King Lear

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This month’s Great Books read was King Lear, a play I’m not all that fond of because I think Lear was foolish for coming up with that contest which pitted his daughters against each other to publicly state how much they loved him. Then he acted like he knew nothing about these women and put his future in the hands of the two most selfish adult children I’ve ever seen.

So after reading the play, rather than rereading it, I watched the 2008 BBC/PBS production of King Lear starring Ian McKellen. Wow! This masterpiece gave me a new appreciation of the play. The acting highlighted the lust Regan and Goneril had for Edmund, as well as Poor Tom’s (a.k.a. Edgar’s) status and his parallel status to Lear. When reading I can confuse characters like the sons-in-law, but viewing a production eliminates that.

I still think Lear –

  1. should have kept ruling since he didn’t want to completely relinquish his power, no matter what he claimed and shared power wasn’t going to work and
  2. should have thought about his daughters’ personalities for a minute or two and realized how this game of his would end badly.

As usual Shakespeare created intriguing characters, most of whom are flawed. He creates parallels such as Glouster’s literal blindness (in addition to his figurative blindness towards Edmund his conniving illegitimate son) and Lear’s blindness towards his daughters.

I still wonder:

  • Why Kent didn’t take leadership with Edmund acting as a mentor? It seems that he chose suicide instead.
  • Are we really to believe Gloucester, though blind, believed he had fallen off a cliff, when in fact Edgar had tricked him and protected him? That wasn’t believable. When a person’s falling there’s a certain sensation independent of sight.
  • What was Shakespeare’s aim in writing this play? Some argue its a look at old age because a lot of families have difficulty when elders retire. However, while I can see this applying to elites from Queen Elizabeth to Prince Charles (though I think she’s assured of a roof over her head no matter what and her holding on to the crown has to do with Charles’ marriages and his personality) or a CEO and founder of a business empire, I don’t believe it applies to middle class families.

Even though I don’t buy the premise of the story and found so many characters unlikeable, e.g. Regan, Goneril, Oswald and Edmund. While I can understand their motivations, they’re so loathsome.

Here’s a discussion of Lear from the BBC’s program “In Our Time.”

Some favorite quotations:

King Lear:

How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is To have a thankless child! Act I, Scene 4

Kent to Oswald:

A knave; a rascal; an eater of broken meats; a base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, hundred-pound, filthy, worsted-stocking knave; a lily-livered, action-taking knave, a whoreson, glass-gazing, super-serviceable finical rogue; one-trunk-inheriting slave; one that wouldst be a bawd, in way of good service, and art nothing but the composition of a knave, beggar, coward, pandar, and the son and heir of a mongrel bitch: one whom I will beat into clamorous whining, if thou deniest the least syllable of thy addition. Act II, Scene 2

Lear to Cordelia:

“No, no, no, no! Come, let’s away to prison:
We two alone will sing like birds i’ the cage:
When thou dost ask me blessing, I’ll kneel down,
And ask of thee forgiveness: so we’ll live,
And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh
At gilded butterflies, and hear poor rogues
Talk of court news; and we’ll talk with them too,
Who loses and who wins; who’s in, who’s out;
And take upon’s the mystery of things,
As if we were God’s spies: and we’ll wear out,
In a wall’d prison, packs and sects of great ones,
That ebb and flow by the moon.” Act V, Scene 3

 

Mindshift

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I first encountered Barbara Oakley, PhD in the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) called Learning to Learn on Coursera.org. She taught the engaging course with Terrence Sejnowski, PhD.

To say Mindshift is mind-blowing is an understatement. The book explores how we can change our thinking to learn better and change the trajectory of our careers. Each chapter interviews a person who’s struggled and then implemented a new way of thinking to succeed in a career or career change. For example, one chapter follows a successful jazz musician who decided he wanted to do more for the children at the hospital where he volunteered. He wasn’t good at science or math in school, but after adopting new learning skills, he succeeded in the math and science classes he needed and got into med school. (By the way, studies have shown that music majors make better doctors than biology majors.)

Another chapter presents the importance of mentors through research as well as the life experience of a man who got off track and dropped out of high school. He had been ditching school and when his parents found out, he convinced them to let him quit. They did, but required him to get a job. When he did, he also started seeking out mentors. He didn’t join any organized programs, he just lined up people who were doing the work that he needed to learn or that fascinated him. He didn’t come to them expecting a one-way street. He figured out how he could offer them service of value so the relationship was balanced.

The only chapter I thought could be better was on career change. It did have some helpful tips, but as the man portrayed changed from one science (physics) to another (neurobiology) while the subject and types of experiments were different, he remained in academia where he could sit in on a college courses for free and get post doc jobs. Thus his change wasn’t as dramatic as other people’s. The industry he was in offered ways to retrain and respected his doctorate in physics so that his path wasn’t as bumpy as others.

