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  • Jeff Somers 7:30 pm on 2017/01/13 Permalink
    Tags: blooming, Classics, , , ,   

    10 Things You Never Knew about James Joyce’s Ulysses 

    On the list of long, difficult books, Ulysses by James Joyce is easily in the top five. It’s one of those books everyone generally feels should be read, but may also be too intimidating to actually read. But it’s not as hard to read as its reputation might imply—deeply compelling, even amusing, from chapter to chapter. It’s also a source of some incredible trivia and surprising facts that might make it a little easier to contemplate. Without further ado, here are 10 things you probably didn’t know about Ulysses.

    By the time he wrote it, Joyce hadn’t lived in Dublin for years
    Ulysses famously takes place over the course of a single day—June 16th, 1904—in Dublin, Ireland. Much of Joyce’s energy is expended on recreating Dublin, from the smells and sights to the layout of the streets. To this day, you can walk the city, following in the footsteps of Leopold Bloom, and see much of what he would have seen. Yet when he wrote the book, Joyce hadn’t lived in Dublin for years—working almost completely from memory in the days before Google Street View.

    Joyce’s wife is at its core
    The date covered in the book, June 16, 1904, is today known as Bloomsday (after the main character), and is celebrated in literary circles the world over. It wasn’t chosen randomly—that was the date of Joyce’s first official encounter with his future wife, Nora, who also serves as the template for Leopold’s wife Molly. Nora and Joyce had an, um, erotic encounter on a park bench on their first date, and as their love letters, attest their ardor for one another never waned—thus explaining why the date remained important to Joyce.

    Its last line is a climax
    There are various schools of thought on the “best” way to read the book, but one thing is for sure: you won’t take it all in on your first go-round. One thing that’s easy to miss the first time is that the final lines of the book are culmination of a lengthy stream-of-consciousness peek into Molly Bloom’s mind as she pleasures herself (composed of eight of the longest sentences in history), making that last line a literal climax. Which partially explains why …

    It was banned in the U.S. for 12 years
    Ulysses was initially serialized between 1918 and 1920, and published as a novel in 1922. But it was labeled pornographic and banned in the United States until 1934. Which, okay, there’s a lot of sex in it, and Joyce does celebrate the smuttier side. Which makes sense, because …

    It’s a comedy
    Much is made of the literary allusions, the structural basis in Homer’s The Odyssey, and other erudite aspects of Ulysses. That makes it easy to forget that Joyce is sending up many of those stuffy conventions. His big joke was to use Homer’s structure to tell a story filled with masturbation and scatological jokes, even while littering the work with obscure references to keep critics jumping through hoops. In other words, when you study Ulysses, Joyce is laughing at you.

    There’s an app for that
    Adapting this novel into any medium is going to be a challenge, but trying to cram it into a graphic novel seems particularly insane. Artist Robert Berry has decided to try, and he’s doing so through the modern-day media of the app, posting each page as he finishes. He estimate it will take about a decade to get through the whole book.

    You can read just three chapters and grasp the narrative
    As we mentioned, people have been arguing about the “best” way to read Ulysses more or less since it was published. Critics disagree about whether every chapter is necessary; even the book’s most ardent defenders will admit some of the chapters are a bit more obtuse than others. (A few even argue you can get away with reading just one chapter!) There are more than a few defenders of the notion that you can get the TL;DR version of Ulysses by reading the following chapters, and nothing else: “Telemachus,” “Calypso,” and “Penelope.” You’ll be missing out on a lot of great stuff, but you’ll also be able to fake your way through a conversation about Joyce’s masterpiece.

    You can’t read it “cold”
    Many folks have made the mistake of trying to read Ulysses like it’s any old ordinary novel. It isn’t. Joyce said, “I’ve put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant.” In other words, the allusions and references are the point. No matter who you are, you’re going to have to do a little research.

    It has somehow been filmed twice
    Surprisingly for one of the most interior, detailed stories of all time—a story seemingly impossible to adapt—Ulysses has been made into a movie twice. A 1967 version attempts to follow the story, and uses many lines straight from the page. In 2003, Bloom, starring Stephen Rae, took a looser approach in an attempt to approximate the novel’s “stream of consciousness” style. How successful either is at recreating Joyce’s masterpiece is definitely up for debate.

    Have you braved the journey of Ulysses?


