October’s Classic: Angels in America #CBAM2017

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Welcome to October! Last month, we read Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather, which I found to be quite beautiful (no surprise – I’m a big Cather fan!). A new month is here, which means a new book! This time, I chose one to correspond with national and international LGBT History/Pride month. Drum-roll, please!  . . . Angels in America by Tony Kushner! 

We will be reading both Part One and Part Two, so if you can find an edition that has both, all the better! I’ve read this play a few times already, but it’s really quite an experience, which is why I added it to the 2017 list of Classics for our club this year. I cannot wait to get started on it again!

Don’t forget: We have a Goodreads group! And we’re using #CBAM2017 to chat on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

About the Book:

In two full-length plays, “Millennium Approaches” and “Perestroika,” Kushner tells the story of a handful of people trying to make sense of the world. Prior is a man living with AIDS whose lover Louis has left him and become involved with Joe, an ex-Mormon and political conservative whose wife, Harper, is slowly having a nervous breakdown. These stories are contrasted with that of Roy Cohn (a fictional re-creation of the infamous American conservative ideologue who died of AIDS in 1986 and who, it should be noted, was a mentor to our current POTUS) and his attempts to remain in the closet while trying to find some sort of personal salvation in his beliefs.

One of the most honored American plays in history, Angels in America was awarded two Tony Awards for Best Play and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It was made into an Emmy Award-winning HBO film directed by Mike Nichols. This two-part epic, subtitled “A Gay Fantasia on National Themes,” has received hundreds of performances worldwide in more than twenty-six languages.

Schedule:

  • October 1st: Begin reading
  • September 15th: Mid-point Check-In
  • October 31st: Final Thoughts

Feel free to read at your own pace, post at your own pace (or not at all), and drop by to comment/chat about the book at any point. The schedule above is just the one I plan to use in order to keep myself organized and to provide some standard points and places for anyone who is reading along to get together and chat.

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September’s Classic: Death Comes for the Archbishop #CBAM2017

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August is dust and September is here! Autumn is on the way! And this month, we’ll be reading Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather! I’m a huge fan of Cather, but I haven’t read this one, yet, so I’m really excited.

Don’t forget: We have a Goodreads group! And we’re using #CBAM2017 to chat on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

About the Book:

There is something epic—and almost mythic—about this sparsely beautiful novel by Willa Cather, although the story it tells is that of a single human life, lived simply in the silence of the desert. In 1851 Father Jean Marie Latour comes as the Apostolic Vicar to New Mexico. What he finds is a vast territory of red hills and tortuous arroyos, American by law but Mexican and Indian in custom and belief.

In the almost forty years that follow, Latour spreads his faith in the only way he knows—gently, although he must contend with an unforgiving landscape, derelict and sometimes openly rebellious priests, and his own loneliness. One of these events Cather gives us an indelible vision of life unfolding in a place where time itself seems suspended.

Schedule:

  • September 1st: Begin reading.
  • September 15th: Mid-point Check-In
  • September 30th: Final Thoughts

Feel free to read at your own pace, post at your own pace (or not at all), and drop by to comment/chat about the book at any point. The schedule above is just the one I plan to use in order to keep myself organized and to provide some standard points and places for anyone who is reading along to get together and chat.

August Classic: Northanger Abbey #CBAM2017

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As July comes to an end, it’s time to look toward August and our next read! This month, we’ll be reading Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen! I’ve chosen this one to coincide with my annual Austen in August event, which also begins on August 1st. 

Don’t forget: We have a Goodreads group! And we’re using #CBAM2017 to chat on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

About the Book*: 

Northanger Abbey is often referred to as Jane Austen’s Gothic parody. Decrepit castles, locked rooms, mysterious chests, cryptic notes, and tyrannical fathers give the story an uncanny air, but one with a decidedly satirical twist.

The story’s heroine is Catherine Morland, an innocent seventeen-year-old woman from a country parsonage. While spending a few weeks in Bath with a family friend, Catherine meets and falls in love with Henry Tilney, who invites her to visit his family estate, Northanger Abbey.

Once there, Catherine, a great reader of Gothic thrillers, lets the shadowy atmosphere of the old mansion fill her mind with terrible suspicions. What is the mystery surrounding the death of Henry’s mother? Is the family concealing a terrible secret within the elegant rooms of the Abbey? Can she trust Henry, or is he part of an evil conspiracy? Catherine finds dreadful portents in the most prosaic events, until Henry persuades her to see the peril in confusing life with art.

