Monday, 26 June 2017

Back to the Classics // Kenya Edition (with a bit of LesMisBook thrown in)

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It's a fab challenge in which you read twelve (or six, or nine) classics from different categories and review them, and then you can enter a draw to win $30 for The Book Depository!

I really missed picking Sherlock gifs for blog posts. It's the little things, guys.
Fear not: this isn't a post reviewing all the classics I read in Kenya! (There were quite a few.) Just picking a few faves for now.

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Minha tatuagem!
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A romance classic // Romeo and Juliet 

“Spread thy close curtain, love-performing night,
That rumour's eyes may wink, and Romeo
Leap to these arms untalked of and unseen."

(3.2.5-7)

What else would I pick for a classic romance? I took this to Kenya as “research" for LesMisBook (/I just wanted it to be my friend in a strange new place. I read it on our first day and it definitely helped with my uncertainty and worry!), because in her drama school auditions, Nina gives Juliet's speech from Act 3, Scene 2. I was delighted to spot some thematic similarities between my lil novel and this play -- they are, after all, both about first love and prejudice. A LesMisBook snippet:
“[Juliet's] not actually twittery, is she?” he said. 
“Nah, she’s cool! She’s very pragmatic, like, the opposite of Romeo. I think the play’s about her.” 
“Is that the feminist reading?” 
“Pipe down.” 
“It’s interesting, the bit … here, let me see.” 
I threw him the book and he caught it in one hand. “This bit.” He found the place. “Spread thy close curtain, love-performing night, / That rumour’s eyes may wink, and Romeo / Leap to these arms untalked of and unseen.” 
“I love those lines.” 
“It shows she really loves him, doesn’t it? I’ve never wanted anyone to” – his mouth twitched in a smile – “leap to my arms untalked of unseen. Like, what’s the point?” He smiled at my face. “Is that an awful thing to say?” 
“Yes!” 
“Why?” 
“Because relationships shouldn’t be manufactured for the onlookers!” 
Jonathan stretched. “I guess that’s true. I’ve just, you know, never had that kind. The non-manufactured.” He tilted his head. “Or any kind, in fact. Forever alone and all that …” 
I rolled my eyes. “Poor you.” 
“What about you? 
“We are absolutely not having this conversation.” 
He grinned – it struck me he rarely stops smiling – and raised his hands. “Have I reached a Do Not Enter sign?” 
“A big one.”
~***~

I have zero time for people who think Romeo and Juliet don't really love each other. That it's just a stupid teenage thing that blows out of proportion and leads to horribly misguided suicide. Their love is absolutely beautiful. Sure, it's doomed, but that's fate. Their deaths are fated. It's in the prologue, fam.

Give me my Romeo; and, when he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun."

(3.2.21-5)

You see, death is always there, with them. Even here, Juliet knows that Romeo “shall die". In the same way, he describes her as having “beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear". She is already almost a heavenly being to him -- “bright angel", he calls her in 2.2. 

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This play perfectly captures the heady, star-spattered rush of first love. The setting of Italy is perfect, too, for that feeling of hot-blooded passion. No wonder the blood feud forms the other key pillar of the play, the antithesis to Romeo and Juliet's love. On this second reading, the great sadness of the feud struck me; the way in which love is in some ways a dream, because though Romeo and Juliet dream of rising above their families' prejudices, they cannot. 

I talk of dreams,
Which are the children of an idle brain,
Begot of nothing but vain fantasy,
Which is as thin of substance as the air
And more inconstant than the wind, who woos
Even now the frozen bosom of the north,
And, being angered, puffs away from thence,
Turning his face to the dew-dropping south."

(1.4.97-104)

I completely fell in love with this play when I studied it aged fifteen, and I loved it no less this time. It will always be the play that introduced me to Shakespeare; my first love of this man. Fitting, isn't it? Writing about it in LesMisBook was such a joy.

“Here's much to do with hate, but more with love." (1.1.169)

Could anything be more wonderfully Nina? I think not.

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A classic in translation // Letters to a Young Poet

I've been wanting to read this for years, and was so glad finally to pick it up. Rainer Maria Rilke was a Czech-born poet (1875-1926). Young poet Franz Kappus wrote to him to ask for advice about his writing, and the correspondence that ensued spanned several years and delved into life, love and art. It was encouraging to me:

“Be patient towards all that is unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms, like books written in a foreign tongue. Do not now strive to uncover answers: they cannot be given you because you have not been able to live them. And what matters is to live everything. Live the questions for now. Perhaps then you will gradually, without noticing it, live your way into the answer, one distant day in the future." (p17)

Rilke's basic philosophy was that art is unstoppable, and will endure, so that in spite of loneliness and heartbreak, we can take comfort in its immortality. I loved these lines:

“To be an artist means: not to calculate and count; to grow and ripen like a tree which does not hurry the flow of its sap and stands at ease in the spring gales without fearing that no summer may follow. It will come." (p13)

Don't stress. “It will come." Trees grow, and so do novels. 