    The post 10 Things You Never Knew about James Joyce’s Ulysses appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Brian Boone 5:00 pm on 2016/10/17 Permalink
    Tags: august wilson, Classics, page and stage, the pittsburgh cycle,   

    Hopping Onto August Wilson’s The Pittsburgh Cycle 

    August Wilson (1945-2005) left behind a body of nearly 20 plays, but a good deal of his life’s work consists of an incredibly ambitious project, one not really attempted by anyone else in recent memory, if at all. Wilson wrote a cycle, or a set of plays on a loosely related theme. Wilson’s theme is the cultural, historical, and personal experiences of the African-American in the 20th century. And he wrote one play expressing that for each of the 10 decades of the century. It’s called The Century Cycle for obvious reasons, but it’s also known as The Pittsburgh Cycle, as nine out of the 10 plays are set in Wilson’s hometown of Pittsburgh, and in the traditionally African-American neighborhood of Hill District. Wilson didn’t write the plays of the Cycle in chronological order, and it isn’t a 10-part play; they aren’t sequels of each other, although they are connected.

    While August Wilson is one of the most prominent and regarded playwrights of the last few decades (two of the Cycle plays won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama), your local playhouse probably hasn’t done one of Wilson’s plays in a while. It’s because Wilson demanded that only all-African-American theater companies or casts perform his plays. Unfortunately, there just aren’t enough of those operating right now. (Chicago’s Goodman Theatre produced all 10 plays between 1986 and 2007, the Huntington Theatre Company of Boston has done the full Cycle, and Wilson’s hometown Pittsburgh Public Theatre has finished the Cycle, too.) What all this means is that you’re going to have a far easier time reading Wilson’s works than you are getting to see them live. But they’re so rich in cultural history and musical language that reading Wilson’s plays provides a completely different level of understanding and enjoyment.

    Gem of the Ocean (1900s)
    The first play chronologically (but ninth written) follows Aunt Ester, a 287-year-old matriarch who brings two boarders into her Pittsburgh home in 1904: a former slave and Union Army scout, and a young man from Alabama named Citizen Barlow. It explores the difficult period after the Civil War in which slavery was outlawed but African-Americans were skeptical of the government’s progressive reforms. Aunt Ester is a mystical cleanser of souls, and she helps Barlow literally break free of his past.

    Joe Turner’s Come and Gone (1910s)
    Taking its title from the chorus of an early blues song, Joe Turner (written in 1988) is set in another boarding house, run by Seth and Bertha Holly, who head up the nontraditional family of itinerant workers. The play is set against the backdrop of the Great Migration of the 1910s, when a vast number of descendants of slaves left the South for good in search of better jobs and better treatment in northern states.

    Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (1920s)
    Wilson’s 1984 play is the only one in the Cycle not set in Pittsburgh. It takes place entirely within a recording studio as the hugely popular and influential blues star Ma Rainey is about to record some songs…if she can get her band to get it together. And if she can get the record company to not cheat her.

    The Piano Lesson (1930s)
    It’s 1936, just after the Great Depression, and two grown siblings named Boy Willy and Berniece can’t decide whether or not to sell the very old piano they’ve had to their family for decades (stories of which are richly detailed by their uncle). The piano has deep meaning that leaves the siblings in conflict—will Boy Willy sell it to buy land, or should they keep it as a reminder of their past? The Piano Lesson won the 1990 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

    Seven Guitars (1940s)
    Told in a non-chronological format, this play (written in 1995) takes place around the funeral of Floyd Barton, and the circumstances surrounding his death. Just out of prison but also a music star, he returns to Pittsburgh to mend relationships and atone for his mistakes. Things are going pretty good, until his life is violently cut short.

    Fences (1950s)
    It’s a little bit about broken dreams caused by racism, as well as a discussion of how institutionalized racism prevents advancement in the workplace. The main character in Fences is Troy, a former baseball player who didn’t get very far into the pros because he played before the color barrier was broken; he’s now a garbage collector who can’t seem to get promoted to garbage truck driver. Wilson won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

    Two Trains Running (1960s)
    It’s the very end of the ‘60s, and the Civil Rights Movement is winding down, and although laws have changed and progress has been made, life doesn’t feel too much different for the denizens of a Hill District neighborhood café. Malcolm X has been assassinated not long before, and the multiple generations of African-Americans clash in their outlook: for the older generation, it’s cynicism and pessimism, and for the younger group, it’s uncertainty.

