30 June 2015

Top Ten Books I've Read So Far In 2015

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. To learn more about Top Ten Tuesday or see the list of future topics click here.

Top Ten Books I've Read So Far In 2015

As I've only read 12 books so far this year, completing a top 10 list is rather disingenuous for me. I will, however, give you my top 3 of the year:

The Help by Kathryn Stockett (review)
One of the best audios I've ever listened to, a moving story

"The Horla" by Guy de Maupassant
A well crafted short story about madness

The Duff by Kody Keplinger (review)
A young adult realistic romance that didn't make me want to puke

29 June 2015

Medieval Monday: Sir Gawain

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight begins by situating King Arthur in history. The poet places Arthur in a royal line including Aeneas, Romulus, Ticius, Langobard, and Felix Brutus, men who founded new lands, and some even have these lands named after them (Rome, Tuscany, Lombardy). Then the poet introduces Arthur, “honored above all” (26). All of this is to get the audience ready so they will “listen a little while to [his] tale” (30).

When the tale begins, readers are smacked down into a giant party. With a party spanning Christmas and New Year, it seems like the knights and ladies at Camelot were really living it up: “the feasting lasted a full fortnight and one day, / with more food and drink than a fellow could dream of” (45-46). Everyone was “luminous with joy” (49) which after the amount of drinking going on in Beowulf, I read as ‘ridiculously tipsy”.

The happily inebriated company sits down to eat, but as was the custom, the food could not be had until some form of entertainment commenced, whether a song or a fight. This is where we finally meet Gawain who is sitting next to Guinevere, indicating that he is a knight of good standing. Once the poet has described the seating arrangement and the food, my assigned section ends.

I did get a kick out of the rather detailed description of the dining hall. The poet very carefully describes where everyone is sitting, what food is being served, and in what order it is being served. I wonder why such detail was given. Wouldn’t the audience already know the customs? Why include such extensive descriptions?

More interesting, to me, is the idea that the king wouldn’t eat until someone either told a story or challenged a knight to a fight. The story I get, but the fight? The poet says: “till some chancer had challenged his chosen knight, / dared him, with a lance, to lay life on the line, / to stare death face-to-face and accept defeat / should fortune or fate smile more favorably on his foe” (96-99). I find it quite strange that they would chance injury or even death just for some pre-dinner entertainment. Then again, it is possible that the poet is exaggerating the danger. Considering how often knights dueled in one fashion or another, I can’t see the danger being so immediate or wouldn’t they have died out rather quickly? Does anyone have any insight into this?

Marije Pots calls this the "no adventure - no dinner" custom and claims that the danger is quite real. She also states, based on research, that the death of a knight is "a risk which King Arthur and his knights must have been aware of when the tradition was first introduced". For these knights, "whatever the consequence, the custom 'formed a traditional code of chivalrous practice' and the honour which could be gained from it overcame the fear of death or failure (Pots). Amazing to think that honor meant so much one would risk life and limb before dinner. Do we have any equivalent to this today?

This only covers the very first portion of this tale, which I highly recommend reading. Hopefully I'll get my act together and post on the rest of the story soon.

Pots, Marije. "The Function of Food and Dinner in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight." eThesis.net, 2011. Web. 28 May 2015.

“Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”. Trans. Simon Armitage. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Gen. ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. A. New York: Norton, 2012. 186-238. Print.

23 June 2015

Top 10 Top 10s

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. To learn more about Top Ten Tuesday or see the list of future topics click here.

My Ten Favorite Top Ten Topics We've Ever Done In The Past 5 Years

Loved But Not Blogged : 3 August 2011 : For this post, we talked about books we loved but never reviewed. I mainly discussed books read prior to blogging such as The Crimson Petal and the White, Lord of the Rings, Middlesex, and White Oleander. Many of the books on this list I still have fond feelings for and really should re-read and review.

