Beowulf

September 13, 2016 at 1:33 am (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , )

I have a confession: I never read Beowulf in high school.  Or college.  I read Canterbury Tales more times than I can count (yet only remember a handful of the stories).  I read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight ad nauseum – and I like that story.  But no Beowulf.  How did I miss it?

I’ll tell you how, we tried to cram so much into such a short amount of time.  We spent hours and hours in school, but spent very little time actually studying.  Somewhere along the way, Beowulf was lost to me.  I’m not sure if I was ever really exposed to it or not.  It might have been something I breezed through in a Norton Anthology and regurgitated the next day for a pop quiz, only to be quickly forgotten.  I couldn’t tell you.  I only know that I had a vague idea that it was an epic poem involving something named Grendel when I began working at a bookstore as an adult.  Even then, I couldn’t tell you if Grendel was the monster or the man.

unknownAs we began our Middle Ages/ Early Ren. (450 AD to 1600 AD) year while classically homeschooling, it dawned on me that this was the year for Beowulf. I had already read the picture book by Eric A. Kimmel to kiddo when she was a wee one, but I’m sure she was so tiny she had fallen asleep; now was the time to embrace the story.

And we did.  I read her the picture book shortly before my trip to Atlanta. It fit right in with all the Celtic and Norse mythology we’ve been reading to bridge the gap between the ancient times and our exciting year ahead.  “What a guy! He tore off the monster’s arm! I can’t even do that,” she exclaimed. She was very pleased that this particular picture book could give the story in “one-sitting, all today” as opposed to the stories of Odysseus and Troy which all took weeks of chapter by chapter to finish. I foresee reading this again and again over the coming months, she loved the story so much; I have to admit, I did too.

4cf814193a0I liked it even more when I discovered there was a cartoon made in 1998 starring Joseph Fiennes as the voice of Beowulf – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QKjcoFZmKuA.  We got to watch that and call it school.  It was a lot of fun.  (There’s one for Don Quixote we’ll be watching next year when we make it into the 1700s.)

Naturally, I was curious as to the accuracy of these versions.  I won’t ever truly know, because everything is a translation, but I thought I’d give an adult version a go.  There’s so many versions out there, I think I’ll just try a different one every Middle Ages cycle.  So I took the Constance B. Hieatt version with me to Atlanta and enjoyed it immensely, especially the little extras at the end.

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The kiddo, of course, keeps asking me why we are using “fake stories as lesson books, they aren’t real stories mother!” I keep telling her, very ineloquently, that these stories help us understand the people who told them.  Read them to her as bedtime stories and naturally she’s thrilled at the excitement of them.

We’ll collect more versions over the years and by the time she is grown she will know the story well – and remember it.  Next go around we’ll even tackle it in poem form, and eventually we’ll read Gardner’s Grendel.

Do you have any favorite versions of Beowulf?  Or, more importantly, do you know any great stories of the time period that should not be missed?

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Books to Read in One Sitting This Summer

June 12, 2015 at 9:41 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

This week I read three books, of different genres, each in their own sitting.  And if you’re looking for something to fill a nice, summer day, I recommend you give them a go too.

Unknown1. The House of Paper – Carlos Maria Dominguez

This is a beautiful and mysterious 103 page book about bookishness, and I love it.  Prettily illustrated with so many quotes I was itching to underline, I cannot wait to purchase my own copy.  (I checked it out from the library.)  Bibliophiles will adore the title and author references, as well as the social commentary regarding people who build private libraries our of their book collections.  Goes down best early in the morning with your coffee, or perhaps late at night with your tea.

2. The Colossus – Sylvia Plath

51h4UamM5bL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ After reading The Bell Jar, I was in desperate need of getting to know Plath a little better.  The Colossus and Other Poems is only 83 pages long, but rich is hauntingly gorgeous descriptions.  I read somewhere that someone once described this collection as the coldest summer poetry available – and I tend to agree. If you’re from Texas, this is a good one to sweat out the morning in your garden just before brunch (or second breakfast) while your kiddo frolics with the dog and collects dead flies.

3. High Moon – E.J. Boley

Werewolves, gypsies, cowboys, and vampires – I just devoured this paranormal western while hiding indoors during the hottest part of the day. If Cormac McCarthy decided to pick up a punctuation habit and tell supernatural tales, it might come out a little bit like this. Except Boley manages something I’ve never experienced in a McCarthy novel – FUN. Using familiar phrases and titles as chapter headings was a nice touch.  Being set in Texas is always a nicer one.  Can’t wait to read Boley’s future endeavors.