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His advice, therefore, is to “live the questions":

“We must accept our existence in as wide a sense as can be; everything, even the unheard-of, must be possible within it. ... the courage for the oddest, most unexpected, the most inexplicable things we may encounter." (p43)

I love this. That's what writing is, right? Accepting everything as possible. Taking twenty-six letters and a pen, and making anything at all.

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A Russian classic // The Idiot

You'd have to be pretty dim new around here not to know how much I love The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, and Boris from that book loves The Idiot by Dostoevsky, so how could I stay away?!

Prince Leo Myshkin has spent several years being treated for “idiocy" in a Swiss clinic. When his money runs out, he returns to Russia to start a new life. The society into which he is plunged -- one of social conventions, intrigue and beautiful women -- is bewildering, but Leo soon gains the love of those around him. He gained my love, too, very easily; his naivety and good nature make him an endearing hero. The Idiot was often funny, always compelling: a look at how society works, the people it creates, and what it does with them.

“It is not easy to achieve heaven on earth, and you do seem to count on it a little: heaven is a difficult matter, Prince, much more difficult than it seems to your excellent heart." (p376-7)

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All in all, this was a wonderful book. It had all the grandeur of the Russian epic, with its diverse cast of characters, and it captured my heart from the beginning. Thoroughly recommend.

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What were you reading, while I was reading these in Kenya? What's the best thing you've read this year?

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16 comments:

  1. This is the most artistic and aesthetic post I have ever seen. So beautiful, I live for your Les Mis book snippets, Loved this one in particular.

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    1. Skye, you are so lovely! And your love for LesMisBook MAKES MY DAY EVERY TIME. Seriously!

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  2. I read many pieces of short fiction (some for American Literary Traditions II, some for Fiction Writing, and some just for me), and I absorbed Sins of Empire by Brian McClellan. There's a bit more than just that, but I don't recall precisely what I read/listened to while you were gone and what I covered just before and just after. Very recently I read Nothing Left to Lose by Dan Wells and Ghosttalkers by Marie Robinette Kowal. I'm working on Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, and I've gotten some reading in of the first two Mistborn books by Brandon Sanderson (maybe the second half of the first one while you were gone and the first couple chapters of the second one). I started listening to The Lord of the Rings in audiobook recently because I had Audible credits and my nice bound edition is just too frustrating to read (which I decided after spending a few years battling through the first half of my brick as I read other things). I also read some poetry for American Literary Traditions II and Advanced Poetry Writing. One favorite is "We Real Cool" by Gwendolyn Brooks. Unfortunately, while I'm in school, I don't have much energy for reading besides what I read for classes, but there's a good bit of reading for my classes typically, so it works out pretty well. Cheers!

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    1. What a lovely lot of books! Have to say, I've only heard of about half of them, and read even fewer! I've heard Frankenstein is good -- I'm keen to give it a go -- and I DESPERATELY want to read the Mistborn books. I adore Lord of the Rings. Seriously. I hope you'll enjoy! The Fellowship is pretty slow, but it gets super exciting and intense from Two Towers!

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  3. Dude I love your Pinterest pictures, they're gorgeous. Anyways, I'm super sorry but I'm kinda on the teenage fling side for Romeo and Juliet? I'll believe it if I ever experience love at first sight but until then I'm going to remain skeptical. *hides* Thanks for the great reviews, though!

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    1. Thanks, not that I can really take credit! But ugh, pal! To quote myself when I wrote this post: “It's in the prologue, fam." Yeah it is love at first sight, but it's fate, innit. Before Rom sees her for the first time, when he's going into the party, he says:

      “Some consequence, yet hanging in the stars
      Shall bitterly begin this fearful date
      With this night's revels".

      So it's about much more than seeing a hot girl across the ballroom -- it's prewritten by the stars! And it's “bitter" -- it will lead to death. It has to, in order to end the feud. They need to fall in love and die for their fams to be reconciled.

      I frigging love that play, man.

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    2. I see where you're coming from, but I'm not one to believe in fate or things having to happen. Now if it's God's will, that's another thing, but just fate in general... Idk dude. I'm a fan of free will and I don't believe it had to end that way. I'm glad you like it though :)

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    3. Dunno, within the framework of the play I'm willing to suspend my disbelief and jump in with the notion of fate, to fit in with that whole theme/motif of the cosmos/stars. I love stars ... and this play! <33

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  4. THE SNIPPET. I NEED MORE.

    but seriously, I want to read Rilke so bad. I even have a volume of his works sitting on my bookshelf at this very moment, and I've never read it all the way through. definitely need to though.