Friendship : 20 May 2014 : Who doesn't like reading about friends? I  originally thought I was going to have a hard time with this one, but once I got started, I found it hard to stop. I included books like Holes, Of Mice and Men, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, and The Outsiders.

Classic Novels : 1 July 2014 : I firmly believe people need to read more classics, so this topic floated my boat. Go read this post. And then go read the books I recommended, especially The Monk, House of the Dead, Inferno, and Middlemarch. And the rest too. Yep. All of them.

Halloweeny Books and Movies : 28 October 2014 : Halloween is my favorite holiday, so I was well prepared to offer some recommendations for reading and viewing fun. I suggested five movies and five books; the top suggestion from movies was Hocus Pocus, the top from books was Something Wicked This Way Comes.

Feminist Classics : 3 February 2015 : This is a category I care about, so having a list of 10 books on the subject all in one post is a great reminder for me. I recently purchased a few books on the list including Bad Feminist, How to Be a Woman, and The Second Sex.

Books to Re-Read : 4 November 2014 : I am an avid re-reader; I truly enjoy picking up an already familiar book and diving into the experience all over again. A few books I chose for this post include ones I haven't read for over a decade such as Go Ask Alice, Winesburg OH, Middlesex, and The Bell Jar.

Ten Books I Almost Put Down But Didn't : 13 May 2014 : I think I like this one because it is so very specific and unique. I tend to put down books I don't like, and this gave me the opportunity to stretch the definition to books that I loved so much I didn't want to end, such as The Night Circus, and books that were so painful to read such as Room.

Not My Cup of Tea : 8 November 2011 : For this post, we listed ten books we read which were outside our comfort zone. My zone is rather wide but still I don't read everything. I listed books such as Auntie Mame (a winner), The House of the Dead (a knockout), and My Sister's Keeper (pffft).

Bookish Romance Likes and Dislikes : 10 February 2015 : As this post gave me the chance to gush about my love of bookish romances and then rage at my pet peeves, I'm a big fan of this topic. Go read if interested.

My Number One Favorite

Dynamic Duos : 8 March 2011 : This week's prompt was on "the BFFs, partners in crime, powerful couples, and general groups of awesome people that I just can't get out of my head" and boy did I have fun with it, primarily in the area of pictures which included the gorgeousness and awesomeness of Sherlock and Holmes, Dean and Sam, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Eric and Pam, Benedict and Beatrice, Remus and Sirius, and Zaphod and Zaphod.

22 June 2015

Medieval Monday: Lanval's Sugar Momma

Written by the most awesome Marie de France in the 12th century, The Lay of Lanval takes us through the strange romance of an Arthurian Knight, Lanval, and a mysterious woman, presumably a faerie queen, on to his imprisonment for insulting Queen Guinevere, and to his eventual vindication. A much longer summary follows...

Lanval is not favored by Arthur and the men may “feign the appearance of love” (24) but apparently they “would not have been at all disturbed” (26) “if something unpleasant happened to him” (25). He is a rich man from a foreign household who, since Arthur is not giving him gifts, is in rather dire straits. That is, until he begins an affair with a beautiful rich woman who provides him with more than he needs so long as he tells no one of their affair. If he speaks of their love, she will desert him forever.

Unfortunately, Queen Guinevere takes a liking to Lanval and propositions him. He rejects her, and instead of taking it like a lady, Guinevere shockingly insults Lanval, insinuating that he is gay, a “base coward”, and a “lousy cripple”, who is so horrid that God may abandon Arthur because he associates with Lanval (280-286). Lanval loses it and tells Guinevere that he is in love with a woman whose servants are “better than [Guinevere] / in body, face, and beauty” (300-301). The queen, royally ticked off (pun intended) tells Arthur that Lanval tried to seduce her and when she rejected him he “insulted and offended her” (319).

