Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Prince Caspian by C. S. Lewis

Prince Caspian

by C. S. Lewis
published 1951
completed November 2010

I'm a little behind on my reading schedule for Narnia Week, but I finally finished Prince Caspian tonight.  It begins with the Pevensie children waiting at a train station in England on their way back to boarding school.  They are suddenly transported to a strange land.  They later discover that it is Narnia in ruins, hundreds or maybe thousands of year after they left, while it has only been a year's time in England.  Narnia is barely recognizable and they have found that they have returned to help restore Narnia to how it once was, and place Prince Caspian as the rightful king.

I was a tad underwhelmed by this one, I'm sad to say.  It read quickly, but while reading the middle section of them travelling through the woods, my eyes started to glaze over.  Not much really happens, but the magical world is still wonderful.  I love the quirky characters.  I think Reepicheep was my favorite of the new characters--the incredibly courageous mouse.  I love how Peter evolved in this book.  He seemed to mature into a brave leader.  I love Lucy and her interactions with Aslan.  It took great strength for her to stand up to the others to do what she knew was right.

As a mom, I'm glad that I'm reading The Chronicles of Narnia so that I can share it with my children.  I wish I had read it as a child because I think I would have appreciated it more.  It is written to a younger audience.  It is still a worthwhile read.  Now that I've read it I can watch the movie!  I imagined Prince Caspian a little younger, but I won't complain about having to look at Ben Barnes for two hours.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
by C. S. Lewis
published 1950
completed November 2010

Literary Omnivore is hosting Narnia Week.  I have only read two of the seven books, so I thought it would be fun to participate.  I knew I would just be finishing The Odyssey and would need something a little lighter.  Per recommendation, I am starting with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  The Magician's Nephew and The Horse and His Boy will be read after the other five.

I read most of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in one sitting and I really enjoyed it.  The writing is simple and straight forward, but the story is fantastic.  I love the dynamic between the children, and I love how the narrator speaks directly to the reader.  Even the minor characters are wonderful.  I can see how children love being pulled into this magical world.

I know some are bothered by the parallels of Christian theology, but they aren't overpowering.  If you aren't a Christian, I don't think it is distracting at all.  It's simply a story of good versus evil as well as a story of love and forgiveness in a magical world.

I'm trying to get my eight-year old to read it.  I think he would love it if he gave it a try.  Maybe I'll just have to read it aloud until he gets hooked.  That worked for Harry Potter!  Off to read Prince Caspian.

The Odyssey Readalong Part IV

I finished!  I'm really surprised that I kept up with all of the reading each week.  This week starts off with Penelope meeting Odysseus, disguised as a beggar.  She treats him kindly and asks him about himself and of her husband.  Odysseus makes up another long-winded lie about his back story and himself, as the beggar, meeting Odysseus.  He is then bathed by his old nurse Eurycleia, and she recognizes him because of the scar on his leg.

Sorta random tangent, I got a bit behind this week and didn't start my reading until Friday.  I had to laugh when I got to the part about the bath with Eurycleia mixing the hot water with the cold to bathe him.  Thanksgiving morning our hot water heater went out and we had to boil water to take showers.  I also had to handwash all of my china for dinner by boiling water and mixing it with cold.  It took forever.  No wonder people rarely bathed back then.  It is huge pain!

Back to the summary.  So Odysseus doesn't want Penelope to know that he has returned so he makes Eurycleia promise to keep his secret.  Penelope sets up a test of skill for the next day saying that whichever suitor can string Odysseus' bow and shoot an arrow through twelve axes, she would marry.  They all attempt, and none can even string the bow.  Odysseus strings the bow with ease and shoots through the twelve axes, and the blood bath begins.  All of the suitors are killed--some more gorily than others.  Anyone else grossed out by what they did to Melanthius?  They cut of his ears, nose, hands, feet, and genitals--they kindly gave the dogs the genitals to eat (eww!)  They then have the maids who were traitors, clean up the mess and then proceed to kill the maids.  Odysseus reveals himself to Penelope and she tests him to make sure that it is truly Odysseus.  

