Review: The Earlies Part 2

Freud for Beginners by Richard Appignanesi

Doesn’t go into much depth about Freud’s theories, but it is a fun and fast introduction to all the major ideas. Definitely recommended for newcomers, such as myself. I’m a graduate student lterature and was looking for an introduction to Freud’s thought so that I could then apply/discuss it with regards to literary theory, and this book gives a solid platform.

The Heart is Deceitful Above all Things by J.T. Leroy

Very interesting. Very interesting.

King Richard II by William Shakespeare

Probably my least favorite of Shakespeare’s plays – at least of those I have read. It is one of his earlier plays, and it shows. While the poetry and wordplay is quite fun and definitely the work of genius, the plot and story are quite superficial.. befitting a “history” play, I guess. It really was just an answer to Marlowe’s Edward II – which I found much more interesting. This is called a Tragedy, but I don’t think that’s fitting. His later tragedies are much more interesting in the complexity and psychological study.

The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein

All I could think of throughout the novel was “name-dropper, name dropper, name drop…annoying!” It wasn’t anybody’s autobiography, least of all that of Alice B. Toklas. In the end, she likens this to what Defoe did for Crusoe, but no. No. While it was interesting learning all about the times and relationships of Gertrude Stein, Hemmingway, Picasso, etc.. well, it just wasn’t enough.

Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction by Jonathan Culler

A good start… theory and criticism is an extremely deep pool, and this text is a great way to “dip your toes.” Perhaps the most beneficial section is the Appendix, in which Culler outlines the major schools of theory – a bit more added to these brief summaries would have been perfect for new-comers.

The Sea of Monsters (Percy Jackson & The Olympians #2) by Rick Riordan

Pretty awesome read – as good as the first (The Lightning Thief). Exciting, fun, educational, suspensful… I dig it. Can’t wait to finish the series with The Titan’s Curse.

Review: The Earlies Part 1

Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe

Liked it a lot. Didactic, of course – but not as incredible as I has assumed it would be. Then again, put into historical context, maybe it is (was) quite amazing.

Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson

Where has this novel gone? It’s quite incredible – and nobody has ever heard of it! Anderson weaves a series of short stories from the same small town together, discussing the deconstruction of provincial, farm life and the advent of “the city.” The bottom line – nobody knows that EVERYbody is different.

Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller

Pretty amazing, especially coming out of the early 20th Century. Hilarious in his obsession with ‘the C word’ and sex and all the dirty diseases that come with it. Also, funny to watch Miller denounce the practice of putting so much importance on the literary geniuses like Goethe, Emerson, Tennyson, etc – but then watch as he quotes them left and right within his own prose. It’s a wonderful experiment with language and stream of consciousness, though. Definitely worth being named a classic, even if a bit bizarre.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

You know, everyone calls this a “boy’s” book – generally speaking, people think the book is for children. I read it when I was a kid, and I didn’t like it. I re-read it a couple years ago and liked it better. Finally, I read it again recently and fell in love with it. The reason? It is not a kid’s book. It’s a very adult book, with themes that were way over my head as a ten, twelve, and even fifteen year old reader. Tom Sawyer, maybe, can be called a boy’s book, but Huckleberry Finn truly is the great American novel. Amazing.

Light in August by William Faulkner

Faulkner is certainly a powerful force and innovator in American literature. I have to say, I was wary of touching his works after my first experience, with The Sound and the Fury. However, Light in August was much easier to follow while remaining just as interesting and even dangerous. They last chapters were a bit of a letdown, they seemed out of place and unnecessary, but this novel as a whole made me re-think my position on Faulkner and …heck, I may even try another of his novels. In a few years.

