Tuesday, August 9, 2011

2012 To-Read List

  1. The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha (1605), by none-other-than Miguel Cervantes, falls on my reading list as a result of my foolishly starting it last year with a single week left before summer. I, obviously, had to return it before I could really seek my teeth in. I am one to never leave something unfinished (unless it proves too difficult... but that doesn't happen), and despite the somewhat archaic terminology and slightly wordy style, I WILL finish this book! No matter how many times I must read all 992 pages to understand them!
  2. Atlas Shrugged (1957), one of Ayn Rand's tales, comes barreling into my list, 1088 pages in tow, because I like her writings and know that they tend to have deeper, usually political themes involved. It may be long, but the style isn't like it's from the seventeenth century (AHEM, Cervantes), and it probably will not be a dictionary opener, from other books by Rand I've read.
  3. John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath (1939) has been recommended to my by my mother for the last ten years. Yes, since I was seven. She always brags on how easy it is to read, if a bit odd at times. Oh, and she rambles about a turtle crossing a road for a whole chapter. Anyway, it is apparently a metaphor every other chapter, which I will absolutely love when I figure them out and hate if I fail to. With 464 pages of intense turtle-crossing-the-road action, I am sure to finish this one way before Atlas Shrugged, and maybe find an apt replacement for "why did the chicken cross the road."
  4. Pulling again from John Steinbeck's arsenal, East of Eden (1952) has been praised as the new Cain and Abel, or so a college-bound friend says. Judging from my knowledge of Steinbeck's difficulty, this should be a rather easy read, all 601 pages.
  5. Finally coming to a tried and true classic, Shakespeare's Macbeth (1623) has been on my "to read" list for years. It's the author. On the other hand, the words he uses sometimes have changed meaning, drastically, and his style can be murky. It's the time period. 204 pages make this a longer read by him (from my apparently limited experience), but it should be a satisfying one. I do like his works, for the most part. The next three books share the same reasons for reading as this one, the same difficulty, and the same author, so I will list their names, length, and publication date in the sake of simplicity.
  6. King Lear (Between 1603 1606) 300 pages
  7. Twelfth Night (1623) 272 pages
  8. Hamlet (1603) 330 pages
  9. Oedipus Rex (430 B.C.) by the late, great Sophocles, falls on my list because of its prevalence in the world of reading. I have read Antigone, and have seen the rhetoric and style therein. It was less then pretty. However, 80 more pages of such is not much to ask, so I will undertake this nearly prehistoric book.
  10. Homer's The Iliad (200 B.C.)(Originated around 850 B.C., give 100 years or take 400), strikingly short at 196 pages, it commands a place on the list because I've wanted to read it since reading the Odyssey. The language is hard, to say the least, but I can manage. Besides, many texts reference Homer's classics, and, as a result, I must be familiar with them.

How to Read Literature like a Professor Assignment 7

Question 1 (What does this work signify?)

“The Garden Party,” at its more superficial levels, highlights a classic class difference conundrum which must be faced by the protagonist. After all, someone of the working class dies just down the road, but for the rich upper class the party cannot stop. Not even a thought is paid to the poor family’s suffering until after the party concludes, except for Laura’s concerns. Ignoring the class conflicts, this work highlights the balance between supporting the individual vs. supplying the masses. Had the party been canceled, the dead individual’s family could have received much more aid. On the other hand, those people expecting to come to the garden party would have been disappointed, disgruntled, and perhaps a bit angry that their plans suddenly went up in smoke for the sake of a stranger. The tossup is between helping the family in need, which will also make the would-be attendees rather irritated, and serving the partygoers, which will probably look rather bad to the family and friends of the dead man down the road. However, the rich family takes a kind of middle road, having the party but sending the leftover food to the lower-working class family via Laura, the only one that really showed any care prior to the party. In doing so, the young Laura bridges the class gap to an extent. She may be taking food and relief, but it is leftover food and relief. It is not the cream of the crop, but the excess, the extra, the bit that would end up in the trash. Such is the commentary given to the rich; they take what they need and want, and sometimes, if caught in the right mood, give some of the rest to those in need. As a final piece of meaning, this short story explores the concept of gaining deeper knowledge by facing adversity, as Laura, after seeing the dead man as peaceful and uncaring of her family’s apathy, gains closure and perhaps a deeper understanding of life.

Question 2 (How does it signify that?)