The last book has a scene from the Underworld.  Agamemnon meets the suitors as they are complaining that Penelope is a wench and tricked them and Odysseus unfairly killed them.  He doesn't seem to be the one to complain to considering his wife Clymenestra was unfaithful and killed him upon his return from the war in Troy.  Lets just say they don't get much sympathy from Agamemnon.  He praises the fortitude of Penelope and the revenge of Odysseus.  Odysseus travels to meet his father.  He tests him first, then reveals himself and they rejoice together.  We then switch to the family members of the suitors weeping for their sons, and they decide to avenge their deaths by killing Odysseus.  Another fight ensues, Zeus puts end to it, and everyone lives happily ever after.

So...kind of weird ending.  It really should have ended with Book 23.  Besides the reunion with the father, the rest kind of Book 24 seemed pointless.  I didn't really get why Odysseus had to test his father.  Did he think he would have turned against him?  That really didn't make sense to me.

I don't have much else to say about it besides the fact that I'm very glad that I joined the read-along.  I wouldn't have picked this up on my own.  I was incredibly intimidated by The Odyssey, but discovered very quickly that there was no reason to be.  A big thanks to Trish at Love, Laughter and Touch of Insanity for hosting it.  I even asked for The Iliad for Christmas.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Odyssey Readalong Part III

This week was books 13 through 18.  I'm surprised that I have kept up with the schedule.  Only six more books to go!  Odysseus finally sets sail from Phaeacia and makes it to Ithaca laden with treasure.  He arrives while asleep and the Phaeacians somehow remove him from the boat without waking him.  Wow, he must be a deep sleeper!  Athena plays a trick on him and makes the land seem different to Odysseus' sight when he finally awakens and he thinks that he has been left on a foreign land.  I'm not quite sure what the point of that was, but she tells him he's in Ithaca and lays out her plan for him.  She wants to disguise him so that he can seek his revenge on the suitors before they know that he has arrived home.  She clothes him like a beggar and sends him to the swineherd, Eumaeus to seek shelter.

Athena sends Telemachus home and helps him to avoid the ambush of the suitors.  Telemachus goes to the swineherd and meets Odysseus, disguised as a stranger.  When Odysseus is alone with his son, Athen removes the disguise and Odysseus reveals himself.  Father and Son have a sweet reunion and together plan their revenge.  They eventually make it to the palace and Odysseus, disguised as a beggar again, verbally spars with the suitor.  He is taunted by another beggar, Irus, and the suitors challenge them to fight one another, and Irus is decimated.  The suitors have all gone home and Odysseus is soon to meet with Penelope, still disguised as a beggar.

What surprised me most about these six books is that Odysseus is an incredible liar.  He can come up with the most intricate stories on the spot.  Athena even complimented him on his lying skills when he first arrived in Ithaca.
Any man--any god who met you--would have to be some champion lying cheat to get past you for all-round craft and guile!  You terrible man, foxy, ingenious, never tired of twists and tricks--so, not even here, on native soil, would you give up those wily tales that warm the cockles of your heart.  Come, enough of this now.  We're both old hands at the arts of intrigue.  Here among mortal men you're far the best at tactics, spinning yarns...
I really do wonder how much of the tale he shared in Phaeacia is true if Athena accuses him of "wily tales."  He seems to enjoy painting himself as a hero.  It seems to me that Athena is implying that he likes to embellish a bit.

I'm excited to read the next six books.  The time for Odysseus and Telemachus' revenge on the suitors is fast approaching, and I'm curious to see how it all plays out.

For more readalong posts, visit Love, Laughter, and a Touch of Insanity.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Odyssey Readalong Part II

It's that time again to check in with The Odyssey Readalong.  This week was books seven through twelve.   Action and stupidity abound!  In book seven, Odysseus finally makes it to the palace of Alcinous.  The following day, the Phaeacians organize contests so they can demonstrate to Odysseus their excellence in sports.  Odysseus was exhausted and declined to participate and Broadsea began to taunt him.  He accused him saying that not being "skilled in games" was the reason that he wouldn't join in.  Of course Odysseus is fired up by this comment and comes back at him with this retort.
Indecent talk my friend.  You, you're a reckless fool--I see that.  So, the gods don't hand out all their gifts at once, not build and brains and flowing speech to all.  One man may fail to impress us with his looks but a god can crown his words with beauty, charm, and men look on with delight when he speaks out.  never faltering, filled with winning self-control, he shines forth at assembly grounds and people gaze at him like a god when he walks through the streets.  Another man may look like a deathless one on high but there's not a bit of grace to crown his words.  Just like you, my fine, handsome friend.  Not even a god could improve those lovely looks of yours but the mind inside is worthless.
I love it!  Men!  They are so ridiculous sometimes.  Odysseus now can't pass up a chance to show off a bit.  He chucks the discus much farther than any one else in Phaeacia.