    Jitney (1970s)
    In 1982, Wilson started the Cycle with this play—which suggested a lot more questions than it answered about the African-American experience. Like the rest of the Cycle, it’s a small, personal story that reflects little-reported history and the experience of millions. Demonstrating how the Civil Rights Movement of the ‘60s far from solved racism, Jitney is about unlicensed Pittsburgh cab drivers, or jitneys, operating in Pittsburgh’s Hill District…because the licensed cabs won’t go to that neighborhood.

    King Hedley II (1980s)
    Perhaps because it’s one of the most intimate, or perhaps it’s because it’s set in one of the most recent decades, King Hedley II is one of the most unnerving in the Cycle. Set in 1985 (and written in 1999), it’s the story of a man just out of prison trying to get his life together by selling stolen appliances to raise enough money to buy a small video rental store. It turns out that Reaganomics makes that goal virtually impossible.

    Radio Golf (1990s)
    The last play Wilson wrote—for the Cycle, and in his career—is also the last play in the Cycle chronologically. The plot tries to offer some closure, however ambiguous, to the loosely connected world of his plays. Aunt Ester returns as a spiritual figure, an important presence as two rich guys attempt to gentrify—and strip all character from—the Hill District, circa 1997. So, Wilson did get to see out his life’s great project. He witnessed Yale Repertory Theatre’s world premiere of the play in early 2005, a few months before he passed away. And just two weeks later, Wilson’s legacy was solidified when the Virginia Theatre on Broadway was renamed the August Wilson Theatre.

    The post Hopping Onto August Wilson’s The Pittsburgh Cycle appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Tara Sonin 7:00 pm on 2016/08/25 Permalink
    Tags: changing times, Classics, modern adaptations,   

    6 Modern Adaptations of Classic Novels 

    The classics are called classic for a reason: they’re stories that withstand the test of time. No matter whether they were written in the 18th century or the 20th, the scenarios still ring true—and there are plenty of authors taking those stories and reinventing them for today’s readers. Here are six adaptations of classic stories that you’ll fall in love with.

    Eligible, by Curtis Sittenfeld
    The most recently published of the adaptations on my list, Eligible is an update on Pride and Prejudice’s time-honored story of sisters who are struggling to find the right man amidst familial and socioeconomic tension. Lizzie and Jane live fully independent lives in New York City as a magazine writer and yoga teacher, respectively—but when their father falls ill, they go home to help and find that things are even worse than they expected. A treatise on the many plights, dating and otherwise, of millennial and modern women, this refreshing adaptation is an homage to the classic.

    Re-Jane, by Patricia Park
    This retelling of Jane Eyre is truly modern: Jane Re is a Korean-American orphan trying rise above her circumstances (living with a strict uncle and working in his grocery store) in Queens. When she becomes the au pair for a Brooklyn couple—Ed and Beth Mazer-Farley—and their adopted daughter, Jane thinks she’s hit the jackpot. In this version, the mysterious Bertha Mason is reincarnated as Ed’s very-much-alive wife, Beth—and when he and Jane start to have an affair, the consequences are more than she might be able to bear.

    When You Were Mineby Rebecca Serle
    Rebecca Serle’s modern retelling of Romeo and Juliet has an added twist: it’s from Rosaline’s point of view! Don’t remember Rosaline? Here’s a Shakespeare refresher: right before he meets Juliet, Romeo is pining for another girl, Rosaline, and she gets shafted the moment he and Juliet lock eyes. So, what did Rosaline think of Romeo and Juliet’s epic romance? In Serle’s novel, she and Rob (the new Romeo) have been best friends forever…and possibly something more…until he meets Juliet, Rosaline’s cousin, who used to be her BFF until she moved away. Rosaline must watch from the sidelines while Rob and Juliet’s love affair crashes and burns.

    The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennettby Bernie Su and Kate Rorick
    If you haven’t seen the Youtube web series this book is based on, get to a computer ASAP! It’s another Pride and Prejudice retelling, but with a slightly younger twist than Eligible. Lizzie Bennett is a grad student, saddled with debt, stuck living at home with her parents and two sisters. She thinks nothing of broadcasting the details of her mundane life to the few internet followers she has…but seemingly overnight, her vlogs go viral, making her and her sisters internet celebrities. Lizzie’s diary records the behind-the-scenes thoughts about her internet fame, the choices her sisters make…and one guy in particular, named William Darcy. We all know how that ends!