My 2018 Reading Challenge

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I’ve made up a reading challenge for myself. I have done Goodreads.com‘s challenges where I read a certain number of books per month. This time I’m adding some themes and other specifics to spice things up.

Susan’s 2018 Reading Challenge

January – read a memoir and another book that’ll help me change my outlook (i.e. achieve a resolution)

February – read a 19th century novel and a religious book (for Lent)

March – read a book written by a Russian author

April – read a play by Shakespeare and commentary in a Norton Classic edition

May – read a detective story

June – read a book of historical fiction

July – read a travel book

August – read a humorous book

September – read a book by a Japanese author

October – read something scary

November – read a book a friend has recommended

December – read a children’s book and a story or book with a Christmas theme

 

No one has to join this, but you’re free to do so.

I am curious about what sort of challenge you’d set for yourself. Share in the comment section below.

Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops

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Jen Campbell’s Weird Things People Say in Bookshops is a light, clever read. It’s a collection of the strange things people say and the odd questions they ask. Boy, are some people clueless.

It’s a collection of dialogs and a fun amusing read, but not something you have to read cover-to-cover.

Here’s some examples:

“CUSTOMER: Hi, I just wanted to ask: did Anne Frank ever write a sequel?
BOOKSELLER: ……..
CUSTOMER: I really enjoyed her first book.
BOOKSELLER: Her diary?
CUSTOMER: Yes, the diary.
BOOKSELLER: Her diary wasn’t fictional.
CUSTOMER: Really?
BOOKSELLER: Yes… She really dies at the end – that’s why the diary finishes. She was taken to a concentration camp.
CUSTOMER: Oh… that’s terrible.
BOOKSELLER: Yes, it was awful –
CUSTOMER: I mean, it’s such a shame, you know? She was such a good writer.”

“CUSTOMER: I read a book in the sixties. I don’t remember the author, or the title. But it was green, and it made me laugh. Do you know which one I mean?”

“CUSTOMER: If I were to, say… meet the love of my life in this bookshop, what section do you think they would be standing in?”

“CUSTOMER: OK, so you want this book?
THE DAUGHTER: Yes!
CUSTOMER: Peter Pan?
THE DAUGHTER: Yes, please. Because he can fly.
CUSTOMER: Yes, he can – he’s very good at flying.
THE DAUGHTER: Why can’t I fly, daddy?
CUSTOMER: Because of evolution, sweetheart.”

“Customer: I’m looking for a book for my son. He’s six.
Bookseller: How about this one – it’s about-
Customer: Yeah, whatever, I’ll take it.”

 

What is Great Books?

One of the most influential experiences in my life was my parents putting me in Junior Great Books. It made me learn to read difficult books and to look more deeply at literature and essays.

Now I’m thankful that Northbrook Public Library offers a monthly Great Books Discussion group. I’ve gone when I can in recent years. Currently we have an exceptional leader who provides excellent background information and keeps us on track. The group includes brilliant people who share perceptive comments and ask intriguing questions that help and challenge me not just as a reader, but as a person.

If you can, give Great Books a try.

Sister Carrie

sister carrieA friend suggested I read Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie as I’m working on a historical fiction project. I finally found the time and I really enjoyed it, though it’s not because it’s filled with characters I was drawn to — at all. I wanted to find out what would happen and I found Dreiser’s style pleasant if not outstanding.

The title character, Carrie comes to Chicago from a small town hoping to find her fortune. She moves in with the sister and brother-in-law, who live in a tenement and grind their way through each day. They encourage Carrie to get a job and she pounds the pavement and finds a job in a factory. She hates the course language and rough behaviour of her coworkers. The work itself is dull. She soon loses her job and begins her rise. What’s unusual about Carrie is she does so little and is swept up by luck higher and higher up the social and financial with extremely little effort. She’s not witty or smart or hard working. She’s lucky. She met Drouet, a snappy salesman on the train to Chicago and is impressed with his suave style. She meets him again and he persuades her to move in with him. She’s just lost her job and her brother-in-law’s getting on her nerves so what the heck, she leaves her sister’s home.

She lives with Drouet and is rather isolated. She’s a kept woman and when she does make friends pretends to be married. She has no consequences to leading this wild life (for 1900). She never gets pregnant, never is judged or pinned with a scarlet A.

While with Drouet, she meets his even more prosperous and suave friend Hardwood, a manager of a high-ish class bar. Hardwood falls for her and winds ups leaving his wife and stealing $10,000 from his employer and running away with Carrie.

Carrie doesn’t even make any big decisions. She is tricked into going with Hardwood and lacks the chutzpah or direction to leave him. They move to New York and Hardwood tries to live off what remains of his post-divorce money. He slowly slides down to the gutter as Carrie ascends by dabbling in musical comedy.

I normally like books with characters I either identify with or admire. No one in Sister Carrie is anyone I’d want to spend time with, but they’re sympathetic enough and I didn’t know where the story would go.