Aside from the literal and obvious apathy initially paid to the family of the deceased, the geography also plays a role in signifying a class conflict. The upper class lives at the top of the hill and the lower class at the bottom. This simple and obvious division sets the stage for a deeper and more subtle class division. On another note, the women who invite Laura into their house to see the dead man cannot understand that Laura wants to leave the basket of food and go. On a larger scale, this suggests that the classes themselves are incompatible, non-understanding, repulsive of one another. There is a fairy tale similar to this story, in the journey from the top of the hill to the bottom, specifically in the fact that a little girl is carrying a basket of food to someone in need (and maybe wearing something notable on her head is important). This element straight out of Little Red Riding Hood immediately causes readers who see the connection to start a witch hunt for the big bad wolf. The wolf appears, in the fairy tale, at the girl’s destination, in the form of who she is to deliver the food to. Could the big bad wolf be the women she meets, all puffy eyed and red faced from grief? They do lure her in and trap her, and quintessentially force her to see the dead man. However, it is more apt that the class difference itself is the big bad wolf, desiring to devour Laura and forever force her into a paradigm of indifference regarding the lower classes.

Other elements reveal the conflicts between showing the individual (or few) preference at the expense of the numerous and showing the numerous preference at the expense of the individual (or few). To be spell this out, Mrs. Sheridan scolded Laura as she said, “You are being very absurd, Laura. People like that don’t expect sacrifices from us. And it’s not very sympathetic to spoil everybody’s enjoyment as you’re doing now.” This line exemplifies the insulation that the upper class supposedly feels regarding the lower class. It’s almost like Mrs. Sheridan believes that she has not moral obligation to do anything more than gossip about the man’s death. The elite have always been fewer than the rest, and in a stroke of ironic genius, the author makes the elite hold a party on the same day as the death of a poor man. Until after the party is over, they show no real sympathy (as a whole), but then send the leftover food as aid. Now, to cancel the party would be to hold the individual dead man above the desires of the masses. However, the partygoers are of the upper class, and therefore much less numerous as a whole than the working class. So the question is who is really being served here, the many or the few?

Laura obviously gains some condolence herself at the end, and many tidbits of the tale support this thought. For one, the story takes place in early summer, traditionally signifying the time in life where one is growing and maturing. Skipping straight to the dead man’s description, all of the adjectives describing him suggest peace, forgiveness, contentment. Laura realizes that the man is dead, and does not care that her family threw a party mere hours before. She understands that he cannot really hold anything against her, and that the poor do not either. After all, despite her gaudy look, they invited her into their house without hesitation, which suggests no ill will is held. Based on the dialogue toward the end though, “Isn’t life—“we can assume that Laura is on the verge of a deep discovery, but not yet ready to uncover it. After all, it is just “early summer.”

Comparison and Persephone

After reading the three other examples, I would say I fall somewhere between the second and the third in quality. I admit, I completely missed the bird references, and looking back, they are rather obvious. Reading the author’s commentary, I also missed the Garden of Eden references, even with the sheer idealistic description of the day and all of the flowers, plus mention of archangels.

However, after reading all about Persephone, I am somewhat proud of myself. I actually hit all around that thought without drawing the connection! Well, I mentioned the fact that they were geographically above the poor, as well as the symbolic transition to adulthood. Either way though, I have a long way to go before I read about flowers, food, and children and think fertility goddess. At any rate though, rereading the short story does allow me to see the Persephone myth played out, somewhat (I would call it a simple venture into the underworld, but I am not a literary professor, obviously). The thought that an author could cram so many references into this does cause me to enjoy the piece more, and I am sure to start to look ever closer in other texts.

How to Read Literature like a Professor Assignment 6

Part 1: Archetypes

Quintessentially, an archetype exists as an element in a story, ranging from a character type to a plot development style, which for some reason or another has resisted oblivion and became prevalent in many different stories. One of the most basic archetypal plots I have noticed goes as follows;

1. Boy and Girl meet.

2. Girl is kidnapped/possessed/etc. by an Evildoer.

3. Boy saves Girl.

4. *They fall in love.

5. They live happily together, usually having a child or two.

*This can occur at any spot in the sequence, usually not first or last though.

