This week’s reading adventures have been classic (pun intended). I dedicated myself to The Odyssey this week and finally moved it to the read column. And I started The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton.
What are you currently reading?
For once, my current read corresponds with the book I said I would read next: Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth. I began reading it despite suspecting very little actual mirth will be involved. Two chapters in, my prediction is holding up, though obviously I’ve a long journey to the other end of the book.
Her prose sort of grabs you by the throat. I meant to read a few sentences to feel out the story. But after reading the first paragraph, I found I couldn’t stop until I reached the end of the chapter.
What did you recently finish reading?
The Odyssey by Homer. As I mentioned last week, I settled into Robert Fagles’ translation. The more I think about it, the more I see how his version gave me the same dual experience as Stephen Mitchell’s The Iliad: The contemporary-ish writing style cast into relief the inaccessibility of the story’s world. I found that push-and-pull humbling, a thought-provoking reminder of how we can know but not know.
A few things I’ve been thinking about since completing it:
What I see as a Greek preoccupation with paradox plays out in The Odyssey through the co-existence in Odysseus of cunning and folly. For example, his brilliant strategy against the Cyclops Polyphemus, a son of Poseidon, saves many of Odysseus’ crew. Then just as they’re making their escape into the sea, Odysseus can’t help but brag about his exploit. This reveals his identity to the Cyclops and, consequently, enrages the cyclops’ daddy – the god of the sea on which Odysseus attempts to escape.
Paradox in this sense leads to imperfection as a state of being: Conflicting desires cannot be reconciled. In contemporary terms: You can’t have it all. The frequent references to The Iliad help develop this theme: The fates of their central heroes reveal both have their limits and challenges.
By dying on the battlefield, Achilles achieves glory as a great warrior. The price he pays is his future – seeing his home and family again. Meanwhile Odysseus makes it home to his long-suffering and loyal wife, but the journey is treacherous. He loses his crew and, for a time, his freedom and will. He suffers temptations and humiliations. Yet what’s interesting: Both fates are immortalized in verse. Perhaps neither is better. They’re just different.
What do you think you’ll read next?
Two books I requested from library’s digital collection arrived this week: Jacqueline Woodson’s Another Brooklyn and Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad. I’ll likely begin with those since the library clock is ticking, and I’ve been waiting for quite a while to read them!
I’m also excited to have discovered Pym by Mat Johnson through an e-book special offer. It’s described as a satirical fantasy inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket.