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Showing posts from January, 2012

Greek Classics: January Wrap-Up

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Have you been reading Euripedes or Sophocles? This is the place to be! Link up to your posts for the Greek Classics Challenge here, or comment and tell me about what you've been up to. I hope you've gotten off to a good start!

I got an award

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I've never gotten an award before and I'm not quite sure what to do with it. Yay! Wait, I have to pick more? JNCL over at The Beauty of Eclecticism was very kind and selected me to get this Versatile Blogger Award (which is my favorite color!) so thank you J! I have really enjoyed getting to read her blog since I joined her Medieval Lit Challenge this year. I particularly like the bit where she has a Master List you can read from, because last time I did a medieval challenge I had an awful time choosing books and this year it's going much better. (It's just like how in a library it's a good plan to have a trough of "good books" that you can point overwhelmed patrons to. It doesn't matter so much what's in the trough as long as it's a variety--the point is to give a limited range of choices.) The rules of this award are as follows. -In a post on your blog, present at least 5 fellow bloggers with the Versatile Blogger Award. -In

Unnatural Selection

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Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men , by Mara Hvistendahl For the past few years, we've been hearing about the imbalance of boys vs. girls in China--people want to have boys, and so you get orphanages full of girls and schools full of little boys who won't have anyone to marry when they grow up. We've been hearing about it happening in India too, though China usually seems to get what headlines are going. Hvistendahl has investigated this social trend and documents it thoroughly. The news is really bad: throughout Asia and now Eastern Europe, people frequently choose to abort baby girls in hopes of getting sons instead. The practice is far more pervasive than anyone realized (it persists in groups in the US too), it's growing in many areas, it's routinely ignored, and it results in millions of angry young men with no hopes of marriage but plenty of time for violence. This is a really horrifying issue. Th

The Haunted Dolls' House

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The Haunted Dolls' House and Other Stories , by M. R. James I've been saving this second volume of James stories for a treat. Though they are not as consistently good as the earlier stories, I enjoyed them quite a bit and there are some really good ones here. James was very subtle about his ghosts and ghouls, which make them really good to read about--they're just suggested. The title story, "The Haunted Dolls' House," sounded awfully familiar to me although I knew I'd never read it before. My 11-year-old daughter took one look at it and knew--the plot was lifted for a children's book she read last year called The Dollhouse Murders . It's really similar. There's an extra treat at the end of the book--a little collection of 12 medieval ghost stories written in Latin and translated by James. The Latin is included, so you can try your hand at it too! And there are a couple of short essays on ghost stories. I'm counting this as my

Nightmare Abbey

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Nightmare Abbey , by Thomas Love Peacock Thomas Love Peacock wrote short satirical novels at the beginning of the 19th century--about the same time as Jane Austen was writing. He would create eccentric characters--often caricatures of the literary lights of the day--set them down on a country estate, and make them talk. I started Nightmare Abbey several years ago and failed to get into it (I don't think I was in the right mood) so it's been sitting on my TBR shelf ever since. Now I've finished it and it was quite funny! Nightmare Abbey, owned by the illustrious Glowry family, is an estate that stands between the sea and the Lincolnshire fens. The Glowrys are a gloomy family, and the young heir, Scythrop, is crossed in love. Some of the houseguests include Miss Marionetta, a coquette, Mr. Toobad, who loves to preach on the devil, Mr, Asterias on a quest to find a mermaid, and a mysterious lady hidden in a tower. I couldn't help imagining the whole thing in G

Hesiod's Theogony

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I just learned that Hesiod's works are some of the earliest Greek poetry we have, which I had not realized at all. He and Homer were contemporaries and lived somewhere around 750 BC or so. Scholars think that Hesiod composed his Theogony (the story of the origin of the gods, and in this case the world too) for a contest at a funeral on the island of Euboia and won the prize--a tripod* that he dedicated to the Muses. Hesiod was a Boeotian farmer, probably a fairly well-off one. He happened to compose his poem at just about the time that alphabetic writing was coming into use, and someone wrote it down. Because of that, the Theogony became the most popular standard version of the story of the gods; if there were other stories earlier on, they got lost. This is where we get much of the material we teach to our kids in books like D'Aulaires Greek Myths (which is a favorite of mine). My book says that it's "our best and earliest evidence for what the ancient Gre

