Wednesday reading roundup: September 28

The theme of this week's reading adventures seems to be "adventures in classic literature." For next week, a nice list of contemporary novels.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.

For the weekly inspiration of WWW Wednesday, many thanks again to Taking on a World of Words for hosting it and to Coffee and Cats for introducing me to it.

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.

2 Replies to “Wednesday reading roundup: September 28”

  1. Congratulations on finishing The Odyssey! And I loved reading your thoughts and reflections on it, as well as The Iliad.

    I also liked reading your impressions of “The House of Mirth.” I started it a while ago but can’t bring myself to finish. I feel like it’s one of those books, at least for me, that’s a slog, unless you’re really in the mood to read something like it, so I’m waiting for that to happen. But I agree with you – excellent writing!

    And the next books you plan to read sound great. I’m fascinated by New York City (all boroughs) and its history, so thanks for mentioning “Another Brooklyn” – ANOTHER book I’ll add to my reading list!

    Speaking of NY history, it’s not a book, but it is very novel-esque…have you by chance been watching “The Get Down” (I think it’s on Netflix)? It’s this awesome account of the early days of hip-hop in the Bronx, but told through young people living then and including a love story (its creator Baz Luhrmann has to stay true to himself, after all), and is just really cool. I’ve really been enjoying it, whenever I’ve had time to watch an episode.

    1. Hi Alysa! I have not heard of The Get Down, but it sounds awesome. Thank you for the suggestion!

      Edith Wharton’s writing is amazing, though her stories are so depressing. Once I start reading her, I can’t put her down. But it can be hard to motivate myself to pick up her books because they’re so emotionally depleting. All this is to say: I can relate to what you’re saying about needing to be in the right mood to read her.

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