Thursday, June 25, 2009

Scared of Silence

I hope it's not breaking protocol for me to post about Silence before our good hostess does. I think that part of a discussion of books can involve confronting one's prejudices about a book, and so I'm going to confess that I'm rather afraid of Silence.

Years ago, Before Children, I worked at Barnes and Noble as a shelver. (This was my day job, you understand; in the evenings I was a production assistant and assistant stage manager at a theatre, although I was coming to the realization that being pregnant and stage managing were not really compatible occupations.) One morning I was shelving fiction, and one of the books on my cart was Silence. I considered it a perk of the job that I could flip through books pretty much at my leisure as long as I got the work done, and so without knowing anything about the book I paged through Silence.

I won't give any spoilers here. I can't; it's been so long and I glanced through it cursorily enough not to have a great grasp of the plot or recall much aside from a few incidents that struck me. But I've avoided the book ever since. The blurb on the back will tell you that the book is about the persecution of Christians in 17th century Japan. I don't want to confront that. I don't want to think about suffering, or martyrdom, or scariness. Many novels have frightening content, but I can block it out as not affecting me. Suffering for the faith, not so much. That's one of the reasons I've never re-watched The Passion of the Christ -- it's too intensely real for me to bear.

I'm glad that Silence is the chosen book, because now I'll have to read it and see what it's really about. Perhaps it won't be frightening at all; perhaps I'll cry as I read. But at least I'll stop judging the book by its cover. It's time to grow up.

The Next Book!

Any day now, I'm going to post my parting thoughts on the Aeneid...any day now. And if anyone else has parting shots, I mean thoughts, to make, please do.

Until then, Emily, who does not have regular access to a computer asked if I'd let everyone in on the next book. So here it is:


Just kidding.

"Silence" by Shusaku Endo

I'm really looking forward to this one, though I would also have enjoyed Merton or Greene. But Greene says of Silence: "In my opinion one of the finest novels of our time." Not a bad blurb, that.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Next Book

I have a hard time being a benevolent dictator because I'm so indecisive. I really want to read Mr. Blue, like Pentimento suggested, and a David Lodge book, but since we moved out of our house on Saturday and won't be moving into a new house until after 4th of July, I'm stuck without an address to mail an Amazon order to, and without a library to visit. I did stick Heart of the Matterand The Seven Story Mountain in my car reading bag. Any votes for those?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

General Business

I was thinking that we should go ahead and choose another book. Emily is next alphabetically. And actually if you all have ideas in mind for your selections, why don't we go ahead and lay out the upcoming reads, so if people need to sit out a book, they can go on to the next one when they get a chance.

I'm thinking we should wrap up the Aeneid within the next two weeks--if we even need that long.

I didn't find much that grabbed me in Books IV and V. They did some olympics and burned their boats and set out again yadda yadda.

I was in Texas visiting with Ruedebac and my brother, and we laughed a bit about how after all Aeneas has been through when he arrives in Carthage, and he's so tired, and his friends are all dead, his feasting and story telling still goes on for something like 200 pages. And everything he does is everything that Odysseus did on the way home from the Trojan war as well. Is Virgil just trying to prove that Trojans do it better? (sounds like a condom ad).

Anyway, someone pick a juicy book for our next read.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Aeneid: The Long-Awaited Sequel to the hit Iliad!

Okay, if I don't just sit down and write something now I'll never get around to posting on the Aeneid. I have this mental block in which I think if I don't have a chunk of time, I can't write anything. (Not to mention that one of my girls has already deleted this post once.) So here are some toss-out thoughts:

I tend to think of the Iliad and the Odyssey and the Aeneid as a whole -- a boxed set of classics, if you will. But the Aeneid is an outlier, written almost a millenium later, written as a sequel to the epics that had already achieved legendary status. Imagine someone nowadays writing a sequel to Romeo and Juliet in which Count Paris goes on to found another dynastic family to challenge the Montagues and the Capulets -- and it was as good as Shakespeare's original. That's a silly example, of course, but I think it roughly sums up the challenge Virgil faced. Dr. Wikipedia doesn't give me much information about what Virgil's contemporaries thought about the Aeneid, but it seems to have been well-received in its day. Virgil desired it to be burned after his death, but Augustus disregarded this instruction and had it published.