Feynman

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Feynman , by Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myrick Well, who knew--there's a graphic novel biography of Richard Feynman! I found it at the library the other day, and since I'm a Feynman fan, I picked it right up. The storyline jumps around kind of a lot at first, but soon settles down into a fun rhythm. If you're not familiar with the name, you should know that Richard Feynman was one of the eminent physicists of the 20th century. He got to be quite famous because he was kind of a big personality--he was outspoken, direct, had a bunch of unusual hobbies, and was all around an interesting guy. He wrote a couple of books of entertaining vignettes about his life and experiences that people who didn't understand physics (like me) could enjoy, and he also worked hard to make physics comprehensible to us ordinary folks. The graphic novel covers a lot of material that I was already familiar with, and added more that I didn't know--it gives a better overall picture of Fey

Julius Caesar

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Julius Caesar , by William Shakespeare My daughter's writing curriculum required us to read Julius Caesar --out loud, a scene at a time. First we read a synopsis of the story and watched the play with the book in hand, and we've been reading the play out loud for a few weeks now. Today Brutus finally ran himself through and we finished. Although Julius Caesar is perhaps not the most fun Shakespeare play (my daughter is not a fan of all the death), it is a fairly straightforward one and I think we understood it pretty well. I had fun translating the difficult bits into something she could understand. She has set a goal for herself this year to read five Shakespeare plays, and we have some good movies to watch. The writing course now requires us to start studying The Merchant of Venice too (I suppose because of the quality of mercy speech--the authors like to provide moral examples along with great literature. Or else because some speech goes along with a skill they&

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

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Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde , by Robert Louis Stevenson I ran into this yesterday at work and since it's so short, I just picked it up and read it in an afternoon for the "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" challenge. It's hard to know what there could be to say about such a famous story. Foolish Dr. Jekyll wants to indulge in his private vices without besmirching his reputation, and he comes up with a drug that allows him to bring the evil side of his nature to the fore, transforming him into Mr. Hyde. All too soon, Hyde gets too strong to be controlled. Hey, look! A paperback cover! Sadly it is not as racy as a proper pulp cover should be, but I'll take it.

Before I Fall

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Before I Fall , by Lauren Oliver Samantha is one of the most popular girls in school, the girl everyone envies who can get away with anything. But then she gets killed in a car wreck--and wakes up on the morning of the same day. Sam keeps reliving her last day, until she can figure out what she needs to do. The interesting thing about the story is that Samantha is really a pretty awful person--she's utterly thoughtless. As she starts to look around her for the first time, she realizes that she has never seen the people around her for who they are. She has never understood that she has choices, and that what she does every day has consequences. It's not that she's been intentionally evil, but she has never once stopped to think about anything. Watching her learn to make choices and care about people was the element I liked. The story is a bit long but very readable. It's been making a big splash in the YA world, and you could give it to your teen (though I

January Classics Discussion: Anthony Trollope

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November's Autumn's Classics Challenge involves saying something about whatever classic you're reading at the moment. This month's focus is on the author. I started reading Doctor Thorne a little while ago, so this post is about Anthony Trollope. I'm not far enough into it to get to Level 3! Level 1 Who is the author? What do they look like? When were they born? Where did they live? What does their handwriting look like? What are some of the other novels they've writt en? What is an interesting and random fact about their life? Anthony Trollope was born in 1815 in London. His parents were impoverished gentry, and Anthony suffered throughout his childhood from his father's ambition to live like a wealthy man when he had no money to do it with. The family spent time in Belgium to escape debt, but Anthony returned to London to take up a post in the Post Office. He wasn't very good at it. In trouble for debt himself, he took a post in Irel

