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What My Wife Is Reading

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee

Boy, would I ever love to play Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginal Woolfe? by Edward Albee. I’m serious! Of course it would probably be more like me playing Elizabeth Taylor playing Martha. But still.

I’m taking a quick break from The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart to read this delightfully dark drama (or maybe dramedy?), which we’ll discuss at The Civil Life Civil Reading Group meet-up on Oct 20. I’m pretty excited that it seems like we’ll have a few more people participating because, like me, they just love this play.

Haven’t read or seen it? You should. Do both. And definitely watch the film version starring Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, George Segal, and Sandy Dennis. I won’t recommend the order, but I will say that if you watch the movie before reading the play, you will absolutely hear the actors’ voices as you read. Absolutely. Each one of them is so incredibly compelling. Each one really makes you feel it. All of it. Could there be a better cast?

No. No, there couldn’t be. What kind of vain idiot am I to think I could even play a toenail of Elizabeth Taylor’s Martha? It’d be fun as hell, though.

The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart

No, regardless of what it looks like, I haven’t given up reading. I just got lazy and stopped posting about it. Well, here’s a quick one.

I think the last thing I posted about was JR by William Gaddis. Since then, I finished my quest to read all 37 Shakespeare plays, plus I read all the Civil Reads selections… what were they? Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, Vintage Munro, a collection of stories by Alice Munro, Junky by William S. Burroughs, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, and But Beautiful: A Book about Jazz by Geoff Dyer (And it was. Beautiful. Go buy it and read it right now.). Also, of course, the second in Lemony Snicket’s All the Wrong Questions series, because, yes, I’m just a big kid.

Patrick suggested I read The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart, and, since he’s basically a genius to me, I always take his advice. The story here is… As you might know, Patrick has a column on the Riverfront Times Gut Check blog called Drunken Vegan, in which he writes about cocktails, often from a vegan perspective. Patrick also loves books. So it makes sense that he would buy several books on the subject of those irresistibly intoxicating imbibables—you know, for R&D.

The Drunken Botanist is really interesting because it’s a fun to read referencey work about plants used in booze. It’s organized in sections, and alphabetically by the plant’s common name within the section. I’m in the “most common” (that’s the first) section right now. It’s not a super comprehensive botany book or anything, and doesn’t claim or pretend to be. What it is, is a work for the GP, like I am, who know a little about plants, but not a lot, who are interested in a little history and “how it’s used” and “how you can grow it, if it’s practical,” but not a ton of technical stuff or jargon. An interesting read that makes me want to grow every plant she talks about. Fascinating facts I never new, like that sugar beets are probably at the start of just about every kind of liquor, because they’re used in yeast cultivation. And that the sugar from beets isn’t very different than the sugar from sugarcane. Or that all kinds of liquors have certain restrictions w/r/t their alcohol percentage or percentage that has to be made up of a particular ingredient for them to bear their names.

There are little recipes for cocktails throughout as well. Mostly common (or at least I’ve heard of them, so I think they’re common) cocktails. I don’t mean boring, here. Not at all. These are cocktails in which the liquor in question is highlighted beautifully. Or sometimes even the plant used to make the liquor is highlighted.

It’s a pretty book, too. Designed. No dust jacket over the decorated hard cover. Nice feeling pages, with just the right amount of decoration where it works. You can read it straight through, as I am, or you can flip to a plant that interests you at that moment. It’ll definitely be something we keep on our bar shelf and refer to often.

JR

Been a while… I mean a long while.

For this past August’s Civil Life reading group we read JR by William Gaddis. This was my second reading of it. I remember the first time I read it I blew through it in about a week. Not so, this time. I started it, with what I thought was ample time… and didn’t finish it until shortly before the next meeting in October (I did take some time to read October’s book).

Anyway, I love this book. Many people do not. Many people who came to the meeting did not. It can be difficult to read, since Gaddis almost never explicitly tells you who’s talking, and the book is primarily dialog. Funny thing is, that’s one of the things I loved about it. Getting to know the characters’ voices is really fun. And funny.

It’s also very dark. I really don’t wanna give a big ole synopsis of the book here, because 1., I’d oversimplify it and 2. it’s really just more fun to read the book itself. Listen to the voices. Laugh about how even though the book was written in the 70s it sounds like it could be taking place right now (with a few minor changes to the technologies used, perhaps).