Perhaps thousands of stories exhibit this chain of events. For starters, there is Harry and Ginny from the Harry Potter series. They meet, and nothing spectacular occurs, after all, we are all still rooting for Hermione and Harry (I never quit). In the second book, as most people know, Ginny falls under the influence of Tom Riddle (AKA Voldemort) and, lo and behold, Harry saves her! Somewhere much later in the series, they do fall for each other, and in the epilogue of book seven it is revealed they had a few children. The end. Another example can be found in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. In order; Percy meets Anabeth (and they really get off on the wrong foot), Anabeth is kidnapped in the third book (yes, it took that long), Percy saves her (go figure), their mutual affection becomes more apparent, and I assume children will be involved later, but Percy is currently missing. But you can’t kill of a character that popular, right? Digressing on my frivolous concerns, perhaps another example is warranted. Jumping into the one of the most popular and significant video games ever created, The Legend of Zelda series portrays this archetype in basically every game—with the same people! Link, the male protagonist, eventually meets Zelda, the princess and female protagonist, who is going to be kidnapped/forced into hiding/possessed/turned to stone/whatever by Ganondorf/Vaati/Zor/Belum/another antagonist, but by collecting mystical items from dungeons (usually eight), Link is able to defeat the antagonist of the day and rescue Zelda. Implications of them becoming a couple run high.

Part 2: Marked for Greatness

The heroes of literary works, from the Beast (Beauty and the Beast) to Luke Skywalker (missing a hand), often have some physical malformation or disability that set them apart. Possibilities are endless, ranging from limps to scars. Even more so, each can have a deeper meaning than simply setting apart the hero. For instance, Harry Potter’s lightning bolt shaped scar is definitely more than a scar. Simply the shape indicates so much. Lightning is powerful, energetic, quick, unpredictable, deadly, unstoppable, and—most importantly—electricity. Electricity also allows modern civilization to exist, considering it powers lights, coffee makers, stoves, air conditioners, computers, televisions, motors, telephones, satellites, and countless other overlooked objects. Harry too will possess all those characteristics and will keep society running—by stopping Voldemort from rising to power again. Another layer of meaning lies in the fact that the scar is on his forehead, often hidden by his hair. This suggests that, despite his great destiny, he is still an ordinary person. He may have survived the death curse simultaneously taken Voldemort down, but human he still is. The situation is almost like he can hide the feats of his past, like a scar behind his hair, assuming the papers did not keep track of his every move. Another level of symbolism lies in how he actually got the scar. Voldemort came to kill Harry one night, but Harry’s mother sacrificed herself to save him. In doing so, her love formed a protective charm that would follow Harry in further fights with the Dark Lord. Could the message encoded here be, “Love conquers all?” Perhaps something along the lines of, “Evil acts by selfish people cannot stand in comparison by good acts made by the selfless,” would be more fitting. Honestly, I think both are appropriate.

How to Read Literature like a Professor Assignment 5


In Rick Riordan’s The Lightning Thief, the main character finds himself thrown into a shallow creek during a camp game of capture the flag. Now, this is not any ordinary camp—after all, the book takes on the question of, “What would the world be like if Greek gods really existed?” The camp is for all of their children born of humans (the gods apparently have not changed much in two millennia). Based on Greek myth, the children of the gods are endowed with special powers, based on which happened to be their parent. However, Percy, the protagonist, has absolutely no idea who his parent was. In fact, he really had a difficult time fitting in at camp and simply felt lost and abandoned by his non-mortal parent. He was a horrible swordsman, a clumsy teen, and most tragically, an unclaimed, ashamed demigod. Fortunately, that changed when he was in the water facing the lance of a child of Ares. Suddenly the water rose up around him in a huge wave, sweeping her away. Above his head floated a blue trident, a symbol of Poseidon. Being a son of Poseidon—the son of Poseidon actually—Percy suddenly became a big deal. He then became a bigger deal because Zeus’ thunderbolts went missing about the time Percy stepped onto the scene, and the coincidence caused havoc in Olympus. In order to prevent war between the gods, newly-aware Percy chooses to go on a quest to find the thunderbolts, prove his innocence, and confront the evils responsible. In other words, before falling into a little bit of water, Percy was a frail, uncoordinated mess; afterward, he became a proud powerhouse that would make Kronos quake in fear, all the way down in Tartarus.

How to Read Literature like a Professor Assignment 4

Potential Christ Figure?

Cole MacGrath, hero (or anti-hero depending on how events progress) of the inFamous series, fits the Christ Figure requirements incredibly well. Following is a list that corresponds with the one given in How to Read Literature like a Professor featuring explanation of the qualities he does present.

1. Though not crucified, he willingly died from an energy explosion which eradicated a certain type of radiation that was poisoning millions of people, and would eventually kill them.