    I read all sorts of books this past year...I had to read several romantic classics from British literature because I took a class on that (and absolutely adored it...Castle of Otranto, Northanger Abbey, Frankenstein, and Things Fall Apart were some of my favourite works we read...so good.) but I also read a lot of other, more modern books. nothing really stands out from that...although I did LOVE Grendel's Guide to Love and War, Vicious, by V.E. Schwab, and the Timothy Wilde trilogy. right now I'm actually reading classics like The Handmaiden's Tale, The Jungle, and some of Haruki Murakami's works.

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    1. SOON, FRIEND, SOON!

      A volume of the poems? After reading Letters I'm despies for the actual poems! I've only read the snippets that Stiefvater quotes in Wolves of Mercy Falls, but they're so beaut!

      Aah cool! I LOVE Northanger Abbey! It's so great! The romance isn't my fave of Austen's, but I just love how it's all a bit meta, with the whole “if I were the heroine of a novel, Catherine thought to herself" running throughout, and the people who are like “you shouldn't read novels, Catherine, it's very unbecoming" etc etc. Just so much fun! I wasn't such a big fan of Things Fall Apart. It was hella depressing ...

      I am SO keen to read some Schwab! I have A Darker Shade of Magic on my shelf. Oh, and I LOVE The Handmaid's Tale! I studied it in school -- one of my faves! I have read one Murakami book. It was interesting but weird. What of his have you read?

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  5. At first I wanted to read 'The Idiot'. I picked 'The Brothers Karamazov' instead. I like it so far.

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    1. 100% recommend The Idiot! I'm keen for more of his work; you'll have to tell me how you enjoy The Brothers Karamazov when you finish!

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  6. Cool picks! I actually loved the anime Romeo x Juliet more than the original play believe it or not. It felt like the lovers died for more than just romance. But Shakespeare's lyrical writing is beautiful regardless of plot. ^ ^

    storitorigrace.blogspot.com

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    1. Thanks! I just love Rom and Jul so much <333

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  7. *internal screaming* AEFAJERGAORJGAERLGJ! That LesMis snippet about R&J. Love it so much. I liked it the first time you showed it too me, and I love it even more now.

    "We are absolutely not having this conversation."

    Tell him, Nina. Don't let him drag you into things you don't want to talk about. XD I love her.

    Also, JBH analysis of Juliet's words. That's very realist of him. And Nina's response about non-manufactured relationships. Man, I do not know how all the world can stand manufactured relationships? I just don't get it.

    And yes, J is pragmatic and def the opposite of R. Romeo irks me sometimes. He's a bit much for me. But to each their own. Perhaps that's why J loves R; they complete each other (as cheesy and cliched as that sounds). I hate it when people say it's just a teenage thing too. I'm always thinking, "Dude, were you not paying attention?! Her dad was about to marry J off. 'Teenage' wasn't even a thing at their times!" It's even more annoying because it's usually an older person who says this, aka someone who supposedly has more wisdom and ought to see below the face of things. . . yeeeah.

    I do wonder though. Doesn't "Teenage" only exist because it exists in our minds?

    I know what you mean about the sadness of R&J. The first time I read the book after finishing, I had this weirdly satisfying sadness. Their love was so beautiful and perfect and unmarred by everything around them. But it was so much so, that it was too pure to last long in a world that habitually destroys purity. And thus they were destroyed by the hate around them. It was inevitable that they died, but so sad at the same time. And so sad that something that pure really can't exist in this physical world without being lost one way or the other.

    I will refrain from going on about Rilke until I write a letter to you. Since, you know, I just went on and on about R&J.

    I really have to read The Idiot. Also, I miss the luxury of writing incredibly long comments. XD

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    1. I'm sooooo glad! I love that bit, tbh. They're too much for me. ~fans self~

      And yeah, Romeo is a bit much, he can be quite annoying, much like JBH-- what? *ahem* Yeah, I prefer Juliet. I do think the play is about her, really. Seeing a live stream of a Kenneth Branagh directed performance of the play starring Richard Madden and Lily James helped me to see that. James just dominated the stage; she's incredible! Nina talks about that production in the book, actually. I think that's why the play's very last line speaks of “Juliet and her Romeo". She's in possession there, she's the subject. What a cool lady!

      Yeah amen to that point about teenage! When people are like “they're just kids", like hello, they got married?? And consummated their marriage?? This is adult life, folks!

      That paragraph about the sadness and purity, about beauty's inherent tragedy, was gorgeous. Are you like a writer or something???

      ;)

      Can't wait to get your letter!!! And for you to read The Idiot!!! And for all the incredibly long comments stretching on ad infinitum! XD

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Thanks for commenting! :)