Love’s Labor’s Lost

Love’s Labor’s Lost was pretty fun to read. I particularly liked how clever the women were. Here’s just a little background about the plot: So the king of Navarre and three of his friends have all pledged to abstain from pleasure, essentially — women, food, booze — for three years while they concentrate on their studies. But a French princess and three of her friends have come to Navarre on diplomatic business.

The king’s decree says that no woman can come to his court during that time, so… what to do? Well, the princess and her ladies have to set up camp in a field. I love her response when he welcomes her:

Ferdinand. Fair princess, welcome to the court of Navarre.

Princess of France. “Fair” I give you back again; and “welcome” I have not yet: the roof of this court is too high to be yours; and welcome to the wide fields too base to be mine.

So you can see how these women aren’t gonna take any guff from those men. And they don’t.

Of course, hilarity ensues when the king and his men fall for the princess and her ladies… when they’ve sworn off women.

I watched two performances of the play: one a BBC production that’s very true to the play and quite entertaining. The other, a 2000 film by (and starring) Kenneth Branaugh, set in the 1930s… and… it’s a musical. Brannaugh does take other artistic liberties with the play, but they don’t detract from the original plot. It’s a fun one to watch for a laugh, for sure.

So sometimes it’s “Labor’s” (in The Riverside Shakespeare) and sometimes it’s “Labour’s” (the Brannaugh film, and many online references). I get that — the American spelling vs. the British… but what I don’t get is why the apostrophe? I should ask Patrick.

UPDATE 09 Jun 2013: After thinking about it some more last night and saying it out loud to Patrick, I realized it’s “Love’s Labor Is Lost.” Now that makes sense.

The Two Gentlemen of Verona

This is sort of a quaint little play in which friendship is tested by love and true love’s loyalty to man mirror’s true love’s loyalty to beast. The introduction to The Two Gentlemen of Verona notes that many consider it to be a “very bad play.” It is kind of weird, I’ll admit. I mean, the story goes along fairly normally, you know at a normal kind of pace and all, until, all of a sudden at the end, it just wraps up all nice and neat and, in true comedy fashion, we’re promised a wedding. Yeah, except for the abruptness of the ending, I actually liked it. But I’m no scholar.

White Teeth

You know how you read a book, then re-read it several years later and you’ve pretty much forgotten everything? It can be kinda cool, really. You know… you get to experience it all again and it’s like the first time.

That’s how it was with White Teeth* for me. We read it for the Civil Life reading group. Of course we met to discuss it on April 15, and I didn’t finish the book until like May 10 or something… Yeah.

It’s really a cool book. Set in London in the 70s through the 90s, it traverses time, cultures, religions…. it questions beliefs, motives, emotions… It’s really complex, yet simple at the same time.

Just go read it.

Titus Andronicus

Oh wow. I’m glad I read a comedy before reading this one… Tarantino and Greenaway have nothing on Shakespeare. Patrick and Jim both warned me that this was probably Shakespeare’s most violent play, so I was prepared, but yeah, wow.

So it’s all about revenge. Titus, like Coriolanus, is a hero for his country, but is soon betrayed by it. Sorrow upon sorrow is heaped on him. Revenge, he needs. Revenge, he gets. But not without a price, of course… this is a tragedy, after all, and we all know how tragedies go.

I’m a little nervous about watching a performance of this (if there is one recorded), I have to say. Violence isn’t really my thing. But I’ll deal. It’s my plan and I intend to follow through with it.

UPDATE 2013-03-30 11:27: There is a recorded performance… starring Anthony Hopkins… “quid pro quo.”

A little note: I’m taking a break from Shakespeare to read White Teeth* by Zadie Smith for The Civil Life Brewing Company’s Civil Reading Group.

