Friday, June 8, 2018

Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare

Isabella by Francis William Topham (1888)
Measure for Measure
William Shakespeare
c. 1603-04
4/5 stars

Antonio, left in charge by the Duke of Vienna, resurrects an old law that makes fornication punishible by death, and arrests Claudio under said law.  Claudio's sister, Isabella (a novice nun), comes to Antonio to plead for her brother's life.  Antonio becomes obsessed with her, and offers her Claudio's life for her virginity.

This play discusses corrupt government, attitudes toward sex and morality, and mercy versus judgement.  Antonio has an excellent soliloquy in which he turns from an upright man into a man consumed with lust.  The ending makes everything come right, but leaves the viewer wondering if it is really a happy ending.

Read for the Classics Club.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh

Decline and Fall
Evelyn Waugh
4/5 stars

Paul Pennyfeather is, by no fault of his own, sent down from Oxford for indecent behavior.  His only recourse is to get a job teaching at a less-than-prestigious boarding school.  While there, he meets the widowed mother of a student, Margot Beste-Chetwynde, with whom he falls in love.  This starts a chain of events leading to his decline and fall.

This, Waugh's first published novel, shows him already a master of  black humor, satire, and the absurd.  The plot is unpredictable, the prose excellent, and the entire book truly funny.  While it's not perfection, it is a great, quick read that will have the reader laughing out loud.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

May 2018 Wrap Up

Books Read:
Dangerous Mystic by Joel F. Harrington   5/5 stars  (my review here)

If on a winter's night a traveler by Italo Calvino    3/5 stars (my review here)

Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare   4/5 stars  (my review here)

The Bookshop of Yesterdays by Amy Meyerson  4/5 stars  (my review here)

The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare  1/5 stars  (my discussion here)

The Householder by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala   5/5 stars  (my review here)

The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare  4/5 stars  (my review here)

du Maurier
Audio Books Completed:
The Scapegoat by Daphne du Maurier    4/5 stars
John and Jean meet and are struck by their identical looks.  Jean takes the other's identity, leaving John to deal with the Frenchman's demanding family.  This is a well-executed, gripping novel that makes the reader eager to read on.  Du Maurier's ability to write natural, believable people and their reactions to extraordinary circumstances is excellent.

Excellent Women by Barbara Pym    5/5 stars
In this sometimes charming, sometimes snarky novel, Pym explores a few months in the life of Mildred Lathbury, one of the "excellent women": thirty-something genteel spinsters who do good works in the parish or neighborhood.  Pym's ability to create comic characters and situations, as well as the everyday, is exceptional.

A History of India by Michael H. Fisher, Ph.D.  (The Great Courses)  5/5 stars
This is not an actual book, but is a 18 1/2 hour course on the history of India from earliest known times up to current day.  The course is well prepared and interesting, and Dr. Fisher, while sometimes halting, is generally a good lecturer.

Great World Religions: Hinduism by Mark Muesse, Ph. D (The Great Courses)  5/5 stars
This is not a book, but a 6 hour series of lectures on the theology of Hinduism and it's 5000 year history.  I was expecting more about the actual practices and more stories about the deities than it contains, but was not disappointed by the overall quality of the course.  Dr. Muesse was an enthusiastic and informative lecturer.

The Case of the Love Commandos by Tarquin Hall 4/5 stars
In this fun and complicated mystery, Vish Puri is asked to help locate the kidnapped Dalit finance of a high-caste woman, and in so doing becomes involved in murder, politics, and caste.  In the meantime, Mummy is convinced she has spotted a criminal on her pilgrimage, and is making a nuisance of herself with the local police.  Hall's prose is well-written and engaging, the characters are believable, and the situations, while far-fetched at times, are intriguing.

Did Not Finish:
My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell
There is nothing wrong with this semi-autobiographical book; Durrell writes engagingly and the narrator of the audio book was fantastic.  The problem is with me--the topic, zoology in Greece during the 1930s, just couldn't hold my attention.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The Merchant of Venice

Edmund Kean as Shylock
The Merchant of Venice
William Shakespeare
4/5 stars

Antonio takes out a loan from money-lender Shylock for his friend Bassanio, promising a pound of flesh if he can't repay.  When disaster strikes and Antonio looses everything, Shylock is determined to make him pay in full.  Bassanio's new wife, Portia, dons male garb and takes on the role as lawyer, to teach Shylock mercy.

With some of the most famous lines in Shakespeare, and a strong female character, this play is entertaining, and sometimes moving, though not as humorous as one would expect for a "comedy". The multiple subplots tie up nicely iwith a satisfying conclusion. The view of Judaism does not sit well with the modern mind, but other than that, The Merchant of Venice is an enjoyable experience.

Read for the Classics Club.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Householder by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala

The Householder
Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
5/5 stars

Prem, recently married, is finding life hard as a husband and working man, and longs for the days when he was a still a student living with his parents.  In this coming-of-age tale, the reader watches as Prem slowly moves away from child mentality to that of an adult householder, falls in love with his wife, and begins to find his place in the world.

Jhabvala's exquisite prose balances between witty and poignant.  The voice of Prem is so beautifully written that the reader feels invested in his life.  The Householder is perceptive and insightful, and flows easily from one incident to the next, giving the reader a glimpse of life in India in the late 1950s, and a complete view into the mind of a boy becoming a man.  I highly recommend this comic, yet serious, novel.

Friday, May 18, 2018

The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare

The Shrew Katherina by Edward Robert Hughes (1898)
The Taming of the Shrew
William Shakespeare
c. between 1590 and 1592
1/5 stars

Baptista Minola of Padua has two lovely daughters: Katherina and Bianca.  Bianca has many suitors, being retiring and maidenly.  Katherina, on the other hand, is a shrew, short of temper and sharp of tongue. Baptisa vows that he will not allow Bianca to marry until her older sister has.

Petruchio comes to Padua, intent on finding a rich wife. Katherina is just such a prospect, and he quickly arranges with Baptista to marry her, and then sets about to tame her.

I tried to view this play through 16th century eyes, rather than 21st century sensibilities, and to take into account that it is a farce, but I still did not care for it.  I even watched a version (my review here), hoping that seeing it staged would make it better, but to no avail.

To begin with, it starts as a play within a play, but that subplot is dropped immediately and never mentioned again.  Then, the humor, even ignoring it's outdated-ness, does not appeal to me.

Also, there is Kate herself; a such termagant is hard to pity.  Petruchio is not a character with whom one can sympathize, either, and is certainly not a hero to be admired. Next, we have the actual taming, psychologically cruel and degrading, which no one deserves, however much a shrew.

The bottom line is that I found nothing enjoyable about the play, and I'm surprised that it continues to be performed.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Bookshop of Yesterdays by Amy Meyerson

The Bookshop of Yesterdays
Amy Meyerson
anticipated publication date: June 2018
4/5 stars

Miranda Brooks shared a special relationship with her uncle Billy, who would make special scavenger hunts as treats for her.  On her twelfth birthday, however, Billy and Miranda's mother argued, and Miranda never saw Billy again.  Now, as an adult, Miranda learns that Billy has died and left her his bookshop.  Shortly after this, she receives a clue from him, leading her on another adventure, this time of books, family, and self-discovery.

This debut novel is well written and polished.  The story is engaging, and sometimes surprising; solving the clues with Miranda is fun.  The premise isn't fully believable, however, and the book lacks an emotional punch.  It's still an enjoyable read, especially for book lovers, but not one that will linger in the memory.