Review: Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

This is a hard novel to review – so much happens, and so little happens. Waugh tackles Catholicism, dogma and paradigms, faith in general. He tackles homosexuality, social stigma, boyishness, growth, and responsibility. Divorce, society, nobility, riches, and innocence. Alcoholism, psychosis, war, nationalism, loss, and the Oedipus complex. All of this, from another writer, might seem overbearing, complex, or pretentious but Waugh somehow makes it all seem normal. Sebastian Flyte is an extraordinarly beautiful character, equally loveable and despised. Charles, the artist and narrator, confuses me in the end. His passion for Sebastian (pardon the rhyme, please, it was unintended) is finally realized in the affair between Charles and Sebastian’s sister, Julia. In a modern novel, or a Victorian, I might find this to be a cop-out. The setting here, though – Oxford in World War I / upperclass Britain of World War II make the displaced love affair seem the only real option, disappointing as it was for me as a reader. The exclusion of Sebastian from the third part of the novel disturbs me, but it leaves room for a renewed focus on Catholocism (personified by Lady Marchmain in the principal portion of the novel) and Reason (embodied by Brideshead throughout). Surprisingly, the concluding death scene makes clear which virtue Waugh finds most necessary (or appealing) – a twist which may have been forseshadowed by Charles’s stubborn rebuttal of Christianity, had it not been for his obvious infatuation with and love for Sebastian (“he was the forerunner”). Ultimately, I’m perplexed and enamored. I will certainly pick up another of Waugh’s works in the near future, and will likely return to this one again sometime down the road, perhaps in wiser days, as I haven’t quite figured out the last page of the epilogue yet. All in good time.

Review: Mississippi Sissy by Kevin Sessums

Sessums’ memoir is beautifully – and painfully- honest. He describes his experiences as an effeminate homosexual boy, youth, and teenager in rural Mississippi, in a time and place where it was more popular to applaud the assassinations of JFK, RFK, and Martin Luther King Jr. than it was to express sadness over their losses. Sessums loses both his parents when just a young boy, left to be raised by grandparents who don’t quite know what to make of him but who, nonetheless, seem to love and care for them as best they can. Sessums doesn’t seem to have much of a relationship with his siblings, possibly because he found it necessary to escape the close ties of “family” when both of his parents died (easier to distance oneself than to lose another). Still, Sessums is unable to escape further heartache with the loss of his two other parental figures, Jack (the older, educated, drama instructor and writer with a preference for “darker” boys, which is ultimately the source of his demise) and Matty (the mysterious cotton-picking maid, friend of Kevin’s mother, whose mental imbalance is hinted at earlier on than the reader might have realized). This story is brilliant in its unflinching honesty, its attempt at believable memory, and it’s refusal to condemn those ‘characters’ who had wronged or pained the narrator and author. A worthwhile read, also, for its inclusion of the inner-workings of the literary and artistic circles of the likes of Eudora Welty. Well written, moving, and terrifying.

Review: Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

Victor Hugo’s achievement with Les Miserables is in stunning and breath-taking. Not only is the story superb, realistic, and moving, but it is complemented by aspects of French philosophy, history, and politics. When beginning this novel, I had no idea that I would be exposed to, and learn so much about, French history and culture. Napoleon Bonaparte, Waterloo, Louis VIII, the Guillotine, European relations, the gamins, prisons, crime and punishment, religion, morality – all of this is examined with a literary microscope; meanwhile, love, poetry, song, revolution, family, and society are all exposed to the scrutiny of an expelled patriot. The story of Jean Valjean is heartbreaking and vindicating. Cosette and Marius, lovers despite the odds. Javert, the intensely dutiful (to a fault) inspector, and his tragic revelations. Gavroche, the beautiful underprivileged. Fantine, the lost and compromised woman, taken advantage of while trying to care for her daughter. Eponine, Fauchelevent, the Nuns, the Gillenormands, all minor but telling characters – described incredibly and delicately by Hugo. What most impressed me is how Hugo described the history and purpose of each detail, to demonstrate it’s importance. Chapters of the novel are devoted to explaining seemingly insignificant points of detail, such as the prisons, the chain gangs, the slang language – all of which come into play during the story, but become active and live characters on their own merits, because of Hugo’s attention to them. I cannot say enough about this novel – it is truly a masterpiece and I can’t wait to see the musical.

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