Schedule:

  • August 1st: Begin reading. 
  • August 15th: Mid-point Check-In
  • August 30th: Final Thoughts

Feel free to read at your own pace, post at your own pace (or not at all), and drop by to comment/chat about the book at any point. The schedule above is just the one I plan to use in order to keep myself organized and to provide some standard points and places for anyone who is reading along to get together and chat. 

*Further description and analysis can be found at SparkNotes.

June’s Classic: The Confidence-Man #CBAM2017

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As May comes to an end and we complete this month’s Classic Book-a-Month (A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry), it’s time to look toward June and our next read! This month, we’ll be reading The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade by Herman Melville.

Don’t forget: We have a Goodreads group! And we’re using #CBAM2017 to chat on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

About the Book*: 

The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade is the ninth book and final novel by American writer Herman Melville, first published in New York in 1857. The book was published on April 1, the exact day of the novel’s setting. The Confidence-Man portrays a Canterbury Tales–style group of steamboat passengers whose interlocking stories are told as they travel down the Mississippi River toward New Orleans. Scholar Robert Milder notes: “Long mistaken for a flawed novel, the book is now admired as a masterpiece of irony and control, though it continues to resist interpretive consensus.” After the novel’s publication, Melville turned from professional writing and became a professional lecturer, mainly addressing his worldwide travels, and later for nineteen years a federal government employee.

The novel’s title refers to its central character, an ambiguous figure who sneaks aboard a Mississippi steamboat on April Fool’s Day. This stranger attempts to test the confidence of the passengers, whose varied reactions constitute the bulk of the text. Each person including the reader is forced to confront that in which he places his trust. The Confidence-Man uses the Mississippi River as a metaphor for those broader aspects of American and human identity that unify the otherwise disparate characters. Melville also employs the river’s fluidity as a reflection and backdrop of the shifting identities of his “confidence man”.

The novel is written as cultural satire, allegory, and metaphysical treatise, dealing with themes of sincerity, identity, morality, religiosity, economic materialism, irony, and cynicism. Many critics have placed The Confidence-Man alongside Melville’s Moby-Dick and “Bartleby, the Scrivener” as a precursor to 20th-century literary preoccupations with nihilism, existentialism, and absurdism. The work includes presumed satires of 19th century literary figures: Mark Winsome is based on Ralph Waldo Emerson while his “practical disciple” Egbert is Henry David Thoreau; Charlie Noble is based on Nathaniel Hawthorne; Edgar Allan Poe inspired a beggar in the story.”

Schedule:

  • June 1st: Begin reading. 
  • June 15th: Mid-point Check-In
  • June 30th: Final Thoughts

Feel free to read at your own pace, post at your own pace (or not at all), and drop by to comment/chat about the book at any point. The schedule above is just the one I plan to use in order to keep myself organized and to provide some standard points and places for anyone who is reading along to get together and chat. 

Note on July: I’ve intentionally selected Melville’s The Confidence-Man for June and Milton’s Paradise Lost for July because the former reminds me of an American response to the latter. I think it will be interesting/informative to read these two texts in sequence, and I chose to begin with the American version because I believe it is more accessible (so, applying it to Paradise Lost rather than the reverse might be better for discussion). Anyhow, I’m posting this note so that those of you interested in the comparison might plan to read both June and July’s texts with us. Otherwise, if you only want to read Melville and to hell (haha, get it?) with Milton, then so be it! 

*Further description and analysis can be found at the Wikipedia page.

Thoughts on 3 Classics

This year, I am hosting a “Classic Book-A-Month Club,” hosted on Goodreads. So far, we have read: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott; the Oedipus Cycle (Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus, and Antigone) by Sophocles; The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton; Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald; and A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry. Next month’s selection is The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade by Herman Melville. 