Having a daughter named Julia, I enjoyed Virgil's ad hoc etymology of the Julian dynasty, tracing it back to Aeneas' son Ascanius, or Iulus. Virgil seemed to be linking the name Iulus to Ilion, and therefore directly connecting Rome to Troy. I don't know if that's a scholarly analysis or just me jumping to conclusions, though.

My favorite passage of the Aeneid is in Book III when Dido is wandering the palace, mad with love for Aeneas. She retraces all his steps:
    Afterward, when all the guests were gone,
    And the dim moon in turn had quenched her light,
    And setting stars weighed weariness to sleep,
    Alone she mourned in the great empty hall
    And pressed her body on the couch he left:
    She heard him still, though absent -- heard and saw him.
    I remember reading this on break from college, 18 or 19, laying on the the bed my loved one (now my husband) had slept on while visiting my family. And I felt it, ladies, I felt Dido's pain.

    Monday, June 8, 2009

    I Am A Bum

    Okay, I think I'm going to have to sit out the Aeneid. A couple of writing projects have come up for me - not, alas, paid ones, but they always say that if you can't find work in your field, you should volunteer in it to burnish your résumé (I don't really think of writing as my field -- teaching music is -- but I've done a lot of scholarly writing on music in the past few years, and I'm hoping to teach on the academic level, so I suppose it's part of my field). So, can I jump in for the next book possibly? I'm such a bum.

    Monday, June 1, 2009

    Some quick notes

    Glad to see this officially started. I have to admit, I've been struggling to stay awake while reading also, but I think it's because I have yet to pick up the book before midnight. We are less than 2 weeks before our move so this may be it for awhile, but Otepoti and Betty have me thinking . . .

    I was happy to see Otepoti's reference to "Carthago delenda est" after we just finished up our Latina Christiana II - I didn't encounter Virgil until college and then it was in a seminar where the point was to read the text, not research it. So just lately the kids and I have been reading "Famous Men of Rome" and they just love the story of Cato the elder ending every speech with "Carthage must be destroyed" and then they love the story of its destruction even more - the more blood the better they enjoy Latin. So I'll miss homeschooling because my education will be cut short. The point of this is that the story in context of when it was written is another story interesting in itself in addition to the story of the fall of Troy and the founding of Latium. Poor lovely Dido. One of things I always found discordant in feminist theory is the fact that there are these strong queens of ancient history - Hatsheput, Dido, Cleopatra, then skip to Elizabeth and Victoria, Catherine the Great... - but the contemporary historians make no great commotion about them being women. Or am I missing something? Is Carthage emasculated by having a female leader? but this is secondary...

    As is my second train of thought - I keep thinking about what somebody - Joyce? - calls the anxiety of influence as I'm reading this time around. The kids and I read a kids' version of the Odyssey a couple years ago, so I'm reminded about how history is retold by victors/losers. For some reason these postmodern fractured fairy tales come to mind where the wolf gets a chance to tell his story: his excuse for being wicked. In this case it's the excuse for being so stupid about the Trojan horse. What an unbelievable trick, and yet both the losers and the victors have it in their version of history.

    As for the poetry, so far one of the most wrenching scenes for me has been the story of old Priam berating the son of Achilles for his ignoble killing of Priam's young son before his father's eyes. So the old man straps on his armor and dies in battle. Is he foolish, leaving behind his wife and 100 daughters, or noble? There are so few stories of nobility today - and is nobility a Christian virtue? Has it faded as we have grown in humility? How many kids want to be a martyr any more? I'm not sure that I could die for Christ; on the other hand, I was about ready to chase down a car today that came careening around a corner and almost hit my kid, and I spent the next half hour daydreaming about the fist fight that might have ensued if the teenaged driver had gotten really offended by my weak "Slow down!"

    And then Aeneas: Like Elizabeth, I find it hard to love a man who is telling a story about the gruesome death of all his comrades and the burning of his town, while he alone survived. And yet, what a pitiful state to be in, and certainly someone has to save the genes. But then, we all want to tell our side. There was a book out not too long ago that I read several reviews of (being in a military town) by a lone surviving SEAL who was involved in a catastrophe in Afghanistan where a military SNAFU left this group underfire and the backup couldn't get them out. I can't remember the details, only the tone of this guy who saw his guys killed because their support got called off or something like that. Aeneas obviously was preserved to fulfill a great destiny, but is his story something of an excuse or an apology?