The Comedy of Errors

Anyone who follows this section of the Hurley House blog knows I’ve been reading Shakespeare’s plays for the last few months. I’d started because I had re-watched Slings & Arrows. I have to say, I could watch that series over and over again. The more Shakespeare I read, the more references I get. And the more I get, the more emotional the show becomes for me. I mean, it’s a comedy, true, but I burst into tears at least once a season. Twice. More than that. OK, almost every time I’m watching them perform one of the plays well, I burst into tears.1

So the first two plays I read were the featured plays for seasons one and three of the show: Hamlet and King Lear (I skipped Macbeth because I’d read it before, and I’m saving all the plays I’ve already read until last… you know, in case I die or something before I get through them all…). Then I read all the plays we had as Pelican Shakespeare editions, because those books are so easy and comfortable to read. Finally, I started reading from The Riverside Shakespeare,*< in chronological order (as listed in The Riverside). I just finished The Comedy of Errors. And I finally get who Cyril’s talking about when he sings “Either of the Dromioes” in the opening theme of the second season.

So in S&L, Geoffrey and Oliver hammer home the point about theater being that thing, that place, that asks the audience member to momentarily suspend her disbelief. Not like film or television, though. Film and television often don’t even come close to asking you to do that. They often create a completely alternate reality and place you in it. Often the unbelievable is believable in film an television. There often is no disbelief to start with. But the stage is different. Even if the effects are beyond terrific, it will still seem less real. You bring disbelief with you, but you’re asked to check it at the door. Consciously. And Geoffrey, anyway, seems to like it that way. So do I.

Take this play, for example. I read it, but haven’t seen it performed (yet). And while I was reading it, I was asked to suspend my disbelief:

A twin and his servant go searching for the twin’s long-lost brother and finally arrive in the country where the brother lives—wearing exactly the same clothing as the brother and his servant, who happens to be the twin’s servant’s twin—then they get caught up in all kinds of mistaken-identity confusion and silliness with the brother and his wife and sister-in-law, the servant’s twin and his mistress, a courtesan, merchants, an abbess, and the law.

Wowza.

Talk about suspension of disbelief. I did it, though, and it was really worth it. The play is delightful, and I can’t wait to see a performance of it.

It’s a short play… go read it.

1 There is an instance of a play being performed badly… sort of… but it’s good. You’ll understand when you watch it. I don’t burst into tears at that one.

Richard III

Richard III. Oh, Richard. Richard, Richard.

Did you ever stop and listen to yourself? Evidently not. If you had, you would have noticed how utterly ridiculous you were being and would have stopped immediately.

You’re really up there with Iago in terms of pure evil, aren’t you? If I hadn’t known you were hunch-backed in real life, and if I hadn’t read in the introduction to this play that Shakespeare used Thomas More as a source for a lot of details about you, including the fact that, as More puts it, you were “not untoothed” when you were born, I would have thought Shakespeare made these things up so you could more epitomize evil.

Funny.

Until we find more works in the Pelican Shakespeare library, I’ll be using The Riverside Shakespeare* as my Shakespeare source (unless we’re travelling, in which case I use the Project Gutenberg free Complete Shakespeare for Kindle). So don’t get upset about seeing the same picture and the same link over and over again, K?

The Third Part of Henry VI

More British history lessons! Or lessons in the lack— read: non-existence—of loyalty in fifteenth-century England.

Boy, oh, boy. Talk about it. Brother betraying king brother for betrayed king then betraying betrayed king for betrayed king brother. That’s just some of it. A very small bit, actually.

I’m finding that in a lot of the Shakespeare I read, comedy, tragedy, and history alike. Loyalty and betrayal. And fickleness. Deceit. Gullibility. Kingly blindness (sometimes literal, even). But loyalty and betrayal are often at the center of all these other themes. Maybe because it’s so enduring. The theme of loyalty and betrayal. It’s at the heart of so much literature. It’s at the heart of life, even.

Until we find more works in the Pelican Shakespeare library, I’ll be using The Riverside Shakespeare* as my Shakespeare source (unless we’re travelling, in which case I use the Project Gutenberg free Complete Shakespeare for Kindle). So don’t get upset about seeing the same picture and the same link over and over again, K?

The Second Part of Henry VI

Continuing the saga of King Henry VI (in The Riverside Shakespeare.*)… Henry is no longer a child, but still young, good, and kind. He is married to Margaret, who, well, doesn’t seem to be good or kind. The betrayal and intrigue continue, as the Duke of York becomes more inclined to make his claims to the crown, and a “commoner,” John Cade treacherously and traitorously attempts to usurp the crown himself, promising equality for all, while threatening death to any who don’t follow him. Contradiction much?