    Boy, Snow, Birdby Helen Oyeyemi
    The most literary of the books on this list, Boy, Snow, Bird is the most unique Snow White retelling I’ve ever read. In 1953, Boy Novak moves from New York to Massachusetts, looking for a new life. She marries a widower and by way of their marriage becomes stepmother to the beautiful and tempestuous Snow. Slowly, Boy finds herself becoming a wicked stepmother of fairytale lore, especially when her daughter, Bird, is born. Bird is dark-skinned, and Boy and her husband are exposed as light-skinned African Americans passing as white. A captivating examination of self-love, self-loathing, race, and gender in modern America, this is one fairytale you’ll never forget.

    Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, by Gregory Maquire
    We’ve moved from the completely modern to the utterly fantastical, but how could I not include Wicked on this list? The classic story of The Wizard of Oz is told through the perspective of the Wicked Witch of the West…who was not, as some would testify, born wicked. Elphaba was born a curious and magical girl, with the curse of green skin. As we follow Elphaba through childhood and off to university, where she befriends Glinda (the Good Witch, and her future enemy) and Fiyero, a prince of a faraway kingdom. The romance between Fiyero and Elphaba is a slow burn, but ultimately worth it as we learn that the events that unfolded between them may have led to Elphaba becoming as wicked as people remember her being.

    What are your favorite modern adaptations of classic novels?

  • Nicole Hill 7:30 pm on 2016/06/09 Permalink
    Tags: Classics, , , harry potter spinoffs, , ,   

    6 More Harry Potter Spinoffs We’d Like to See 

    Fantastic Beasts

    Looks like J.K. Rowling just can’t quit us. In addition to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: Parts I & II, we’re getting Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a planned movie trilogy inspired by Harry and co.’s same-named Hogwarts textbook. It’s a win-win-win.

    By continuing a cinematic dynasty based on a textbook, Rowling has proves how willing she is to dive back into Hogwartsian hijinks. While I fully support her other post-Potter output (The Casual Vacancy and the Cormoran Strike series, as Robert Galbraith), it just follows that if she’s got the time and motivation to pen the story for a play and the scripts for three films based on, once again, a textbook, she could maybe throw us a few more spinoff bones. There is only so much semi-erotic Regulus Black/Barty Crouch Jr. slash-fic one can consume without feeling a gaping emptiness inside. There are more HP spinoff possibilities than you could shake a Crumple-Horned Snorkack at.

    Here are a few ideas we hope she runs with next.

    The Marauders
    For the love of Wilhelmina Grubbly-Plank, GIVE ME A MARAUDERS PREQUEL. The only times readers are actually witness to the legendary bromance of Sirius Black and James Potter are Pensieve flashbacks and postmortem meetups. Cool. And everybody and their muggle mom wants to talk to Harry about his angelic, beautiful, lovely, vivacious mother, but spoiler alert, she’s six feet under before we even read the first page. Awesome. C’mon, Queen Rowling, I’ve got a hankering for a new (yet familiar) display of adolescent frolicking, anarchy, and hormonal theatrics.

    The Founders
    Rowena Ravenclaw, who, as she lay dying, dispatched the Bloody Baron to find her daughter, whom he stabbed to death before killing himself. Godric Gryffindor,  the wearer of the salty Sorting Hat. Salazar Slytherin, who created a Chamber of Secrets in which he hid a goshdarn basilisk inside a school. Helga Hufflepuff, who probably had a charming laugh. These people were insane. Tell us their stories.

    Non-European Magic
    Do not the youths of Lagos or Tokyo create magical mayhem? If you prick an Australian wizard with a basilisk fang, does he not die? What about the Colonies—where are our wizards and witches? Newt Scamander’s Fantastic Beasts storyline will take place in New York, but this is America, dang it. We have more wizards, soccer-playing, right-side-of-the-road-driving, shorter-lunch-break–taking wizards than you could possibly imagine! How about exploring this wide, wide magical world?

    The Ministry of Magic
    That place is a looney bin. (Before Hermione straightened everything out, of course.) And the hiring practices, Arthur Weasley and Kingsley Shacklebolt notwithstanding, seem lax at best. I would settle for a bildungsroman of the third-floor janitor if it meant we could get a peek behind the Iron Magic Curtain.

    Full Employment
    It seems to me the booths at Hogwarts Career Day are somewhat limited. As far as I can tell, graduates can either: become a professor, train as an Auror, open a small business on Diagon Alley, publish propaganda in The Daily Prophet, ascend the professional Quidditch ranks, or settle for a menial position with the Ministry. There are other opportunities for employment, right? I know dentistry is out, but like, where are the social media specialists? There are always social media specialists. Explain to me the wizarding economy, J.K.