After the sport, they gather again to listen to the bard.  Odysseus finally reveals himself and they beg him to share the tales of his adventures after leaving Troy.  The first is his encounter with the lotus-eaters.  Those who ate the lotus lost all thoughts of home.  Odysseus had to drag them back to the ship against their will.  Next they met Cyclops who was not inclined to visitors and decided to make a meal of Odysseus' crew.  After a few were eaten, a plan was formulated to stab the Cyclops' eye.  I love Oysseus' cleverness in telling Polyphemus his name was Nobody.  When his fellow Cyclops told hear him scream and asked him who was with him and he kept answering, "Nobody's killing me."

He next reaches the home of Aeolus who gave a sack of winds so that he could make safe passage home.  The jealousy of his men, assuming the sack was treasure, led them to unleash the winds that sent them back to Aeolus.  Aeolus would not assist them again for fear that Odysseus was cursed.  They then met Circe, "the nymph with the lovely braids" who turned some of his men to swine.  Odysseus outsmarted Circe with the aid of Hermes and she return his men to him.

Next they traveled to the House of Death to question the great seer Tiresias.  He met many of the dead.  The interaction between Odysseus and his mother was touching as she said that she died because of her longing for him to return home.  The exchange between he and Agamemon's ghost was interesting as we learn more about the circumstances of his death when he returned home to Clytemnestra.

They pass by the sirens safely, with wax in their ears and Odysseus strapped to the mast.  They pass Scylla, a monster with six heads guaranteed to eat six men on their journey by her crag.  They next reach on an island with the sun god's cattle.  They are warned to not kill the cattle, but do they listen?  No, of course they don't.  His men are so hard-headed sometimes!  Zeus then destroys their ship and only Odysseus survives, as prophesied by Tiresias.  Big surprise!

I loved these six books.  The pace was quick and the only time it slowed was in book eleven while Odysseus was visiting with the dead.  So many names are mentioned and I'm not familiar enough with other Greek literature to make much sense of how their stories connect.  It did spark an interest within me to learn more.

I mentioned in my last post my eight-year-old son's interest in The Odyssey.  I had forgotten how violent it was.  Yikes!  Fine for a teenager or adult, but not so much for a boy of eight.  I checked out the first three books of the Percy Jackson series from the library, but he doesn't want to read them because it's not The Odyssey.  Shelley (Book Clutter) mentioned in the comments last week that Mary Pope Osborne has written a children's version of The Odyssey.  I offered to order them for him, but he wants to read the real thing.  So stubborn!

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

The Road

by Cormac McCarthy
published 2006
completed October 2010

I've been wanting to read this book for a while.  I've seen it everywhere.  I finally found it at my teeny tiny library.  I happened to be there when someone returned it.  I gladly snapped it up and took it home.  As a bit of background, as a reader, I like to know as little as possible about a book before I read it.  I don't read the book jackets or summaries on Amazon.  I read blog posts on books, but always skip the summaries if it is a book that I know I want to read.  I like to be surprised.  And surprised I was when I started reading The Road.  I was already in bed and had just finished another book.  I picked The Road up with the intention of only reading for a few minutes.  I think I got through the first page before turning to my husband and saying, "This book is not about what I expected."  I know it's strange, but I love being caught off-guard like that.

The Road is about a post-apocalyptic world.  It's been many years since a disaster destroyed the earth and the narrator and his son are traveling south on the road during the winter.  Not much actually happens during the book, but there is a built-in suspense based on the fear of what could happen.  Will they find food?  Will they run into others?  Will they find shelter from the snow?

I have mixed feelings about this book.  It was a compelling read, but I don't know how satisfied I felt at the end. I'm sure there are some that say that the ending is bittersweet, but I see it as utterly hopeless.  They are still facing the same challenges as at the beginning.