Is it wrong that I’m getting all my British history from Shakespeare? Probably…..

Lucky Jim

Took a very brief haitus from Shakespear’s drama to reread Lucky Jim* by Kingsley Amis for The Civil Life Civil Readers meet-up last night (February 18). We had a pretty nice crowd of about 14 people. Great beer. Great food. Great conversation.

Amis is kind of an “old boy’s club” boy. He’s in the category of authors called “Angry Young Men,” and that’s fairly obvious in this, his first, novel. Patrick says he only gets more crochety as time passes (I haven’t read anything else by him).

LJ is really hilarious though. Last night we were all laughing about our favorite antics… The ruined bed clothes, Bertrand’s “obviouslam,” etc., the “faces,” “Hysterics, eh?”… just a lot of great fun. I’m not the only one who said I’d laughed out loud more than once while reading this — and I’d read it before and knew what to expect for the most part.

One thing that came up that really interests me, and I can’t find anything about it on the Interwebs, is the college porter’s name. Brice was mentioning how he thought it was interesting that, and did Patrick have any idea why, his name was “Maconochie,” which is the name of a penal reformer from the 1800s… and also, (Brice didn’t mention this, but Wikipedia did, and I sure love food…) a stew of sliced turnips, carrots and potatoes in a thin soup. I said something like, “Oh, was that one of Dixon’s nicknames?” much to everyone’s dismay, I think. No, it was actually the guy’s name. I really didn’t remember that at all. In fact, I’d remembered his name as “Montgomery.” So Brice and I tried to get on the same page (literally) to see what was up. Sure enough, his copy says “Maconochie” and mine (well, Patrick’s) says “Montgomery.”

I’ve Googled like a mad woman, and I have to say, I’m pretty good at finding what I want to find that way… but I have found nothing about why this porter has different names in different editions of the book. If anyone out there has info, I’d love to hear about it! Leave a comment or send a private message on facebook or send an email to teresa [dot] s [dot] hurley [at] this site’s domain.

And as a sort of side note, if you’re interested in becoming a Civil Reader, send an email to Patrick at bloomsday [at] thecivillife [dot] com, or stop by the brewery and talk to him in person, and he’ll make sure you get added to the email list. Our next meet-up will be April 15 at 7pm at the brewery. We’ll be discussing White Teeth: A Novel* by Zadie Smith. The previous link will take you to amazon.com’s page for the book, but if you’d prefer to shop locally, we’ve got a Civil Reading Group book club page at Left Bank Books, where you can see what we’ve got coming up and even purchase the titles we have on our list.

BTW, yes, the cover illustration on our copy is by Edward Gorey, in case you were wondering….

The First Part of Henry VI

Still on Shakespeare. As I mentioned in my previous post about what I’m reading, I’ve read all the Pelican Shakespeares we have, so have moved on to The Riverside Shakespeare.* Since it contains a (what they think is mostly correct) chronology, I decided now to just start reading the plays in the order they were written. You might remember from my first post about starting to read all the Shakespeare plays, that the first two I read because I’d just finished watching all the episodes of Slings & Arrows on Netflix.1 After reading those, my order had been fairly random.2

So evidently the (accepted) first play is King Henry VI, Part 1.* Also evidently, it has been disputed whether Shakespeare actually wrote it.3 But according to the Riverside, there’s enough evidence to moot the dispute.

Although this is a history play, it’s in no way what I would call dull.4 There’s some intrigue, some foreshadowing of betrayal, actual betrayal, some sorcery, some witch-burning, some battles, some death and destruction, some adulterous thoughts, an anything-but-chaste Bishop…. you know… the usual Shakespeare.

Henry is a young king, and is sort of controlled by all the old guys who surround him.5 So in this, the first part, most of the action is really surrounding and involving the old guys. We don’t see too much of Henry until fairly late in the play, and even then, we still don’t see too much of him.

Well, I’m not going to use this space to write a synopsis or anything, and I kinda wanna get on with other stuff today, like running errands and having fun, so… I think I’ll just end this post here.

Happy reading!