    Could there be anything worse than being a squib? (Besides existing as one of the cats in Dolores Umbridge’s decorative plates, that is.) I don’t know. Maybe. But to be sure, a narrative on the plight of these nonmagical wretches would be enlightening. I see a Dickensian orphanage. And scrappy youths. And Argus Filch as a newspaper boy hawking front page headlines like: “STUDENTS OUT OF BED!” Or not.

    What Harry Potter spinoffs would you like to see?

  • Jenny Shank 5:30 pm on 2016/06/07 Permalink
    Tags: , , Classics, , nightmare fodder,   

    5 Disturbing Details from the Books of Roald Dahl (That You Probably Don’t Remember) 

    Roald Dahl knew how to capture the imaginations of children, and he always respected them as readers. His books often take extreme plot twists, conveying how dramatic ordinary events can appear to a kid, and how capricious, mysterious, and unfair adults can seem. In painting with broad strokes, Dahl makes life feel true to kids, who have little control over their days. Plus, Dahl always follows Matilda’s rule for writing for children: books for kids should always have plenty of “funny bits.” Sometimes Dahl’s funny bits are a little disturbing, which is part of what makes him such a distinctive and beloved writer. Here are five brilliant, disturbing details from Dahl’s books that you may not recall.

    Little box of horrors: The Chokey in Matilda
    Like all memorable sadists, the Trunchbull, the massive headmistress at Matilda’s school, is creative in her punishments. When a child’s long braids displease her, she uses them to hurl her across the schoolyard. When a boy is caught stealing cake, the Trunchbull makes him eat an entire cake in front of his assembled classmates. But the Trunchbull’s most twisted torture device has to be the Chokey.

    As fellow student Hortensia tells Matilda, “The Chokey…is a very tall but narrow cupboard. The floor is only ten inches square so you can’t sit down or squat in it. You have to stand. And three of the walls are made of cement with bits of broken glass sticking out all over, so you can’t lean against them. You have to stand more or less at attention all the time when you get locked up in there.” And you can’t lean on the door, either, because it has got “thousands of sharp spikey nails sticking out of it.”

    Once you’re a mouse, there’s no turning back in The Witches
    When The Witches‘ seven-year-old, unnamed narrator’s parents are killed, he goes to live with his grandmother. They form an especially close bond, and she teaches him all about spotting witches, her pet obsession. Then they book a trip at a resort that turns out to be hosting a convention of covert witches, who turn the narrator into a mouse. His small stature comes in handy for defeating them, but there is one drawback: he remains a mouse.

    Most children’s book writers would probably choose to have the spell wear off or to figure a way out of it, but Roald Dahl commits to his magic. The narrator cannot be turned back into a boy, which means he’ll have a mouse-sized lifespan. “A mouse-person will almost certainly live for three times as long as an ordinary mouse,” Grandmamma tells him. “About nine years.” But the boy rejoices in the news, figuring then he and his grandmother will die at about the same time, and he’ll never be alone. Has there ever been a stranger or more beautiful metaphor for the depths of the love a child can feel for his guardian?

    Rampant drug use among animals in James and the Giant Peach
    Believe it or not, the charming classic James and the Giant Peach is frequently banned. Is itchallenged because James’ adoring parents are eaten by an escaped zoo rhinoceros? Or because his horrid aunts get squashed flat by a peach? Nope, it’s mostly challenged for its drug and alcohol references, as in this rhyme that a Centipede sings to James: “Once upon a time/When pigs were swine/And monkeys chewed tobacco/And hens took snuff/To make themselves tough/And the ducks said quack-quack-quacko/And porcupines/Drank fiery wines.”

    Giants: They’re made out of people in The BFG
    In The BFG, the title character kidnaps Sophie and takes her to Giant Country, where kids are on the menu. “We is having an interesting babblement about the taste of the human bean. The human bean is not a vegetable,” one giant says. Even though the plot of the book involves ridding the world of people-eating giants, The BFG frequently lands on banned lists for its depiction of cannibalism.

    Get the kid to the juicer in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
    Willie Wonka could swap stories with the Trunchbull about creative punishments for kids. So why does he endear while the Trunchbull horrifies? He’s much more debonair, his punishments are always just, and the children inflict them on themselves when they disobey. My favorite punishment is that of Violet Beauregarde, who clamors after some blueberry gum in such a spoiled manner that when she gets it, she turns blue and inflates into a blueberry. Wonka instructs the Oompah-Loompahs to roll her the Juicing Room. “We’ve got to squeeze the juice out of her immediately,” he explains. “After that, we’ll just have to see how she comes out.”

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