Throughout the book there are no quotation marks.  I understand that this is a stylistic choice by the author, but that combined with two unnamed male main characters (and many other minor male characters), resulted in confusion.  You get "he said..." and "he said..." for an entire page and it starts to get confusing as to which "he" the author is referring.  I found myself breaking the flow of my reading to go back and re-read passages because I couldn't tell who was doing or saying what.

Part of my hesitation with recommending this book is the content.  There are deeply disturbing things happening in this book.  At one particularly disturbing passage about two-thirds through the book, I had to literally put the book down and walk away from it for a while.  The Road portrays a disconcerting view of human nature.  I'm more optimistic in my own views of humanity so it didn't seem as realistic.

The Road won the Pulitzer Prize in 2007.  I can understand how people are moved by this book.  I was more disturbed by it than anything.  It's not one of my favorites, but I don't regret reading it.  I don't think it is for everyone because of the disturbing subject matter, but it is a worthwhile read.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Odyssey Readalong Part I

My first post for my first readalong!  I have always been intimidated by The Odyssey, but I am glad that I decided to join.  It is so much more accessible than I expected.  I am reading the Fagles translation, and I find the story fascinating and the writing beautiful.

Odysseus has not yet returned home to Ithaca from the war in Troy.  Suitors are vying for the affection of his wife Penelope, and his son Telemachus is concerned at the financial cost of them all staying in their palace.  Athena comes disguised and convinces Telemachus to confront the suitors and to take action to find whether his father is dead.  Telemachus takes to the seas with a crew and Athena aboard and visits Nestor, then Menelaus seeking news of his father.  The Gods convene at Mount Olympus to discuss the fate of Odysseus and at the persuasion of Athena, Hermes is sent to free him from the island of Calypso, the nymph holding him captive.  He makes a raft to sail from the island and is met with a raging storm sent by Poseidon still angry with Odysseus for blinding his Cyclops son.  With the aid of Athena, Odysseus makes it to shore and meets the Phaeacian princess Nausicaa.

I was surprised at how involved the Gods were in the lives of the mortals.  Athena has been involved in helping Telemachus, Penelope, and Odysseus in the first six books.  It's hard to say whether in the end her interference will ultimately help Odysseus and his family.  I think there is something strange about her sending Telemachus to find out about his father when she already knew where he was and that he was alive.  I'm afraid Athena has an agenda of her own.

As I was reading this week, my 8-year-old son asked me about the book.  I thought it was strange because he usually doesn't take interest in what I'm reading.  I started to tell him the story and he was fascinated.  He was in bed already and he told me to go read some more and tell him what happened in the morning.  It's fun sharing this experience with him.  It is quite the adventurous story and I can see why he is interested.  He has continued to ask me questions about it and even had me start to read it to him one night.  It was a unique experience reading it out loud.  It made me realize how important it is to pay attention to not just the story, but the beauty of the writing.  I'm excitedly looking forward to the next six books.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

More Tales of the Unexpected by Roald Dahl

More Tales of the Unexpected

by Roald Dahl
published 1980
completed October 2010

I picked this up to fulfill the "All in the Family" part of the Take Another Chance Challenge hosted by Jenners of Life With Books.  I read a book by Roald Dahl's granddaughter Sophie Dahl then I picked up one of his.  This was my first experience with his short stories for adults.

I was slightly disappointed in this collection.  It was fun to see Roald Dahl write for adults.  These stories are full of quirky characters.  There is no doubt that he is a great, imaginative writer, but there wasn't anything particularly memorable about these short stories.  They were fun to read, but they didn't live up to my expectations of Roald Dahl that were formed as a child.

A bit of a tangent here, but his children's books are magical.  I still vividly remember all of the books of his that I read.  They made such an impression on me.  Over the past years I've been reading them with my children and I have loved revisiting those stories.  They have held up to my adult scrutiny, and I can say that I probably love them more now than I did as a child.

More Tales of the Unexpected was fun to read, but I don't know if you need to rush out and get it.  It wouldn't be a book to purchase, but maybe to borrow or check out from the library.  Now his children's books--go buy them all!  They are fabulous!  You will love them and if you have children, they will love them as well.