1 I only read Hamlet* and King Lear,* but not Romeo and Juliet,* because I read R&J in high school. I’m skipping any I’ve already read for now, and reading them last… You know, in case I get hit by a bus or something, I think it’d be good if I’ve read things I haven’t already read. Call me crazy.

2 On the surface, anyway. The Pelican Shakespeares are all stacked in a pile on this shelf that’s devoted to Penguin books.2a I just grabbed the bottom one, then when I finished it, I put it on the top of the pile.


2a This is a shelf Patrick built using mostly wood that was left over from building the Hurley House store storage shelves, because he loves and collects Penguin books, and wanted a way to sort of honor them. His eventual plan is to paint the shelf in the Penguin style. I think, orange. For now it’s just raw wood.

3 Or the second part.

4 Before you get all over me about how history isn’t dull, etc., I’m not saying history is dull. But, well, it can be. Especially when it’s dully presented.

5 You can totally see how that’s gonna go, right?

All’s Well That Ends Well

So I finished reading all the Pelican Shakespeares we had and had to find another source. We’ve got The Riverside Shakespeare,* a neat little Barnes & Noble The Complete Works of Shakespeare, Boxed Set,* and the Guttenberg Project’s free Kindle version of Shakespeare’s complete works. I thought, “Hey, the kindle is nice and compact, so that’ll be the easiest way to read it!” Let’s talk about that. Here’s an example of what the Guttenberg text looks like at the default size on our Kindle Fire:*

Kindle text default

See how the lines break kinda oddly? Look at Helena’s second line there. That’s a good example. I found that really distracting. It interrupted the flow, the rhythm, you know… But hey, You can change the type size on the Kindle! Cool. Here’s what it looks like at the smallest type size:

Kindle small type

Can you see that same line? Still wonkified (if I can use my sister’s term here). Plus, there’s no table of contents, so you can’t just go directly to the play or sonnet you want to read. You can guess about which of the more than 40,000 locations is close to where what you want to read is, then flip one way or the other until you get there… Ummm. Nope. I did that (more on that later), and… Well, nope.

So I thought I’d try out the mini book from the boxed set. Just because it’s cute, here are a couple views of the whole set:

Shakespeare boxed set Shakespeare boxed set open

Isn’t that cute? Yeah. And the books are really small… like palm-of-your-hand sized, but the text is very legible. And you can see when you look at that same line by Helena, that it’s not too bad to read, really:

shakespeare mini page example 1

Oh, but complainer tree, she can find something, can’t she.. Look at this:

shakespeare mini example page 2

Notice anything? Yeah, that line number (245); it’s iterrupting the text. This happened too often for my taste. I also found it a little awkward to hold the small but somewhat thick book. Try again…

OK. Finally, I tried the Riverside. I’d been putting that off because it’s just so darn huge. It’s heavy. It’s bulky. But, the text is laid out, well, OK. Here:

riverside text

Yeah, that’s pretty nice (sorry for the blurriness at the top, but the line we’re focusing on here is crisp). Like the mini, it doesn’t have the weird line breakage that leads to wonkiness. Also like the mini, the line numbers are within the text instead of in the margin (as they are in the Pelican versions), but (and I didn’t shoot an example of this), when the text seems like it will be close to the line number and make the line number cause a distraction/interruption in the text, there is more space/margin to the left of the line number. It’s not as good as having the line numbers in the margin, but it’s not bad. I could live with it, anyway. The Riverside is laid out in two columns, which makes sense, so that’s a good reason for the line numbers not being out in the margin.

And really, the heft/bulk of the Riverside isn’t a problem. I just lay the book in my lap to read it and it’s fine. However, it is kind of big to take with you. So for that, I did use the Kindle. I just dealt with all the things that bothered me about that text, since I wasn’t going to have to be reading like that for long anyway. Although it did take me a full five minutes just to find the place where I needed to start reading.

So I’ll be reading the rest of Shakespeare in the Riverside, unless we come across some Pelican editions at book sales.

One little non-sequitur: I could only find one film version of All’s Well That Ends Well on Netflix. I wonder what gives. Is the story not interesting enough? Is the maiden-swapping to creepy? At any rate, it’s not available to watch instantly, so I haven’t watched it yet.