Daughter of Smoke and Bone

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Daughter of Smoke and Bone , by Laini Taylor I've seen this book all over the YA blogs, and eventually one of the descriptions caught my attention. It's a pretty enjoyable book, very current in the paranormal romance genre. Karou is 17, an art student in Prague. But she grew up in a shop that is run by a chimaera who collects teeth. Her hair grows blue. She speaks 20 languages, and she doesn't know where she came from. Then an angel appears and tries to kill her. Since they are deadly enemies, it follows that they are meant to be together! Or, maybe not, considering what they each have to forgive. I am not a 'paranormal teen romance' person, but I did quite enjoy the story and writing, and I'll be reading the rest of the trilogy. I'm counting this as the YA requirement for the Mixing It Up Challenge. I just noticed that today is the 19th of January and so far I've averaged a book per day--partly because I've read 5 light books during 3 d

The Book of Beasts

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The Book of Beasts : a translation of a 12th-century Latin bestiary, translated by T. H. White My 11-year-old daughter read most of this bestiary last summer in preparation for her year of medieval history. I've had it on my shelf for a long time, but had never gotten around to reading it. Now, thanks to the Medieval Literature challenge, I've finally done it! This is a translation of a catalog of animals from all over the world--it's an animal encyclopedia and a serious scientific treatise. Bestiaries were very popular, and this particular one was probably written at Revesby Abbey in Lincolnshire, which at that time was a sparsely populated semi-wilderness (and remember that England had a long and devastating civil war around then). The book would have been dictated to several monks, each of whom produced a copy. Then the illustrator would do the pictures. To modern eyes, the descriptions of animals are adorably credulous; the older the story, the more credible it

Mr. Dixon Disappears

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Mr. Dixon Disappears , by Ian Sansom I don't know why I didn't read this Mobile Library mystery before, except that maybe I like to have one in reserve so I don't get to the end of them? It's been on my shelf for a while, patiently waiting to be read, even though I've already read one or two sequels. The Mobile Library series is about Israel Armstrong, the vegetarian English Jewish librarian posted to the outer edges of Northern Ireland. "Hapless" is not a strong enough term to describe just how hapless Israel is--I think I've described him before as a librarian Arthur Dent. In this adventure, he's setting up a historical display in a department store when the store's owner goes missing. Israel takes a look around and the police show up and arrest him, so he has to prove his innocence. These stories are always funny and relaxing--just what I needed!

And There Was Light

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And There Was Light , by Jacques Lusseyran I can't remember now who recommended this book on her blog, so if it was you, tell me so I can thank you! Jacques Lusseyran lost his sight in an accident when he was about 8 years old, and the first half of the book is about his experiences coping with blindness. I don't know if I should say "coping" because that's not how he tells it at all; it's an amazing story, and I can't do it justice. Then, when Lusseyran was a teenager, the Germans invaded France. He describes living in occupied Paris, and how he and his friends started a resistance organization. That's also an amazing story! Before too long they joined up with the rest of the French Resistance. They were nearly all still under 18, which gave them something of an advantage. Their unit was eventually betrayed and Lusseyran spent the remainder of the war in a concentration camp, but he spends very little time on that period. This was a great

Snuff

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I have been sick. So, so sick. Now I have a pile of books to write up, but they're mostly pretty light stuff because you can't read anything heavy when you're miserable. Anyway I'm grateful to have had Terry Pratchett's new book, because it got me through the worst bit. Snuff , by Terry Pratchett It is completely amazing to me that Terry Pratchett has written 39 Discworld novels, and they're still good . I cannot think of another fantasy author--or any author at all--that has done that (if you can, let me know). Piers Anthony has written 35 Xanth novels so far; they started off so-so and have been utterly abysmal for years. Whereas with Discworld, the first couple aren't so great, but they got better and better for a long time, and are still really enjoyable. Maybe it's because Pterry changed so much over time and kept doing things differently; if he'd stuck with the same light parody he started with, it would never have worked so well. Sn

