Thursday, August 27, 2009

Reading Update: these books are odd

I thought I’d update my progress on adding purple highlighting to my page of all Nobel laureates of literature.

Books I’m currently reading (note: I like to read many books at once, some very quickly and some dragging on for months, even years):

1. Elias Canetti, Auto-da-fé

2. Anatole France, Penguin Island

3. T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land and Other Poems

Books which I’ve obtained and plan on reading:

1. Selma Lagerlöf, Gösta Berling’s Saga

2. Czeslaw Milosz, Selected Poems (which I read half of a while ago, but didn’t finish)

3. Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

4. Heinrich Böll, The Bread of Those Early Years

5. Rudyard Kipling, The Jungle Book

For some of these books, I plan to write reviews here in this blog (the proper review-like blurbs with the numbering) and, for the rest, I’ll just discuss them in these little reading updates and/or post something on my LibraryThing.

Reading Penguin Island (this book is odd!):

Penguin Island is historical satire based on the premise that a nearsighted and fatigued abbot accidentally baptized penguins, believing them to be men. To rectify this mistake and to bring it into accord with established religion, theology, etc., the Lord changed the penguins into humans and they founded a nation on Penguin Island.

The way that Anatole France pokes fun of historical events is hilarious. There is one particular escapade that amuses me to no end. There is told a story of a monk called Marbodius who makes a descent into hell, exactly as Dante did in the Divine Comedy – I even had déjà vu from reading it – and meets Virgil, whom he, like Dante, admired greatly. After conversing together for a bit, Virgil tells Marbodius of another person who had come to visit him. After making fun of Dante’s vulgar Italian and the rhythm in his poetry, Virgil goes on to say:

“The thing is monstrous and scarcely credible, but when this man returned to earth he disseminated the most odious lies about me. He affirmed in several passages of his barbarous poems that I had served him as a guide in the modern Tartarus, a place I know nothing of. He insolently proclaimed that I had spoken of the gods of Rome as false and lying gods, and that I held as the true God the present successor of Jupiter. Friend, when thou art restored to the kindly light of day and beholdest again thy native land, contradict those abominable falsehoods.”

So ... ha! Take that Dante! I never liked Dante simply because I found all my favourite people in his version of hell – okay, seriously, perhaps it’s reasonable for Ulysses to be in some form of hell, since it is where all the other Greek heroes are, but why is he in such a deep pit of hell? Any closer and he’d be with Brutus, Cassius and Judas in the very center of hell. And the crime that he’s accused of is being a “false counsellor” and that’s just ludicrous! Yes, he came up with the Trojan horse and thus the noble city of Troy was sacked, Priam killed, Hector’s baby son thrown from the city walls, the Trojan women enslaved and the great city burned. Boohoo. But, see here, he was on the other side, the Achaian side, the Greek side, Homer’s side! So he was a good and true counsellor to his leader and his troops. He can’t help it if all of posterity favours the Trojans.

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