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Goodnight Goon

January 27, 2015 at 1:28 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

*A Weekly Low Down on Kids Books*

P1000703Title: Goodnight Goon

Author: Michael Rex

Every parent I know can recite or nearly recite Goodnight Moon. It’s a timeless favorite. I’m not sure why, kiddo loves it, but it has never really moved me personally.

“In the great green room, there was a telephone
And a red balloon
And a picture of a cat jumping over the moon…”
― Margaret Wise Brown, Goodnight Moon

It’s probably the cadence, the familiarity, the simplicity.  It’s a lot of things.  For kiddo, it’s also because she has the hallmark version that her out of state grandparents was able to record into… so she can flip through the pages and hear the story at her own leisure and will, the most exciting thing for a kid when they can’t read yet.

But to be fair, it’s boring.  It’s appropriately sleepy, but I already have a hard enough time staying awake while I read bedtime stories.

I saw Goodnight Goon and took a risk.  She loves Goodnight Moon, but she’s also wonderfully weird and gets very excited about monsters.  I know my child, though, and sometimes she can be a bit of a purist.  I wondered if a parody would be up her alley if it was just up mine.

In a cold gray tomb
There was a gravestone
And a black lagoon
And a picture of –
Martians taking over the moon

She laughed her butt off!  She loved every page.  Especially the end where the monster is cast under the bed for the night, “Goodnight Monsters Everywhere.”

“He’s under the bed!” she laughs.

“Maybe other kids will like it,” she says.

“Why?” I ask.

“Because they’re little. And the monsters. I like the bat.  That’s the kind of monster I like.”  Of course, she watches me type the review and also insists that I “put an L in it.”

L

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I should have known all would be well.  After all, this is a kiddo that adored the The Swamps of Sleethe.

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The Snail and the Whale

January 19, 2015 at 12:51 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I used to do a Weekly Low Down on Kids Books.  Well, I used to pretend to do them, and really they were haphazard and sporadic at best, but sort of happened a few times a month at least.

I’m back.  I’m back with a mission to share all the marvelous books we’ve been reading.  Because, well, we have been reading more than we’ve let on.  I know, our silence is stifling.

P1000708Title: The Snail and the Whale

Author:Julia Donaldson

Illustrator: Axel Scheffler

I bought The Snail and the Whale on impulse.  I’ve been trying to do less of that lately, but it was too darn cute and the kiddo had been working on a snail painting.  Plus, I was feeling a little bit guilty over keeping Christmas as sparse as I was.

A few new picture books seemed a good addition to a Jake and the Neverland Pirate lego set (the third set to polish off the Jake collection); but we purposely are trying to keep Christmas gifting simple… “What you want, what you need, what you’ll wear, and what you’ll read.”  Accumulatively, we’d like for her to get no more than 4 presents from each category once all the grandparents have pitched in.  Ideally I’d keep it to four items total, but I’m practical and I know the family members won’t let that fly.

P1000654So she got the rest of her desired lego collection, a Frozen tiara and tambourine, socks, new boots, and a handful of new picture books.  There were some stocking stuffers and some other odds and ends – a geode science project for her school work, new paints, a painting apron, some canvases – and they were given to her in waves, not all at once on Christmas day.  It gave her time to enjoy each gift before getting overwhelmed with another.  We enjoyed it.  She was spoiled without being spoiled.  It felt like a nice simple holiday, yet kiddo managed to get everything she’d asked for.

Although The Snail and the Whale feels like a summer book – crossing oceans, travelling the world, visiting islands – we were excited to read it while cozied up in blankets and pjs.  I can’t wait to read it to her at the beach once it warms up, though.

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Working on her Snail painting, which has an actual shell glued to the canvas.

After reading this book for the second or third time, I finally asked kiddo, “So what are your thoughts?”

Kiddo, age four, says, “Other kids should read it, that’s my thought!  But how about we put it where people can’t find it. So no one can tear it up.”

I think she was missing the point of the conversation.  We started talking about the illustrations and what she thought.  She likes the pictures, but thinks they got the font “mixed up.”  I think the font is appropriately cute, but she’s learning to read and I think some of the swirly snail words were hard for her to recognize.

The book, however, is wonderful.  The rhymes are fun, the pictures are fun.  It’s all about adventure, having courage, and taking care of your friends.  It’s definitely a great gift book for any little one, no matter what season.

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Love Lang Leav

December 11, 2014 at 4:31 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , )

“I think this is where I belong – among all your other lost things.” – Lang Leav

Lang-LeavIt’s a full moon.

