Othello [A Book for Ben]

Title: Othello
Author: William Shakespeare
Genre: Drama; Tragedy
Year: 1603
My Rating: 3/5

What the book is about:

Iago, denied a promotion by Othello, a Venetian general is in search for revenge. In his quest, he manipulates and ruins the lives of many.

Why Ben made me read this:

Ben:

Though not at the top of my list of of favorite Shakespeare plays, the dark and brooding Othello is still a powerhouse. With issues ranging from racism to power to ambition to loyalty to the nature of evil, the play covers many of the Bard’s signature tropes but in a seemingly original context. And of course it wouldn’t be Shakespeare without a bit of love. As the Moor says, this play is about “one that loved not wisely but too well, … [who] threw a pearl away / richer than all his tribe.”

What I thought about it:

Eh. Not my favorite Shakespeare. I thought it lacked the depth of Hamlet or MacBeth. But perhaps that is my fault for not reading this in an academic setting. Actually, that seems to be my complaint with a lot of the books Ben picks for me – I think I would like them better in a class.

But Iago’s character is certainly interesting with all of the conniving and manipulation.

What’s next from Ben?

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

Candide [A Book for Ben]

Title: Candide
Author: Voltaire
Genre: Satire; Philosophy
Year: 1759
My Rating: 3.5/5

What the book is about:

Um…this guy, Candide, is simultaneously the luckiest and unluckiest optimist ever. The book follows him around the world, giving  us a look at history and philosophy. While being satirically absurd.

How was that?

Why Ben made me read this:

Ben: Before there was Jon Stewart, there was Voltaire. Okay, so maybe I skipped a few generations, but you get the idea. The biting masterpiece of satire has become the center of a unit that includes Jonathan Swift, The Onion, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, and the Simpsons. Though written over 350 years ago, it’s still extremely accessible and not to mention hysterically funny. Pangloss, Cunegonde, Cacambo, El Dorado, the endless mocking of philosophical thinking, that enigmatic final line, and the constant stream of ridiculous coincidences make this a cornerstone of an entire genre.

What I thought about it:

I didn’t find it as hilarious as Ben made it out to be, but it was certainly entertaining. Misfortune after misfortune, Candide continues to think highly of the world. It’s ridiculousness piled on ridiculousness.

I’m not sure exactly what I was supposed to get out of Candide. But I think it’s worth the quick read.

What’s next from Ben?

Othello

The Big Over Easy [A Book for Ben]

Where Ben picks a book, I read it, and then we tell you how it went.

Title: The Big Over Easy
Author: Jasper Fforde
Genre: Fiction; Humor; Mystery
Year: 2006
My Rating: 3/5

What the book is about:

When Humpty Dumpty is found dead (shattered, next to a wall), Jack Spratt, a detective in the Nursery Crimes division, is on the case. What he finds is far from a simple suicide as some suspected. False confessions, misdirection, and meddling rivals make this investigation anything from “easy.”

Why Ben made me read this:

Being such a big fan of the Thursday Next series, I was anxious the check out the Nursery Crime books. I read The Big Over Easy over my Thanksgiving break a few years ago and was pleased to find the same unique, zany, quirky, and enthralling story telling that I associate with Jasper Fforde. It was such a fun way to re-experience and re-imagine the classic Humpty Dumpty story. The way Michelle (and I) enjoyed Thursday’s adventures, I figured it was about time for her to get to know Jack Spratt a bit better.

What I thought about it:

Oh dear. This book took me ages to finish. And its really not Jasper Fforde’s fault. This book did not live up to the Thursday Next series to me (or Shades of Grey for that matter), but it still has all of the Ffordian aspects – zigzagging plot, cheeky wordplay, and oddball characters – that I’ve grown to love in his writing. It’s just that my (very distracted) brain wasn’t really up to the task. Once I finally sat down with it and got into the story, I enjoyed it. It just took effort I didn’t always have. I think this goes in the “it’s not you, it’s me” category.

What’s next from Ben?

Candide by Voltaire

Brave New World [A Book for Ben]

Today, I bring you a new feature. As you know, my husband is an English teacher and a big reader himself. As such, he has strong opinions on what books I should be reading (books that are NOT about teenage vampires). As a compromise, I am allowing him to pick one book each month for me to read. In return, I’ve asked him to tell you a little about why he wanted me to read that particular book. I hope you enjoy the inaugural A Book for Ben post.

Title: Brave New World
Author: Aldous Huxley
Genre: Classic Dystopian
Year: 1931
My Rating: 3.5/5

What the book is about:

In Aldous Huxley’s “brave new world,” birth is a mechanized, impersonal system designed to create various classes of humans, who are then meant to consume as much as possible. Sex has become purely recreational and people worship Henry Ford rather than God. Bernard Marx doesn’t quite fit into this society and through him we see what might be wrong with this utopia.

Why Ben made me read this:

“For someone who claims to be a fan of dystopian literature, Bave New World was a conspicuous omission on Michelle’s part. But beyond that, I wanted her to read this book for many other reasons. First, it is truly impressive/terrifying how close to reality Huxley comes. Second, I love the Shakespeareiness, especially the references to The Tempest. Third, the debate between truth and happiness is vastly interesting and eternally debatable. And fourth, that last paragraph, so sad and perfect and beautiful.”

What I thought about it:

I don’t think I liked this as much as Ben thought I would. I am glad I read it because I WAS missing this classic dystopian, but I think I should have read it in an academic setting. A little guidance as I read may have given me an extra level of insight that I completely missed.

The most poignant moment for me was the lower-level elevator work desperately wanting to take people to the roof so he could have a moment of freedom. While most people buy into the society they’re a part of, there are moments where we see that people may not be as happy as they’re supposed to be.

I do wonder what Huxley would think of the world that’s come to be. It’s not his Brave New World but there are shared elements I think he’d find fascinating.