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

This is the third Wharton novel I’ve read, following The Age of Innocence and Ethan Frome (read twice). Compared to these others, House of Mirth was a struggle. I didn’t feel invested in the story until about 3/4 of the way into it. I didn’t find the protagonist, Lily Bart, to be a compelling or sympathetic character, as I’m sure readers are meant to. I can certainly see what Wharton is trying to say about the “somber economics of marriage” and “the powerlessness of the unwed woman” at the turn of the twentieth century, but for the most part, I just wasn’t made to care. Normally, this is the kind of story I would empathize with, so I’m not sure what exactly left me feeling so ambivalent and detached. Certainly, personal circumstances may have gotten in the way (this is why I’m still a proponent of reader-response theory; you cannot convince me that one’s personal relationship with a book at a particular moment in time does not matter). I did begin to respond near the end of the novel, when Lily’s circumstances were most dire not necessarily because of her own poor decisions, but because of the pettiness and prejudices of her supposed friends and family. I’ll admit that, had Lily’s circumstances been entirely predicated upon others’ terrible personalities, I probably would have found the story a bit too pathetic and fatalistic (at least currently). The realism, then, is both appealing and off-putting. I found myself thinking Lily Bart had any number of opportunities to turn her situation around, but didn’t. Then, I realized I was becoming psychologically and emotionally attached to her despair because of the personal/professional situation in which I’ve found myself this past year; this perhaps intruded on my experience and prevented me from being able to sink into the story itself, to appreciate it for what it is. I’ll have to give this one a re-read, someday, when I can read it more carefully and from a more receptive/less sensitive position. I’m glad to have finished another title from my Classics Club list, though. 

Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald

This was a re-read for me, and one that was a long time coming. I started reading it when I was about half-way into The House of Mirth and ultimately got to the end of each ’round about the same time. This was not a good thing. I had a very personal relationship with this book for a very long time. As a result, it colored my impression of it for years. Reading it again has been a blessing and a curse. On the positive side, I no longer feel as desperately attached to the doomed relationship Fitzgerald presents in Dick and Nicole Diver (fictionalized versions of Francis and Zelda). In a way, I suppose this means that enough time has passed, and I’ve changed enough, to let go of certain difficult memories and experiences. On the negative side, I did not find the story as interesting or beautifully written as I once imagined. I used to argue vehemently that this book is far superior to The Great Gatsby. Now, I’m not so sure. I think they’re close, but Gatsby may indeed be the masterpiece. I was reminded, however, that Fitzgerald deals with homosexuality in this novel; I had completely forgotten this. He includes homosexual innuendo in Gatsby, too, and he’s one of the very few major literary figures of the time to do this (in more than one work, I now realize). Of course, the portrayal here is not a glowing one, which makes one wonder at the more naturally incorporated moment in Gatsby. Was one of these pre-Hemingway and the other post? This would be interesting to explore. In any event, as a piece of expatriate American literature and a study of marriage, mental illness, incest, psychology, and the like, it’s still a damn fine book. It’s just, somehow, not at all what I remembered. The situation of reading this alongside House of Mirth, at this particular time of my life, also created some problems. The combined assault on my emotional connection to this story plus my closeness to Lily Bart’s circumstances left me feeling exhausted and despondent. Simply bad timing. 

A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry

Honestly, what took me so long to read this? I haven’t “reviewed” a book in many, many months. I think it’s safe to say that Hansberry’s play is the reason I’m back at it. It’s always such a thrill to read a book that is so alive, so important, so visceral, that it rekindles my faith in the art of literature itself. I’ve never considered myself much of a drama aficionado. I’ve read a number of plays, seen some, and almost always find something to praise; yet, I also somehow think that reading drama is not quite an honest endeavor, because drama is meant for the stage. Still, I loved the characters in this book, their diversity and range of experiences, even while most of them were members of the same single-household family (there’s an opportunity for me to teach Intro to Drama next spring, an opportunity I was not really considering, but I think I’ve changed my mind completely). I loved the main plot and the minor sub-plots, the neighbors interventions and the “I’m not a racist, but…” moments. I loved that the play is set in Chicago, a liberal beacon of the north, and yet reveals the hypocritical racism on which neighborhoods were founded and that we have yet to overcome. I needed this play after my experiences with House of Mirth and Tender is the Night. While the story is still one of desperation, it has a much more hopeful ending. Of course, if I think too hard about it, I have to admit that the reality that probably found the Younger family was probably not a pleasant one. But Hansberry leaves this open, to be determined, which at least offers the possibility that these good people might make it, after all. And, in that way, so too might we all. I can’t think of a message more necessary right now than this. 