Quiet.

The tree branches are even still.  No rustling.

The kind of night that leaves you staring at the sky, eyes peering through the cool fog in a way a camera lens can never quite capture.

So I retired indoors to read Lang Leav poems, proud of being mature enough for her to not be spoiled by the memory of the one who introduced us.  Happy that no one can take the written word from me, no matter how awful they are.

Because I truly adore Lang Leav.  She is my favorite currently writing poet, along with her partner Michael Faudet.

lullabiesI think I read her for the first time in the Fall of last year.  She was floating around Pinterest and I then followed her facebook page.  Only Love & Misadventure was out then.

Then came Lullabies and Michael Faudet’s Dirty Pretty Things.

My other favorites, if you follow my blog, you know: A.E. Housman, Edna St. Vincent Millay…

Clearly, I enjoy the hint of melancholy mixed with nostalgia.

I like the presence of mind to live in the past, the present, and the future all in one moment.  To acknowledge that your experiences have made you and your hopes are what you live for… and right now, this breath, simultaneously deserves all your attention.  It’s a beautiful conundrum, balancing it all.

girl who writes

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Unexpected Odes to Literature

June 10, 2014 at 11:19 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

City of Lost Souls 2Title: City of Lost Souls

Author: Cassandra Clare

Genre: Young Adult/ Fantasy

Length: 534 pages

For me, what makes the writings of Cassandra Clare so captivating isn’t the fairy tale romance, the paranormal elements, or the bad ass fight sequences… at the heart of it all, it’s the way Clare manages to make a young adult fantasy saga an sequence of unexpected odes to her favorite pieces of literature.

“No man chooses evil because it is evil.  He only mistakes it for happiness, the good he seeks.” – Mary Wollstonecraft

“Love is familiar.  Love is a devil.  There is no evil angel but Love.” – William Shakespeare, Love’s Labour’s Lost

“I love you as one loves certain dark things.” – Pablo Neruda, “Sonnet XVII”

“All changed, changed utterly: A terrible beauty is born.” – William Butler Yeats, “Easter, 1916”

Whether the story was constructed around these quotes, or the quotes City of Lost Souls 1were slipped into the story, the two halves were beautifully married together.  Just as Clare always manages to do.

If you recall my review of The Book of Secrets you should be well aware of how much I cherish this particular aspect of storytelling.  I love peeping into the mind of the author and what they’ve read before – what work we may have both cherished.  I love to see how others acknowledge how literature builds a soul.  Even if that soul is an imagined character in another book.

A reviewer on Goodreads mentioned they thought it was silly that all these Shadowhunter kids were completely oblivious of what went on in the mundane world half the time – Jace completely misses references to Madonna or Dungeons & Dragons games – but are well versed in William Shakespeare and Dante.

As a classical book geek it makes perfect sense to me.  I was raised on Charles Dickens and the Brontes, not the latest boy band or pop culture trends.  Poetry is timeless.  New Kids on the Block obviously not so much.

One doesn’t expect these odes and references in a paranormal teen romance.  I suppose that’s what makes them so stunningly lovely.

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Housman for Kids

March 17, 2014 at 10:39 pm (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , )

P1010387A Weekly Low Down on Kids Books

Title: A Shropshire Lad

Author: A. E. Housman

Illustrator: Charles Mozley

Genre: Poetry

In February I stumbled across A.E. Housman.  Between the state of my soul, the weather, and Housman’s poetry, I found a little hub of safety.  In the words of my best friend, “Where has he been all our lives?”

Apparently everywhere.

Even in kid’s books, of all places.

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The book I found is a $10 hardback from Good Books in the Woods.  It’s a hardback.  It was printed in 1968, and the style of binding, as well as the illustrations, reflect that.  To me, it’s the perfect edition to have floating around the house for your kiddo to discover and flip through as early readers.  Same classic poetry with a much different kid friendly feel.

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Literary Journal Monday – Mapping My Mind

March 10, 2014 at 10:14 pm (In So Many Words, Reviews, The Whim) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I am not ADD, but my mind is often many places at once. It goes and goes… it races… it is unstoppable.

hungerI’ve been reading Hunger by Michael Grant.  It’s one of my niece’s books – the second in a series she introduced me to.  No, that’s not how I want to start this post – is it?