Arthur has Lanval arrested for his offense against Guinevere. Knowing he broke his promise to his mistress and that, true to her word, she will no longer be with him, Lanval does not care about the charges against him: “they could have killed him, for all he cared” (358). Lanval denies the charges against him, saying that he did not proposition the queen and that, while he did say his love was more beautiful, he was speaking the truth in that matter. Arthur puts Lanval on trial, and the court begs Lanval to bring forth his lady love as if he can prove she is more beauteous than Guinevere, then he will have spoken the truth and be vindicated. He, of course, can't get in touch with his mistress since he broke the rules and told someone about her. Eventually she does show up, and as everyone can see she's like the cat's meow and hotter than hot, Lanval is set free. He rides off into the sunset with his love.

I find the relationship between Lanval and the mystery woman fascinating. This woman seems to be the one in control of the relationship. She approaches Lanval, she sets the terms of their relationship, she’s the one with the money. She is, in effect, Lanval’s sugar momma. Now the poem states that “she was completely at his command” (218), but I can’t quite figure out how that is so. While she does ‘make herself available’ to him sexually, I’m inclined to believe that their sexual relationship is not only to her liking, but her idea in the first place.

I’m trying to figure out if this woman, who is so in control, so sexual, is a hero or villain in this tale, and how she relates to the gender expectations of her time. If anyone knows or has any ideas, please share.

18 June 2015

Queering Heart of Darkness

Reading Heart of Darkness from a Queer Theory perspective, it is remarkably easy to see the homo-erotic undertones of the story. First, the intense relationship (the fantasy relationship?) between Marlow and Kurtz suggests a level of obsession more common in a sexual relationship than mere friendship. Marlow even refers to Kurtz as “an enchanted princess sleeping in a fabulous castle” (Conrad 42). It is not only Marlow who is obsessed with Kurtz either.

The relationship between Kurtz and the Russian harlequin is described as: “They had come together unavoidably, like two ships becalmed near each other, and lay rubbing sides at last” (Conrad 55). This is not exactly suggestive of a male-male friendship. When this same harlequin tells Marlow that he and Kurtz had stayed up all night talking in part of love, Marlow replies: “’Ah, he talked to you of love!’ I said much amused. ‘It isn’t what you think,’ he cried almost passionately. ‘It was in general. He made me see things – things’” (Conrad 55). What is it Marlow is thinking? Why is he much amused? And what things did Kurtz make the harlequin see?

Second, the concept of boundary crossing, so important to Lesbian/gay criticism is a major theme of Heart of Darkness. As Andrew Michael Roberts claims in [Masculinity, Modernity, and Homosexual Desire], “Kurtz’s final words “The horror! The horror!” is the result of his having gone beyond various notional boundaries…of his having made that last stride…stepped over the edge” (456).

Finally, the vague descriptions of Kurtz’s actions are strongly sexual in nature and Marlow’s fascination, both with Kurtz and these actions, seems telling. The terms used to describe the unspecified darkness in the text are, as Sedgwick points out, associated with “a homophobic discourse which treats same-sex desire as something that cannot be spoken of”, also known as ‘the love that dare not speak its name’ (Roberts 457).  Kurtz actions are never made clear, but assuming they are related to racism, oppression, etc. is not sufficient. After all, the horrific mistreatment of the native population, cannibalism, torture and murder, all of these are dealt with directly in the text; so what is Kurtz doing that is so unspeakable?

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness (Norton Critical Edition). Ed. Paul B. Armstrong. 4th ed. New York: Norton, 2006. Print.

Roberts, Andrew Michael. [Masculinity, Modernity, and Homosexual Desire]. Heart of Darkness (Norton Critical Edition). Ed. Paul B. Armstrong. 4th ed. New York: Norton, 2006. 455-462. Print.