OK. I’ve already finished the next play, so I’d better catch up on my writing… maybe over the weekend. Happy reading!

Coriolanus

Yeah, I should probably write these right after I finish reading the books instead of waiting a week. I had some thoughts while I was reading The Tragedy of Coriolanus,* but I’m not sure I remember all of them. Let’s see…

In the introduction, I remember the editor saying this wasn’t a popular play, and it wasn’t really very well liked. He also said something to the effect that it was because it was about someone who should have been popular, but was actually disliked instead, and that we find it easier to side with his antagonists than with him. Hmmm. Well. I guess I’m just different.

Then Netflix described a film version starring Ralph Fiennes and Gerard Butler* as a “tale about the arrogant general who is banished by the republic he has protected at all costs…” Hmmm. Well. Yes, I am just different.

I do agree that Coriolanus should have been popular and wasn’t. But I didn’t want to side with his antagonists at all. They were painted as smarmy, underhanded creeps. Why would I side with them? And arrogant? Maybe the person writing the description of the movie only watched the very beginning or something. Yes, Coriolanus (then Caius Marcius) does essentially spit on the common man with his words, but… context, people. His response to their … revolt, essentially … is one of rage and confusion: Why are you people so ignorant/impatient/ungrateful/whatever? And he doesn’t hold his tongue; he just let’s all his anger out. In harsh terms, sure, but it’s clearly the anger speaking and not any part of his rational self. It’s one explosion, but not the norm for him… at least as I read it.

I’ll give them “pride,” though. Which is totally founded. I mean, he has every right to be proud. He fearlessly and devotedly fights for his republic (Rome). And he’s successful. He always wins. So he should be proud. But arrogance?

Later, when he’s to run for consul and they want him to show off his battle scars to get the common people to “give him their voice,” he refuses. He says he doesn’t think he should go around saying, “Hey, look at my scars. Look what I’ve done for you. Look how great I am.” Kind of the opposite of arrogance, don’t you think?

I see the play as a commentary on the fickleness… inconstancy… unfaithfulness… tenuous loyalty… whatever you wanna call it of man. While he’s railing on them at the beginning, he says the important thing. The foreshadowing thing: (I paraphrase) “You’re all gonna like one thing one minute then hate it the next. You cheer for one guy now, then later you’ll spit on him. You have no loyalty.” And it’s true. They hate Caius Marcius as “an enemy of the people,” even while he’s out there laying all their actual enemies to waste. Then after he comes back, they suddenly all love him. Then a few words from a couple of tribunes (who, in my opinion feel threatened by him: If the people don’t hate Coriolanus will these tribunes lose their control of them?), and suddenly he’s again the enemy.

Isn’t it similar to the Biblical story of Jesus? Throngs follow him and seem to love him for a while. Then it only takes a smallish group of Pharisees and Sadducees who connive against him (another case of a group who wants to control the common people feeling that control threatened?) to ultimately turn all but his few actual loyal disciples against him. Brutus and Sicinius trick the people into believing Coriolanus has made mockery of them and in doing so has committed treason. The Pharisees and Sadducees convince the people that Jesus is a blasphemer, that ultimate treason against Jehovah. Coriolanus‘s “Banish him!” certainly echoes the Gospels’ “Crucify him!” And finally, we have the tragic, and unwarranted, death of each man.

Sure, there’s more to it than that. We could explore the fact that his mother actually says the words “had I a dozen sons, each in my love alike and none less dear than thine and my good Marcius, I had rather had eleven die nobly for their country than one voluptuously surfeit out of action.” Wow. Not exactly nurturing, there, mom.

And should we question Coriolanus’s own loyalty? I suppose on the surface… or “to the letter”… If he were altruistic (who is?), certainly his betrayal of his own republic would be a true sign of his lack of loyalty. But in context — they’d banished him completely — you might agree that his republic had indeed become his enemy. Or at least the fact of that emnity had become known to him.

So maybe I’m more of a surface reader or something and didn’t get the intricacies that I should have so I could have sided with Brutus and Sicinius (ummm. no, never.)… or I could have seen how much of an arrogant jerk Coriolanus was. But I’ll stay happy with my unscholarly reading. At least for now.