I was craving a little bit of dystopian society literature after reading Herodotus.  My brain spinning in a circular momentum about democracies, oligarchies, and dictatorships.  Darius and then Xerxes tyrading around ancient lands building the Persian Empire.  A thousand utopian and dystopian variations of all societies throughout history – a million possible outcomes for our modern world – twisting about in my mind.  Conveniently, it was at this moment that a trailer for the movie Divergent came on and I thought, “It’s about time I read Veronica Roth.”

Cue discussion of autism I’ve been having on and off with people since reading Not Even Wrong written by Paul Collins. Collins is an amazing author and obscure historian. Still suffering from story hangovers from Divergent and the movie Tonight You’re Mine (all about instantaneous human connections) – I found myself thinking about my niece’s Gone series.

Set in a town in California, all the kids fifteen and under have been left in a supernatural bubble – all adults over puberty have vanished, leaving kids and babies to fend for themselves and create a new government. Not unlike Lord of the Flies, different factions have formed. One is under the leadership of Sam Temple, another under his half brother Caine (the biblical implications of Caine and Abel not to be lost on readers, of course). Sam and his new girlfriend, Astrid, are two of the oldest left behind. They have formed a parental union for the younger kids, caring for all the helpless, including Astrid’s autistic brother.

Like bumper pool – or pinball, if you missed out on the bumper pool phenomena – the synapses in my brain spark and twitch and leap bringing me back to Paul Collins/Not Even Wrong/ McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern. Then, I find myself thinking, “Goodness, it’s Literary Journal Monday.

tonight you're mineTonight You’re Mine still echoing in my gut (I’m pretty sure I love that movie far more than what is considered healthy or normal), I veer toward the London Magazine when selecting my Literary Journal Monday feature. (Tonight You’re Mine is set in Scotland – not England, but for an American like me, it is the closest I can get in Literary Journals once I mentally cross the pond.)

London Magazine February/March 1981 Vol. 20 Nos. 11 &12

The Private Letters of Tennessee Williams and a piece on Gore Vidal catch my eye. I flip through the first few ads, the table of contents, then stop dead on a heading: FINAL REMINDER.

“If we are to survive the next issue we need 1,000 new subscribers or their equivalent, and we need them immediately […]”

P1010303My reading screeches to a halt and I turn to the shelf. Were there more? Did they have to cancel the magazine? Did they get their 1,000 readers? Ah, sigh, they survived. At least until 1989 where the collection at the bookstore stops. So clearly, they got their 1,000. I wonder who these 1,000 were and if this final reminder is what provoked them to officially subscribe. Or were they friends and family of existing subscribers, terrified their favorite magazine would cease to exist if they didn’t recruit others to love what they loved?

My thoughts have veered so far off track that I forget what I was reading altogether. I flip through the journal in my hand trying to grasp the reason I had sat down to look at this in the first place.

It’s March. St. Patty’s Day is coming up. Irish authors keep popping in and out of my mind. Ireland… Scotland… Tonight You’re Mine… music… poetry… Derek Mahon, an Irish poet’s name blinks at me from the page of the literary journal in my hand. Literary Journal Monday, of course. I read the poem “The Elephants” first. I love elephants. Then my eyes skip over to “April in Moscow” and I read “Spring burst into our houses…” It does, doesn’t it? Just bursts right in and none too soon. At the end of the poems there is an ad for the Poetry Society Bookshop at 21 Earls Court Square in London. I wonder if it is still there.

If they do still exist, I bet they have a copy of Lang Leav’s Love & Misadventure. I’m dying for a copy. Leav has been speaking to my soul lately. Misadventures stuck in the cogs of the mind of a woman turned 30.

A line from Grant’s book swings into full view of my mind’s eye:

“He buried his face in her hair. She could feel his breath on her neck, tickling her ear. She enjoyed the feel of his body against hers. Enjoyed the fact that he needed to hold her. But there was nothing romantic about this embrace.” – pg. 21

There rarely is when a hug is really needed. It’s that moment Leav writes about…

When words run dry,
he does not try,
nor do I.

We are on par.

He just is,
I just am
and we just are.

– Lang Leav

The lack of selfishness between the characters at this point is refreshing in fiction and real life.

In a 2014 American Society of infantile adults who never learned to fend for themselves and work hard without constant praise, we are fascinated by literature and movies where children and teens are forced to grow up overnight and be adults.

It’s sad when the idea of fifteen-year-olds co-leading a community and making wise, unselfish decisions for themselves and each other sounds absurd and fictional. My associative mind leaps back to all the ancient history I’ve been studying, back to the likes of King Tut – pharaoh at age nine – dead by nineteen, married somewhere in between.

