Saturday, September 27, 2008

What Next?

I am at that point in my reading habit when I can’t decide what to read next. I’ve started a couple of books, Redwall by Bryan Jacques and Eldest by Christopher Paolini, but I haven’t hit a rhythm with either of them yet. I read a few pages at a time, but I haven’t really gotten into the stories. This doesn’t mean I don’t like them, just that I haven’t spent enough time with either one to know if I like or dislike them.

And I always find that my reading selection changes when the fall season comes around. I begin picking more “literary” books, if there is such a distinction (Personally I think there’s only good writing or bad writing, regardless of a book’s literary status, but that’s a subject for another blog post). It’s probably because I get into back-to-school mode even though I no longer go to school. Hence, why I just got done reading a Shakespeare play. Because I felt like it. Last year around this time I read The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver and Pudd’nhead Wilson by Mark Twain. And for some odd reason, I always feel like rereading Arthur Miller. I probably read either The Crucible or Death of a Salesman every year.

I don’t mean to snub the value of fun books like Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants or action/adventure/fantasies like Twilight or Harry Potter; nor am I suggesting that these books don’t have something significant to say about the human condition, but I think there’s something to be said for the term “summer reading.” Add to that the fact that I just got done reading a whole fantasy series--Twilight--and both these factors are no doubt the reasons why I can’t delve into Redwall or Eldest. I’ve gotten tired.

Which comes to my main point: Read what you feel like. I’m only recently starting to learn this concept. I own a lot of books I haven’t read, books that I want to read someday, but I have to make myself take my time. All those books put me under this weird, self-inflicted pressure. I feel like I HAVE to read them. But I don’t. Don’t read a book just because it’s a literary classic, and don’t be snobbish enough to think that those are the only good books out there. Don’t feel like you have to finish every book you start. Don’t feel like you have to read a certain number of books per week or month or year. There is no quota, and there is no list.

Which still leaves me with the dilemma of what to read next . . .

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Reading Shakespeare

I have just finished The Merchant of Venice, which I had never read before, and it got me thinking about my Shakespeare experience in general, and what I’ve learned about how to approach his work.

The first play I ever read, as a freshman in high school, was Romeo and Juliet, which I didn’t like at the time and which probably prejudiced me against any of his other works thereafter. I remember once having a conversation with a very good friend when I went on and on about hating Shakespeare, only to discover that she had bought me a Complete Works of William Shakespeare as a gift before I’d gone off to college, which she gave to me later that same day. I felt horrible, as you can imagine, and have since apologized and clarified my assumptions to her on the subject. I didn’t hate all of Shakespeare. In truth, I should have just said, ‘I don’t like Romeo and Juliet, and I’m not a huge fan of Hamlet,’ because that’s what I meant.

I’ve since rethought my first, hasty assessments, although Romeo and Juliet is still not a favorite. I think I just had the disadvantage of starting out on a play that didn’t appeal to me because, as I read more, I’ve discovered what I like. I love Othello and Taming of the Shrew. Those are my favorites.

In conclusion, here’s what I know about reading Shakespeare:

1. Read it more than once: Shakespeare is difficult to read. There is no getting around it. Maybe, no matter what play you start with, you’re going to hate it, like I did. But you have to be open-minded. Like exercise to the body, it will only get easier for your reading “muscles” if you keep at it.

2. Read it aloud: Shakespeare is poetry, after all, and I think this rule applies to all poetry. It’s meant to be read aloud.

3. See it performed: Plays should be seen as well as heard. While studying Romeo and Juliet, my teacher had us divide into groups and perform a scene for the class, and it did help, despite the lack of acting skills. Although I’ve never seen a Shakespeare theatrical production. It’s on my “Things I Do Before I Die” list. For me, this is where the film adaptations are useful because I can watch them, and see them over and over again. This is how I learned Much Ado About Nothing. I’ve seen the Kenneth Branagh version, but I still haven’t read it.

4. Do your research: This is where a classroom setting helped me, I think, because I had a teacher there to guide me and provide information. The Merchant of Venice and As You Like It are the only plays I’ve read completely on my own.

5. Don’t read the footnotes--yet: A lot of Shakespeare comes equipped with footnotes these days. These are distracting. Ignore them. Maybe look at them later. Maybe. This is the very last thing you should do.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

What are you reading?

I sometimes get asked the question, "What are you reading?" I guess this blog is meant to answer that question and to tell you what I think about what I'm reading. Some of my other interests include movies (including movies adapted from books) and writing, so occasionally I'll address these topics as well.

So . . . What am I reading now? At the moment I'm finishing up Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer. In fact, I've managed to read the whole Twilight series in the space of 2-3 months. The first I'd heard of the series was back in July when I discovered the Twilight movie trailer online. Love the book, and the series, although Twilight is the best, in my opinion. It's funny--this is also how I picked up on Harry Potter, and Lord of the Rings, to be honest. I heard about the movie first and picked up the book before the movie came out.

I always try to read the book first, before seeing the movie. I prefer going in that order, for a number of reasons. Fried Green Tomatoes? Saw the movie first and eventually read the book (Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe), but I have to say, this is one of those rare instances for me when the movie is better than the book. And that is probably the reason why I haven't read, and will most likely never read, Big Fish. I love the movie too much. Same goes for Jurassic Park. Although I am a Michael Crichton fan, Jurassic Park is one of his books that I've never read. I remember seeing the movie in the theaters when it was first released, and it remains one of my most memorable movie experiences. However, Jurassic Park the movie can be credited for piquing my interest in Michael Crichton books in the first place. And Forrest Gump? Again, movie first. I did read the sequel, Gump & Co., and it successfully turned me off from ever reading the first one. See what I mean? I'm cursed if I don't read the book first. One rare exception to my rule may be Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella, the inspiration for Field of Dreams, although I really couldn't tell you for sure because I never finished it. Perhaps I should someday. I really liked it.

Okay--so another exception to the rule would be the first Harry Potter. The other Harry Potters, Lord of the Rings, Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and To Kill a Mockingbird are all instances where I like both the books and the films and where I picked up the book first. I own some of the Harry Potter films. Prisoner of Azkaban is my favorite of the books; Goblet of Fire is my favorite of the movies. (So naturally, the fact that Cedric Diggory is also Edward Cullen is just another reason for me to look forward to the Twilight film.) I own both Emma, starring Gwyneth Paltrow, and Clueless. I also have the Colin Firth and Keira Knightley versions of Pride and Prejudice. Not to mention the Special Extended Editions of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the classic film of To Kill a Mockingbird with Gregory Peck.

Of course, there are those times when the movie does not do justice to the book, but I won't get into those. I'd rather wipe those from memory.

So now that I've read all the Twilight books, at least now I have a good chance of enjoying the film. What I've seen about it looks really good, so I'm not worried. :)