The Man in the High Castle

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The Man in the High Castle , by Philip K. Dick I've had an old paperback library copy of this on my TBR pile for quite a long time. I don't know if anyone wrote any alternate-universe books about a different outcome to World War II before Dick did, but this is the most famous one. It's the late 60's, and the Axis won the war. Japan occupies the West Coast of the American continent and Germany owns the East Coast as well as all of Europe and Africa. Africa has been depopulated, black people are mostly enslaved, Jews live in hiding, and everything is very racialized. White people in California live in subservience to the Japanese (as do the Chinese). And Germans are sending rockets out to colonize the solar system, too. Although Japan and Germany are officially friendly, the cracks are starting to show. The action mainly takes place in San Francisco or the Midwest (which is the only remnant of the USA and mostly ignored), and jumps between several main character

Hopjoy Was Here

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Hopjoy Was Here , by Colin Watson I thought maybe the Watson mysteries would improve, so I picked up the next one on the pile. It's called Hopjoy Was Here and I'm happy to report that it was indeed much better--more interesting and yes, kind of funny. It was really kind of an oddball mystery, but in an entertaining way. Now I will be happy to read more Watson in future. My book cover is not nearly so nice as this picture from a new run of the series. It is quite a boring cover and has a photo on it of a British actor with a pipe and tweed hat, from the BBC series based on the books--it was called "Murder Most English." The show ran in the late 70's and featured the guy who played James Herriot in "All Creatures Great and Small" as the sargeant. Maybe I'll see if I can find it sometime, though really I don't like televised mysteries very much, just books. I'm going to count this as the mystery selection in the Mixing It Up Challenge

The Story of an African Farm

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The Story of an African Farm , by Olive Schreiner The story concerns three children growing up together. Em and Lyndall are orphaned cousins. Lyndall is intelligent, beautiful, and troubled, while Em is plain and ordinary, but very kind. They are cared for by Em's stepmother, a thoughtless Boer woman. Then there is Waldo, the son of a German herder who works on the farm. Waldo and his father are by far the nicest people (other than Em) in the book, and I think the father was my favorite. Waldo is something of an odd genius, very mechanical and a deep thinker--although inarticulate about it. All of them go through quite a lot of hardships of very different kinds. Lyndall is ambitious and determined, and gets herself to school, but she is oppressed by society's limits on women (and she has a lot to say about that). Waldo loses his faith in God and searches for truth, and Em gets the short end of the stick every time. It's really a very sad novel. There's

The Graves of Academe

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The Graves of Academe , by Richard Mitchell Richard Mitchell was a professor at Glassboro State College (now Rowan University) and one of the earlier grumpy outspoken critics of the education system. He ran a self-published magazine, The Underground Grammarian , wrote four books about language and education, and always encouraged free distribution of his works, so you can find all of it online. Back in 1918, the Commission on the Reorganization of Secondary Education wrote a pamphlet outlining the main goals for American education. Only one of these goals was academic, and it called for the 1918 version of Basic Minimum Competency. The pamphlet was called Cardinal Principles , and you can read it at the link or see the principles at the end of this post. Mitchell calls the authors "The Gang of Twenty-Seven" and figures that they assumed that most children were not capable of real academic achievement, much less serious thought, and that school is really an instrument

Black Out

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Black Out , by Lisa Unger Robin of My Two Blessings recommended an Unger novel for her U week last year, and it looked interesting so I read that, and then that book included the first chapter from Black Out and it looked interesting so I got it. It's a thriller about secret identities buried in the past and all sorts of things--very exciting but pretty dark. It was fun though.