March’s Classic: The House of Mirth #CBAM2017

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Hello, March! I hope you enjoyed last month’s classic read, The Oedipus Cycle of Sophocles. It’s a new month, which means it is time for a new classic. This month, we’re reading The House of Mirth

Don’t forget: We have a Goodreads group! And we’re using #CBAM2017 to chat on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. 

17846About the Book: Edith Wharton’s dark view of society, the somber economics of marriage, and the powerlessness of the unwedded woman in the 1870s emerge dramatically in the tragic novel The House of Mirth. Faced with an array of wealthy suitors, New York socialite Lily Bart falls in love with lawyer Lawrence Selden, whose lack of money spoils their chances for happiness together. Dubious business deals and accusations of liaisons with a married man diminish Lily’s social status, and as she makes one bad choice after another, she learns how venal and brutally unforgiving the upper crust of New York can be. One of America’s finest novels of manners, The House of Mirth is a beautifully written and ultimately tragic account of the human capacity for cruelty.

Schedule:

  • March 1st: Begin reading. 
  • March 15th: Check-in here or in our Goodreads group.
  • March 31st: Wrap-Up/Final thoughts here or in our Goodreads group. 

Feel free to read at your own pace, post at your own pace (or not at all), and drop by to comment/chat about the book at any point. The schedule above is just the one I plan to use in order to keep myself organized and to provide some standard points and places for anyone who is reading along to get together and chat.

February’s Classic: The Oedipus Cycle #CBAM2017

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Hello, February! I hope you enjoyed last month’s classic read, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. It’s a new month, which means it is time for a new classic. This month, we’re reading The Oedipus Cycle of Sophocles

Don’t forget: We have a Goodreads group! And we’re using #CBAM2017 to chat on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. 

51ubkpctvml-_sy344_bo1204203200_About the Cycle: The three plays that make up Sophocles’ Oedipus Cycle (sometimes referred to as the Three Theban Plays) are AntigoneOedipus the King, and Oedipus at Colonus. Antigone and Oedipus the King are tragedies; Oedipus at Colonus is difficult to classify. Antigone was written around 441 b.c., Oedipus the King around 430 b.c., and Oedipus at Colonus around 406–405 b.c. (just before Sophocles died). The plays were all written and produced in Athens, Greece. Antigone, though written first, actually takes place after the other two. 

The plays probably circulated in fifth-century b.c. Athens and have come down to modern editors through the scribal and editorial efforts of scholars in ancient Greece, ancient Alexandria, and medieval Europe. The most important modern edition of the Greek texts, prepared by A. C. Pearson, was published by Oxford University Press in 1924 and reprinted with corrections in 1928.

All three plays are set in the mythical past of ancient Greece. Antigone and Oedipus the King are set in Thebes, Oedipus at Colonus in Colonus (near Athens). In Oedipus the King, Tiresias tells Oedipus that Oedipus is responsible for the plague, and Oedipus refuses to believe him. In Oedipus at Colonus, Oedipus’s two sons, Eteocles and Polynices, are at war over the throne. Creon has been told by the oracle that only Oedipus’s return can bring an end to the civil strife in Thebes but Oedipus, furious at Thebes for exiling him, has no desire to return. Antigone’s major conflict is between Creon and Antigone. Creon has declared that the body of Polynices may not be given a proper burial because he led the forces that invaded Thebes, but Antigone wants to give her brother a proper burial.

Schedule:

  • February 1st: Begin reading. 
  • February 10th: Thoughts and Questions about Oedipus the King 
  • February 18th: Thoughts and Questions about Oedipus at Colonus 
  • February 27th: Thoughts and Questions about Antigone and the Cycle

Feel free to read at your own pace, post at your own pace (or not at all), and drop by to comment/chat about the book at any point. The schedule above is just the one I plan to use in order to keep myself organized and to provide some standard points and places for anyone who is reading along to get together and chat. 

Note on Reading Order: The Theban plays were not written in chronological order. They were written for separate dramatic competitions and there are inconsistencies between them because they were not meant to be performed in sequence (scholars made that decision much later). It is believed they are three parts of separate groups of plays which have not survived. I will be reading the plays in the order of dramatic events rather than in the chronological order they were written.