: The Conundrum of Man," one of the points that most struck me (probably because of my history/poli-sci background) was that "Ariel" was the character originally adopted by Latin American philosophers and statesmen as it represented the superiority of rationality and feeling over irrationality. A symbol of transformation from chaos to order and freedom. It's only in the last 60+ years that "Caliban," the native oppressed by colonialism, has come to dominate the symbolic discourse. (p. 21f.)
The third essay, "Coriolanus," is an example of the jargon-laden, opaque writing that ruined some of the readings for me. Garber gets into a deep, extended riff involving Bertold Brecht and Gunter Grass, hardly mentioning Shakespeare or his play at all. It only ever gets this "bad" in the final essays on "Hamlet" and "King Lear," thankfully.
In "Macbeth: The Necessity of Interpretation," I found Garber's chief point to be that the play is a reflection of the unending cycle of corruption, betrayal and guilt. In addition to her eagle-eye for the apt quote, Garber also pointed out a scene from Roman Polanski's version (w/ excellent performances from Jon Finch and Francesca Annis) that I remember but which now has new meaning: The final scene of the movie is not Malcolm proclaiming his coronation at Scone but is of Donalbain, the younger brother, returning to the heath where Macbeth met the witches.
The essay "Othello: The Persistence of Difference" is interesting in its charting of peoples' reactions to the play - the "race" question has not always been the central one.
In "Henry V: The Quest for Exemplarity," there's a quote that I especially enjoyed: "...language is treacherous, meanings shift, all speech is dangerous and not always under the control of the speaker." (p. 187) (emphasis mine)
I also enjoyed Garber's taking to task the recent trend in self-help/business publishing to co-opt Shakespearean figures - in this case "Henry" as the paragon of "Leadership" - missing all but the surface qualities of the character. In Henry's case, Garber argues (I believe correctly) that the spate of leadership books ignores the ambiguities of command and that events are often beyond one's control (never more so than in war).
As I mentioned earlier, the last two essays - "Hamlet: The Master of Character" and "King Lear: The Dream of Sublimity" - lost me about half-way through in each but I did net some interesting fish. For example, the oddest interpretation of Hamlet I learned of was Edward Vining's argument that Hamlet was a woman. (pp. 202-03) In "King Lear," Garber makes the significant point that, until 1838, no one saw the original play - they were watching Nahum Tate's "improved" version (the one where Cordelia and Edgar are secret lovers and she lives...I shudder at the very idea).
Despite its flaws, I enjoyed this book and did gain an even, ever deeper appreciation of Shakespeare's work and importance. I can easily recommend this book to anyone interested in the subject.(less)
I know I read this book several years ago but I can't find it in my book diary. Nevertheless, the first chapter and the chapter on Chekhov ("Learning...moreI know I read this book several years ago but I can't find it in my book diary. Nevertheless, the first chapter and the chapter on Chekhov ("Learning From Chekhov") alone deserve 4 stars (as an ardent admirer of Chekhov, I may be biased regarding the latter chapter).
The only cavil I'll make is in regards to the audio version: Prose likes to quote extensively from her favorite authors to illustrate her points. To read it is not difficult but to hear it tends to drag, making it hard to pay attention.(less)
Cheek by Jowl is another collection of UKL's thoughts on the importance of fantasy for both children and adults as a bridge spanning the gulf between...moreCheek by Jowl is another collection of UKL's thoughts on the importance of fantasy for both children and adults as a bridge spanning the gulf between modern human life and the life of the world, a gap she fears is widening and driving us insane (a not implausible argument, IMO).
I give the collection three stars not because I disagree with her (she's preaching to the choir in my case) but because she revisits themes she's written about before and the essays in this collection didn't have the same impact on me as when I first encountered her opinions in collections like The Language of the Night.
This is a slim volume (205 pages) for lovers of Chekhov who neither want nor need any in-depth analysis of the stories (which is not to say we get no...moreThis is a slim volume (205 pages) for lovers of Chekhov who neither want nor need any in-depth analysis of the stories (which is not to say we get no analysis, just that it's measured and doesn't overwhelm the reader). This is Janet Malcolm's extended essay on why Chekhov is such a brilliant writer and why we should read him - often.
What I particularly like about Malcolm is that she manages to articulate why I like the man so much. Yet, having written that previous sentence just now I still can't paraphrase that articulation in a satisfying way that doesn't sound too simplistic or trite - you'll just have to read the book.
What I can say is that Chekhov manages to pack more complexity and depth in five pages than many authors struggle to do in 300 or more. It's a shame that tuberculosis took him in 1904 (though how he would have fared under the coming Soviet regime is problematic). Maybe he was "lucky."
Malcolm ties the book together with a minimalist travelogue recounting her adventures in Russia as she visited Chekhovian sites (his houses, museums, etc.) but the interest, for me, rests in her insights into Chekhov and his work, which are interesting and sometimes provocative. For example, she notes that there's a great deal of religious symbolism in Chekhov's stories (gardens and "miraculous" transformations, among others), though the author always claimed to be a nonbeliever.
If you're not yet a fan (shame on you :-), Malcolm's clear exposition and enthusiasm for her subject may just convert you.
What I "hated" about the book is that Malcolm graphically illustrated just how much Chekhov I have still to read - of the near 20 stories she mentions in the course of the book, I was familiar with fewer than five! A gross insufficiency I plan to correct as soon as possible, I assure you.(less)