15 June 2015

Medieval Monday: Beowulf's Digression

So last week, we talked about Beowulf's insult, and this week I'm focusing on Beowulf’s Digression in lines 2009-2072 which focuses on a “what-if” scenario. Apparently, Hrothgar has promised his daughter, Freawaru, in marriage to Ingeld, King of the Heatho-Bards, a neighboring tribe with whom the Geats have been feuding. The previous King of the Heatho-Bards, Froda, was killed by the Danes (Freawaru’s people) as were many of his thanes. All hope “this woman will heal old wounds / and grievous feuds” (2027-2028). No pressure, right?

Beowulf doesn’t hold out much hope for this peace-making marriage, believing instead that “generally the spear / is prompt to retaliate when a prince is killed, / no matter how admirable the bride may be” (2029-2031). He envisions a scenario in which, after a few drinks, the Heatho-Bards resent the influx of Danes celebrating their kinswoman’s marriage. He posits that some will start noticing their ancestors’ armor in the hands of the visiting Danes: “your father’s sword, his favorite weapon / the one he wore when he went out in his war-mask / to face the Danes on that final day” (2047-2050). This observation will rile everyone up until eventually “one of the lady’s retainers lies / spattered in blood, split open” (2059-2060). Peace broken.

One thing I find interesting about this digression is the horrid, crazy situation in which poor Frearwaru may find herself. Many women were used as "peace-weavers" throughout history; girls married off in order to broker peace between the two tribes/nations. How jacked up is that? A single person, and one who basically has no power, responsible for ending hostility between tribes. In Beowulf's hypothetical, this does not end well for Freawaru and Ingeld as he cannot forget the massive deathtoll visited upon him by Freawaru's father.

Another thing I find interesting about this digression is its very existence. Why does the poet include this strange tangent in a poem centered on the heroics of Beowulf? The story has nothing to do with Beowulf whatsoever. The feud is between the Danes and the Heatho-Bards, not the Geats; Beowulf didn’t really know Freawaru; the outcome of the feud seems to have no effect on Beowulf or the Geats.

The relationship between this digression and the Finn song from Heorot is clear. Finn thought he had brokered peace, but the conquered Danes rose up and killed him, raiding his treasure and bringing it back to Denmark, as soon as they were able (1070-1161). So too, Ingeld may believe he is brokering peace by marrying Freawaru, but the Heatho-Bards will, according to Beowulf, not stand for it, and even Ingeld may find himself in a position to choose between vengeance and his bride. Vengeance, of course, will win.

Beowulf’s prediction about Ingeld is the result of the lesson he learned from the bard’s song regarding Finn. Perhaps that is the reason for the digression: to show Beowulf’s wisdom. He can take the lesson learned from one tale and apply it to a similar situation. Honestly though, I am very unsure as to why the Ingeld digression or the Finn digression are a part of this poem. Any ideas?

14 June 2015

Currently | 14 June

Reading // Still reading The Happiness Project and just started The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian. Both are good reads, but as is typical these days, trying to find the time to read is difficult. I may have to write a post on this issue by the way as I got rather testy when someone suggested I just wasn't making reading a priority and that having the time to read was merely a matter of choice. This person obviously does not have two children, a full time job, and a farming husband. Or perhaps she does not need sleep. Anyway, as I said, I may need to write a post.

Blogging // My blogging is really booming currently as I'm pretty far prepped out with Medieval Mondays and Top 10 Tuesdays. I'm feeling pretty good, but I'm thinking I should probably do some reading and maybe review a book or two just to maintain my book blog status.

Watching // Numb3rs. I loved this show the first time around, and I'm still in love with it. I'm watching it every chance I get to the exclusion of every other show. For those not in the know, Numb3rs is a show about two brothers: one an FBI agent and one a math genius. It's action packed. It's geeky. It's awesome.

Learning // Along with my Medieval Lit course, I am taking Foundations of Educational Technology through the University of St. Francis. Designed to familiarize students with various software and online programs suitable for student learning, the course is highly relevant for me as I teach all hybrid and online courses. The only problem I'm running into is that the other students in the class all teach grade school or high school and as such most of their suggestions are not easily adaptable to college level courses. But we are only in week 2 so I do have high hopes for the remaining 6 weeks.

