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Shakespeare, Our Contemporary

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Shakespeare Our Contemporary by Jan Kott. 1964. Read in March 2009.This book is one of the most important ever written about Shakespeare. First published in Polish in the 1960's it brought a radically new view of Shakespeare to Western literature analysis. As Peter Brook points out in the preface, Jan Kott, having lived in Poland in the turbulent 20's, 30's,40's, 50's and 60's, experienced personally many of the things Shakespeare wrote about. He could therefore, unlike almost all other modern scholars, consider Shakespeare his contemporary and unlike any other scholar I have come across so far, Kott succeeds in showing in his book why Shakespeare is not just some clever productive Renaissance author that we have to read because he's part of the canon, but that his plays are highly relevant to our lives today.Careful readers of this blog will have noticed that I have often referred to Kott in my play analyses. In his chapter “The Kings”, which I used in my texts on Henry VI, the Richards and Henry IV, Kott writes , “There are no gods in Shakespeare. There are only kings, every one of whom is an executioner, and victim in turn. There are also living, frightened people...The greatness of Shakespeare's realism consists in his awareness of the extent to which people are involved in history” (p. 19-20). Kott, himself a Polish Jew, a Marxist, a resistance fighter in World War Two, a literary critic leading the opposition to Stalin in the 50's (all according to Martin Esslin in the book's introduction), should know. This book is not a cheerful read. Kott's experience and his academic depth find that in Shakespeare, and in life, “the abyss, into which one can jump, is everywhere” (p.146) and that, “[i]n Shakespeare's play [King Lear] there is neither Christian Heaven nor the heaven predicted and believed in by humanists” (p. 147). He shows throughout the book how Shakespeare avoids the absolute, in fact “the absolute has ceased to exist. It has been replaced by the absurdity of the human condition” (p. 137).A prolific literary critic, Kott spent the last thirty or so years of his life in the United States. He died at the age of 87 in 2001. Since then Shakespeare Our Contemporary has remained one of the most influential books on Shakespeare and references to it can be found almost wherever one looks. I will certainly continue to refer to him. A grim book, yes, but very exciting. After all, what can be more exciting than the absurdity of the human condition? Nobody did it better than Shakespeare and nobody has so far made Shakespeare's connection to the 20th century better than Jan Kott.First posted on rubyjandshakespearecalling@blogspot.com
Children of the Star: The Complete Trilogy

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This trilogy should be required reading. So much more than science fiction (though great as that) it goes so much deeper, to the very essence of what it is to be...human, intelligent life in the process of evolution, a species that could be us - is us - when we've reached the stars only to lose our world and have to build a new one. It is a thoughtful, intelligent and successful attempt to explore the role of religion in human evolution, how faith in science and the mysteries of the universe ascend the primitive notion of God, Intelligent Design and other notions still prevalent in our world.Read this trilogy!
Pigeon English

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Heartwarming, funny, tragic, I really wish life had been kinder to young Harrison from Ghana, trying to figure things out in an English slum. The dialog is brilliant. They say "Don't bring yourself" or "Advise yourself" when they mean "You're nuts". I love these people. A must read!
Shakespeare: The World as a Stage

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Shakespeare – The World as a Stage by Bill Bryson. 2007. Bought at the Globe Gift Shop in London, April 2008. Read in August, 2008. It's always fun to read Bill Bryson. He has a sly, sometimes acid wit, and he writes about rather profound things (such as language, the history of the universe, everyday life) in a down home, sit-around-the-fireplace kind of tone, much like Garrison Keillor. Very Midwest American. Bryson is from Iowa (has lived in England for years, still does) and Keillor is from Minnesota.So what does all this have to do with Shakespeare? Well, this: Bryson has written a biography of him. As usual he has taken a vast subject and given us an unpretentious, amusing and affectionate nutshell of it. He weaves the nuggets of fact we have on Shakespeare's life into the background tapestry of life in England, especially London, at the time. He presents the plays and writes about Shakespeare's language. Being a bit of a language expert himself Bryson makes this especially interesting. I always like to read about words Shakespeare invented (or as Bryson carefully points out, used in print for the first time that we know of), for example: antipathy, frugal, dwindle, assassination, lonely, zany... The list of course is almost endless. Did you know that Hamlet itself gave us about six hundred new words? A surprising number of Shakespeare's new words, about eight hundred according to Bryson, are still used today. Not to mention his phrases: one fell swoop, vanish into thin air, be in a pickle, flesh and blood, foul play – again one could go on and on.Using the garnered knowledge of such experts as Stephen Greenblatt and Frank Kermode, Bryson also deals with some of the myths and lies about Shakespeare that have persisted down the ages. For example the fact that he bequeathed ten pounds to the poor has been interpreted to show that Shakespeare was stingy but Bryson points out that at that time this was very generous. A person of Shakespeare's wealth could be expected to bequeath about two pounds. Bryson comes to no conclusion about what has been regarded as a very cold mention of his wife Anne Hathaway in his will, but he also points out that this is actually not evidence that they weren't on good terms (just wait till we get to Germaine Greer's Shakespeare's Wife a few books from now!).The book ends with a chapter about whether or not Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare's plays (a subject once again currently all the rage) and he very sensibly concludes that while there is a lot of evidence that he did, there is absolutely no evidence of any kind that anyone else did. He ends his book: “Only one man had the circumstances and gifts to give us such incomparable works, and William Shakespeare of Stratford was unquestionably that man – whoever he was.” This is an excellent book for those who don't know so much about Shakespeare but would like to, and it's also very enjoyable for those who know quite a lot about him. In other words, read it! First posten on rubyjandshakespearecalling@blogspot.com
Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver - Reading Group Guide

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Finally! Taylor and Lou Ann are back in the form of Dellarobia, the one whio didn't get away. Trapped in her Appalachian home and family this young woman is caught up in the wonder and tragedy of monarch butterflies getting lost in an environmental disaster of frightening proportions. The novel is a gripping character study as well as a plea to stop destroying the earth. It should be required reading for everybody who can afford to consume more than the planet can afford.
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