2. He endured a huge blast that scorched his body, but gave him the power to control electricity. His best friend betrayed him (Judas character?). The love of his life was murdered, and he supposedly had the opportunity to save her which only makes the pain worse.

3. See number one.

4. There is no evidence to support or refute this, but he did want kids eventually…

5. Probably not.

6. He is in his late twenties, early thirties. He graduated high school, dropped out of college, and became a bike courier. That would land him in his twenties and after a few years of couriering, he would be around 33 years old.

7. Not a carpenter, but a humble profession, as previously stated.

8. He walks, runs, or bikes. Pretty humble if you ask me.

9. No—he can’t even touch water without electricity arcing everwhere…

10. Actually, yes. Whenever he is completing a circuit to restore power to part of the city, or absorbing a blast core (I know, this makes no sense), he does have his arms outstretched.

11. Not really.

12. Not the devil exactly, but he is presented with situations where he is tempted by an inner voice to behave selfishly at the extreme cost of others or to behave nobly and sacrifice something for the sake of others. The most basic of these choices presents itself near the beginning. He has the choice to take all the food dropped in the city (it’s in a lockdown because a plague has broken out within) for himself and his friends or to allow other inhabitants to have a share. Many such situations present themselves to Cole.

13. No… Last seen in the company of friends.

14. No—more like smart-alecky comments.

15. Unsure, he was going to be buried at sea, but lightning struck the boat he was in. I sure hope this one is true. On a side note, I think it had been two or three days since his death...

16. He did not have disciples exactly, but friends who followed him on his adventures, when possible.

17. Cole had a temper, but he did forgive Zeke, his best friend who betrayed him. He also forgave Kuo, another friend who turned against him. I suppose he was very forgiving of his friends. Others, however, not so much.

18. Again, sort of. As I said, in the end he sacrificed himself for the good of mankind. He did not come to do this, but in the end he took up the task.

The following reasons are not given in the book but require consideration

1. Cole has the power to heal people.

2. His ultimate opponent is a being known as “The Beast.”

3. He was not married.

4. As previously mentioned, his best friend (who could be considered a follower) betrays him.

How to Read Literature like a Professor Assignment 3

Concerning Violence

Literature contains so many examples of person vs. person violence, from the climactic scenes of Harry battling Voldemort to the horribly tragic suicide endings of some of Shakespeare’s plays. Leaning toward the tragic end of this spectrum, the ending of Huxley’s Brave New World features a late-coming protagonist, John, hanging himself in a lighthouse. The initial effect is repulsion, pity, and a fair bit of irritation (at least for me—he is a good character). However, taking a step back and peering into the situation, John felt as though he had let his entire culture slip away. After all, he was raised in the remainder of the Native American tradition, mixed with Christian influences. His morals were unshakable, for the most part, and he conditioned himself to not allow them to be shaken by beating himself with a whip. However, the culture of the rest of the world corrupted him in his view as he participated in a huge orgy in the previous scene. Because his actions violated everything he’d held on to, he must have felt as though he lost the only thing keeping him anchored to the world. And without it, he must have felt his only choice was to leave the world. What did Huxley hope to accomplish by this? Perhaps he meant to say that the old cultural standards cannot survive exposure to new ones. Maybe he was a communist, as communism was rising to challenge democracy during his life. Then again perhaps Huxley was warning that a compromise on our moral fortitude could indeed spell death. Perhaps all of these, some combination of them, or none of them are correct.

On the other hand, some violence in literature springs from a “random” accident, or from the environment, or from a disease. A disease is key in the final scenes of Forest Gump, perhaps one of the most inspirational and sorrowful movies of recent years. Not to spoil the ending, but Jenny dies of a mysterious illness, probably AIDS. Leaving Forest heartbroken with their child, Jenny’s death brings tears to the eyes of the viewer as well. At a deeper level though, could Jenny be paying for the sins of her past? She is finally repentant, and moreover happy. And she dies. She has finally married Forest and told him of their son, and his intellect. And she dies. She will finally be able to live out a normal life, like she probably wanted deep down inside all those years. And she dies. Then again, perhaps this event is more aimed at Forest. “Life’s like a box of chocolates…” His life was filled with fortune and misfortune, just like everyone else’s. Perhaps her death was to reinforce this fact; we never know what is going to occur from one day to the next. All we can do is deal with life as it comes and make the best of what life throws, be that raising a son alone or showing the president the wound on your “buttocks.”