We believe in responsible marriages like the Romans, but we chase telepathic connections like the Greeks. What a very convoluted and contradictory way to live – the reality of a dystopian society is that every society is a dystopia – even a society of one. Our minds are everywhere and nowhere. Of course we are in conflict.

I suppose you Literary Journal Monday followers got a little more than you wanted. I bit off more than I could chew today. I attempted to map my own mind and identify all the associations and patterns, leaving myself somewhat exhausted from chasing whimsies.

At least I got to spend a few stolen moments in this room…

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A Shropshire Morning

February 2, 2014 at 8:03 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

P1000979Title: A Shropshire Lad

Author: A.E. Housman

Publisher: Penguin (Classics)

Genre: Poetry (English Journeys)

I know I just posted on this very same title yesterday, but I’ve been reading through it over my morning coffee on this cold, rainy day, and I couldn’t keep myself from sharing the best parts.

A. E. Housman (1859–1936).  A Shropshire Lad.  1896.
XLVIII. Be still, my soul, be still
BE still, my soul, be still; the arms you bear are brittle,
  Earth and high heaven are fixt of old and founded strong.
Think rather,—call to thought, if now you grieve a little,
  The days when we had rest, O soul, for they were long.
Men loved unkindness then, but lightless in the quarry         5
  I slept and saw not; tears fell down, I did not mourn;
Sweat ran and blood sprang out and I was never sorry:
  Then it was well with me, in days ere I was born.
Now, and I muse for why and never find the reason,
  I pace the earth, and drink the air, and feel the sun.         10
Be still, be still, my soul; it is but for a season:
  Let us endure an hour and see injustice done.
Ay, look: high heaven and earth ail from the prime foundation;
  All thoughts to rive the heart are here, and all are vain:
Horror and scorn and hate and fear and indignation—         15
  Oh why did I awake? when shall I sleep again?

This melted me to my core.  Melted me into a state of beautiful stillness, and I couldn’t keep that to myself.  It’s so calming, so true, and so utterly gorgeous.

Not just for his poetry itself, Housman is inspiring because his work is so good and back in 1896 he was essentially self-published.  Publishers turned this beautiful work down over and over again until finally he decided to publish the title at his own expense.  Originally he wanted to call it The Poems of Terrence Hearsay, but was encouraged to change it.  Sales lagged until about 1899 when the Second Boer War broke out and profits have surged for Housman’s work during every time of war since – especially World War I.  Though this surprised the poet, it is not surprising to me… the entire work is about loss.  There is much solace in reading about loss when you have lost or anticipate it soon.

Don’t be surprised if Housman is revisited often on this blog.

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Shropshire Lasses (and dog)

February 1, 2014 at 8:12 pm (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

P1000955Title:A Shropshire Lad

Author: A.E. Housman

Publisher: Penguin (Classics)

Genre: Poetry (English Journeys)

A few years ago I became completely hooked on the Penguin Great Ideas series. I think they’re wonderful pocket sized source documents to keep around the house. I also love the Great Journeys… and now, I have a small collection of English Journeys as well.

The kiddo and I love scampering through the woods.  We also love reading outside.  These little paperbacks are the perfect books to tag along for our wooded adventures and frolics in the park.

Not to mention that, today, I think Housman became my favorite male poet – a title previously held by William Carlos Williams.  The two are nothing alike.  But I am nothing like who I was when William Carlos Williams was awarded his place on my mental pedestal.

Where William Carlos Williams amused me with “This is Just to Say”:

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

I was in middle school when I discovered this.  For some reason I found this bluntness endearing.  I thought, “What a wonderful jerk to address poetry with such sarcasm.”

I don’t want poetry to be sarcastic anymore.  I don’t appreciate the uncaring witticism the same way.

I do, however, love this:

Oh, when I was in love with you,
Then I was clean and brave,
And miles around the wonder grew
How well did I behave.

And now the fancy passes by,
And nothing will remain,
And miles around they’ll say that I
Am quite myself again

– “A Shropshire Lad: XVIII”

Ok, well, it seems it’s always the jerk lines that appeal to me.  But at least it’s not about stealing plums anymore.  Housman has real heart and soul as he describes landscapes and lovers, crickets and dead soldiers, the woods and the very real feelings of longing for something that has gone.   All so beautiful and natural; and the pattern in which he writes lends itself to easily reading it aloud outdoors while the kiddo plays.

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The dog seemed to enjoy it too.  He stopped to look at me every time a poem ended as though I was denying him the chance to be included in the written word of humans.

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