The Phantom of the Opera

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The Phantom of the Opera , by Gaston Leroux I did not know that this was even a book. When I was about 16, the Broadway musical was a big hit and most of my friends lived in the grip of Phantom-mania. I never saw the show or the movie, so I was pretty clueless about all of it. But it turns out that originally, it was a mystery by one of the original detective-story geniuses! The Phantom of the Opera was published in 1910 (in French of course), and it wasn't very popular at all, but the film adaptations did much better. The story is told by a detective who does relatively little detecting in the story; mostly he just narrates the information he has gathered. It is the story of the young Swedish singer, Christine Daae, the young and romantic aristocrat Raoul who loves her, and the "Opera Ghost" who is obsessed with her. He has a deformed face which makes him an outcast. He is also diabolically clever and entirely insane. I enjoyed the story, which is more Gothic

The Consolation of Philosophy

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The Consolation of Philosophy , by Boethius I am quite proud of myself; I've always wanted to read Boethius and now I've done it. Of course, it turned out not to be nearly as difficult as I'd always thought it was going to be, so maybe it's not such an amazing accomplishment. C. S. Lewis has a whole section on Boethius in The Discarded Image , and he says that it "was for centuries one of the most influential books ever written in Latin...Until about two hundred years ago it would, I think, have been difficult to find an educated man in any European country who did not love it. To acquire a taste for it is almost to become naturalised in the Middle Ages." Anicius Manlius Severinus Bo√ęthius (~480-525) lived in Rome just as the Western Roman Empire was crumbling into the last little bits. He belonged to an eminent family, served as consul, and worked for Theodoric the Ostrogoth. He wound up on the wrong side of a power struggle and Theodoric imprisoned a

The Oresteia

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The Oresteia , by Aeschylus I used George Thomson's 1932 translation, which is collected in the Viking Portable Library's Greek Reader edited by W. H. Auden. It's mostly done in blank verse--unrhymed lines of iambic pentameter--though the rhythm changes sometimes during songs. I liked the translation just fine, for the most part. As background, we must know that ten years ago, when Agamemnon and his men started off to attack Troy, they were becalmed and could not launch the ships because they had somehow angered Artemis. The only way to appease the goddess was to sacrifice Agamemnon's daughter Iphigenia. Torn between his duty to his men and his love for his daughter, Agamemnon chose war and killed Iphigenia. Clytemnestra, of course, could not forgive this sin. She took Agamemnon's cousin Aegisthus as a lover and together they plotted revenge; Aegisthus' grievance is against Agamemnon's father Atreus, who killed his brother's children and fed t

January Classics Discussion

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November's Autumn's Classics Challenge involves saying something about whatever classic you're reading at the moment. This month's focus is on the author, so every so often I'll post some information about whoever I'm reading. At the moment, my problem is that her questions kind of assume that you're reading a novel, and all I've got is a trilogy of Greek plays and an early medieval treatise on philosophy. But no matter, we'll do our best. This post will be on Aeschylus! Level 1 Who is the author? What do they look like? When were they born? Where did they live? What does their handwriting look like? What are some of the other novels they've written? What is an interesting and random fact about their life? Aeschylus lived from ~525-455 BC. He is supposed to have been a native of Eleusis, which isn't too far from Athens, and seems to have lived there much of the time. No one knows what his handwriting looked like, and most of h

Theme Thursday

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Theme Thursday, hosted by My Reader's Block : Rules *A theme will be posted each week on Thursday *Select a conversation/snippet/sentence from your current book that features the theme *Post it and don't forget to mention the author and title of the book *Event is open for the whole week *Link back to Reading Between the Pages This week's theme is NEW (fresh, newest, latest, etc) . I'm reading The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux, and this is the description of Christine Daae's first big performance: She began by singing a few passages from Gounod's Romeo et Juliette . This was the first time she had sung anything from that work....Yet that was nothing compared with the superhuman performance she gave in the prison scene and the final trio in Faust , which she sang in place of Carlotta, who was ill. No one had ever heard or seen anything like it. It was "the new Marguerite" that Christine had revealed, a Marguerite with a previously