Hating // My bad luck. I bought a Fitbit, and I was loving it, and then I got a rash. Now, no Fitbit.

Avoiding // Writing my final research paper for my Medieval Literature course. I decided to explore the two roles of women - mediator and mischief-maker - but I'm finding my exploration rather tedious as it primarily consists of saying the same thing about multiple female characters. I need to find a hook that gets my juices flowing.

Wishing // I could find some motivation to work out. I was going strong for about three weeks, but I am already in a serious rut.

Loving // Aren't my little lovelies adorable? C-Bug and Goose

11 June 2015

Deconstructing Heart of Darkness...Quickly

Deconstruction, I have decided, would be a truly fascinating branch of theory if it wasn’t, by its very nature, impossible to definitively, clearly, succinctly define. As Barry says, post-structuralists feel “a certain masochistic intellectual pleasure from knowing for certain we can’t know anything for certain” (61) which includes knowledge about their own theory, causing people like Derrida to equivocate when qualifying and quantifying his own theories. After all, they have what Barry calls “terminal anxieties about the possibility of achieving any knowledge through language” and language is how they attempt to communicate their theories (62): quite the conundrum if you ask me.

One seemingly solid fact appears to be their interest in binary oppositions such as light/dark, sound/silence, and male/female. Binary oppositions are hierarchical in nature, meaning one term is given precedence over the other; one term is more highly valued or ‘privileged’. A deconstructionist will show how a literary text establishes the traditional binary and then point to places in the text where the hierarchy of terms is violated.

The most obvious – completely in your face – binary opposition in Heart of Darkness is light and dark. The more highly valued of these terms, culturally, is light. Heart of Darkness establishes this traditional binary for much of the text by associating negativity with dark, in the form of the black natives, jungle, wilderness, nature, savagery, and opposing it with the positivity of light, in the form of white Europeans, civilization, intellect.

Almost everything, from people to objects to places to ideas, within the text is described at one point or another in terms of light and dark. For me, the most interesting is people. The text uses light and dark (and their associated terms) to describe a person’s features and to describe the person’s situation, whether geographical or psychological. Instead of continuously reaffirming the traditional binary, the text does, however, reverse the assumed hierarchy of terms from time to time; or at least it doesn’t allow any one object, place, person, or idea to be all one or the other.

For example, when Marlow worries that he won’t get the chance to meet Kurtz, he is concerned he won’t be able to experience Kurtz’s “ability to talk, his words…the pulsating stream of light or the deceitful flow from the heart of an impenetrable darkness” (Conrad 47). Kurtz, in Marlow’s mind and in the readers, is a combination of light and dark.

Immediately following this description, the primary narrative intrudes upon the secondary and Marlow lights a cigarette. The match’s flame flickers – illuminating and obscuring his face in turn – bringing the notion of both light and dark within one man to the forefront yet again (Conrad 47).
Later in the text when describing the man who approaches Marlow’s ship as it arrives at the Inner Station, Conrad writes (Marlow says): “His face was like the autumn sky, overcast one moment and bright the next” (53). And again, when discussing some natives: “Dark human shapes could be made out in the distance…and near the river two bronze figures leaning on tall spears stood in the sunlight” (60).

Then we have the actual blending of light and dark, in their related colors (white and black) as exemplified in the following: “It was as though an animated image of death carved of old ivory had been shaking its hand with menaces at a motionless crowd of men made of dark and glittering bronze” (Conrad 59). Here we have ivory (less light) and bronze (less dark).

This is just a tiny scratch in the very large surface that is the light/dark binary that is Heart of Darkness.

Barry, Peter. “Post-structuralism and Deconstruction.” Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory. 3rd ed. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2009. 59-77. Print.

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness (Norton Critical Edition). Ed. Paul B. Armstrong. 4th ed. New York: Norton, 2006. Print.