A favorite essay of mine

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The other day I got down C. S. Lewis' book of essays, Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature , from my bookshelf. I wanted to see if there was anything in there about Boethius, since I'm reading the Consolation of Philosophy right now (I've finished Book IV! Yippee!). There wasn't, but there is a wonderful essay called "Imagination and Thought in the Middle Ages" which I would highly recommend to anyone interested in medieval literature. The essay is mostly a short description of medieval cosmology and where it came from, which is a topic that Lewis turned into a whole book called The Discarded Image . It's one of my all-time favorite books (because I'm a geek?). But this essay is worth reading even if you've already read The Discarded Image , I think. For one thing, Lewis takes a lot of time to describe how literate and, really, pedantic medieval scholars were, and how much they loved to categorize, describe, and organize everythi

King Solomon's Mines

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King Solomon's Mines , by H. Rider Haggard It's the first book for the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Challenge! I gather that Allan Quartermain, the narrator of this story, is the leader of the League. King Solomon's Mines was the first book about Allan Quartermain, but it was so popular that Haggard wrote another 15 or so stories about him. I've only ever read one Haggard book, and it wasn't a Quartermain story. Quartermain is an expert hunter living in South Africa, and he's approached by a couple of men who want to search for a lost brother. It so happens that Quartermain knows that the brother went searching for King Solomon's Mines, and he is also the sole possessor of a 300-year-old map to the mines. So off they trek, across veldt and desert and mountain, until they end up finding a lost civilization. Their noble bearer Umbopa turns out to be the lost rightful king, so he gets the support of several generals and they all depose the evil u

Coffin, Scarcely Used

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Coffin, Scarcely Used , by Colin Watson I was given a large box of old paperback mysteries, hooray! Lots of them are going straight to the library booksale, but I kept a pile, including several Colin Watson titles, which are supposed to be dryly witty. Well, my reaction to this first one is meh , but maybe they will get better when Miss Lucy Teatime shows up? If any of you would like to convince me that Watson was a genius of mystery-writing, now is your chance.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

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Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children , by Ransom Riggs It's hard to resist the creepy vintage photographs in this novel. I assumed at first that the photos were modern products of Photoshop, but they are old, and were found by people who like to look through piles of unknown old photographs. Riggs borrowed the pictures and built a story around them, which I think is really neat. Jacob is an utterly ordinary teenager in an ordinary suburb, but when his grandfather dies mysteriously, he starts to have problems. Grandpa used to tell him stories about his amazing friends on a magic island, and how he fought monsters--was he lying to a little kid, or could he have been telling the truth? Jacob ends up looking for the real story on a tiny Welsh island, and gets more than he expected. The writing was good, the story is engaging and creepy, and there's something original about the whole thing that is more satisfying than I would have expected from a well-used storyli

Half of a Yellow Sun

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Half of a Yellow Sun , by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie This is the first Adichie book I've heard of or read, and she is going on my list of authors I need to read more of. Her writing is beautiful. And tragic. The story revolves around a small constellation of people in Nigeria and explores their personal relationships. All become involved in the Biafran independence movement of the late 1960s, and we see how war and hardship change them. Some background information: Biafra was an attempt at secession from Nigeria in 1967, and it only lasted a couple of years; Nigeria declared war and few governments wanted to encourage post-colonial African independence movements, and the Biafrans were massacred or starved. The title refers to the Biafran flag. This is yet another title recommended by Eva, so she gets the credit. And, I'm counting this as my modern fiction entry in the Mixing It Up Challenge.

Greek Classics: Here We Go!

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Happy January 1st--are you ready to start reading the ancient Greeks? I'm going to start with Aeschylus' Oresteia trilogy: Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers , and The Eumenides . These plays tell the awful story of Agamemnon's family after he returns from the Trojan War. Before setting out, he had sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia, and in revenge (not to mention how Agamemnon took Cassandra as a mistress) his wife Clytemnestra murders him, and Cassandra too. Now it's up to their son Orestes to avenge his father, and he kills Clytemnestra and her lover. This makes Orestes guilty of matricide, so the Furies pursue and torment him, and he appeals to Apollo, who encouraged Orestes in the first place. Athena has to step in as arbiter, which leads to some discussion on reason and law. What happens when justice and duty are at cross-purposes? Aeschylus' plays are the oldest we have, and only seven have survived; he wrote at least seventy. All the plays before Aes