1. AOTW: No one special this week--no one particularly risky or rakish in traffic; no one being obnoxious in the coffee shops. So--by default--that makes ME the AOTW, I guess, for I'm sure I did things that caused some others to shake their heads, gnash their teeth, use naughty words.
2. This morning in the grocery store--Joyce noticed a brand of beer neither of us had noticed before (not that we look at beer brands, mind you): Oberon. Ah, thank you, Will Shakespeare; thank you A Midsummer Night's Dream!
3. I finished three books this week ...
- I've begun working my way through the complete novels of Wilkie Collins (1824-1889), a very popular (near-)contemporary of Charles Dickens (1812-1870). They were good friends, did some theatrical productions together, worked together on Dickens' magazine Household Words. I'd already read Collins' fine novels The Moonstone and The Woman in White and had become hooked. But I wanted to finish all the Smollett novels first--which I did. And now ...
- Basil (1852--about the same time as Dickens' Bleak House) is not Collins' first novel. That honor--novel #1--belongs to Antonina; or, The Fall of Rome (1850), a novel which is harder to find. But find it I did, and I've started it.
- Meanwhile, Basil is a fairly racy story for the 1850s. (Mary Shelley, for point of reference, died the year before it was published.) A young man of rank (Basil) sees a young woman on the streets of London, falls hard for her, follows her home (stalker!?!), where he learns, to his sorrow, that she's the daughter of a draper. Below his class. His father would never consent to a courtship and marriage. But he's smitten. Arranges to meet the young woman (Margaret), court her, even to marry her--all without his own father's knowledge or consent.
- Margaret's father agrees to keep the whole thing absolutely quiet for a year--they will not live together, will not consummate the marriage. And the months go by ...
- Until Basil discovers something horrifying about her ... and off we go ...
- Richard Russo, author of the recent Everybody's Fool (2016), sequel to his earlier Nobody's Fool (1993), a novel turned into a fine film (with Paul Newman) the next year, began his career with this novel, Mohawk, published as a paperback original (no hardcover till later) in 1986.
- Mohawk, like the Fool novels, takes place in upstate New York in the eponymous small town. Like the other two novels, it's full of eccentric characters (and, as in the other novels, Russo is forever darting back and forth and back and forth among them). Some are sort of familiar because of my recent reading of the Fool novels--a weird cop, a very old woman (actually, two of them here), people whose marriages are not working out, long-time residents, a weird, weird guy everyone calls "Wild Bill."
- Some plot and setting elements are similar, too--a diner, a bar. There's an issue about toxic waste and irresponsible corporate behavior (just as there is in the other two novels).
- And like the other novels, Mohawk has dark ironic humor, a razor's edge. Some shocking violence. The collapse of a building. (Symbol!)
- Still, I really enjoyed reading it--partially because I could now see the foundation stones of the Fool novels--but also because I could see the formation of a novelist whose complete works I am now resolved to read. I've already ordered novel #2--The Risk Pool, 1988--and it's on the way!
- Finally, I breezed through Anne Tyler's Vinegar Girl, the third novel in the new series being issued by the Hogarth Press--modern novels based on Shakespeare's plays (a publishing project, I think, triggered by the recent 400th anniversary of the playwright's death). I've read/blogged about the other two--Jeanette Winterson's excellent The Gap of Time (based on The Winter's Tale, 2015) and Howard Jacobson's My Name Is Shylock, 2016). And I was really looking forward to Tyler's adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew, a play I taught to my eighth graders for more than a decade, a play that, as a result, I've nearly memorized.
- And I was disappointed. Very much so.
- A quick hint about the story. (The title, by the way, comes from that old saying "You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.") Most of the names are quite a bit different, though Kate keeps hers. Sister Bianca is now "Bunny," who's only 15 years old in the novel, an age that effectively removes the marry-the-sister subplot of the play. Bunny, no surprise, is a ditz. The father (Baptista Minola in the play) is now Dr. Battista, a research scientist at Johns Hopkins; he has a bright young assistant named Pyoter Cherbakov (Petruchio in the play), a brilliant young scientist from Russia, a young man whose visa is about to expire. The other secondary characters in the play are pretty much gone and/or blended into others.
- The entire Shrew plot is pretty much gone, too--the we-gotta-marry-off-Kate-to-someone-so-one-of-us-can-marry-Bianca stuff. The rivals for Bianca are gone. Petruchio's barging into the Minola house looking for a rich wife--gone. Lucentio's sneaky courtship of Bianca pretty much gone (instead, we have a young neighbor kid pretending to tutor Bunny in Spanish; his actual intent, of course, is somewhat more carnal).
- Some things remain--sort of. Pyoter is weird; the wedding is a mess (unlike in Shrew, this wedding occurs onstage); there's a banquet (though in the play the banquet follows Bianca's, not Kate's, wedding). There are a couple of lines--"Kiss me, Katya." A few others I caught. But the previous two novelists in the series did more with including lines and images--often in humorous or ironic ways.
- But what really disappointed me--I thought Tyler missed something very fundamental in the play. Yes, it's called The Taming of the Shrew, but it just as well could have been called The Taming of Petruchio. What we see in Shakespeare's play is the collision of two strong personalities, of two unique and headstrong young people falling in love with each other, and how love forces accommodations from both of them--manifestly not just from Kate. But Tyler, I felt, didn't know what to do with this--and there are few real sparks between the two of them. It all comes down to this--will Kate marry Pyoter so he can remain in the US?
- And Kate's final speech? The one advising women how to behave with their husbands? Well, she makes one in the book, too. Don't want to spoil it for you, so I won't say what she says--but I will say that it fell as flat as a flapjack--at least in my eyes.
- I really wanted to like this book--was looking forward to it so much. A disappointment.
4. At lunch on our screened back porch on Saturday we saw two cicadas take wing to avoid birds. Didn't work. We saw a sparrow nab one, a robin the other, right out of the air. Then they (the birds) settled in for a bit of lunch, as well.
5. Last words ... some words I didn't know and/or liked from my various online word-a-day sources.
- nullifidian (nuhl-uh-FID-ee-uhn) (from wordsmith.org)noun: An atheist: a person who has no religious faith or belief in god(s).adjective: Having no faith or belief.From Latin nullus (no) + fides (faith). Earliest documented use: 1564.
- Tohubohu (TOH-hoo-BOH-hoo) noun (from dictionary.com)1. chaos; disorder; confusion.Origin: Tohubohu from the Hebrew tōhū wā-bhōhū, a phrase used to describe the world before God said "Let there be light" in the book of Genesis. It has been translated as "formless and empty."Learn this: joy is not merely joyful; it is great. So be lovers gaily then, the devil! and marry, when you do marry, with the fever and the dizziness and the uproar and the tohubohu of happiness.-- Victor Hugo, translated by Charles E. Wilbour, Les Misérables, 1862
- heroology, n. hee-roh-OHL-o-gee (from oed.com)The study or description of the history or genealogy of heroes; a history of or treatise on heroes.Origin:Of multiple origins. Partly formed within English, by compounding. Partly a borrowing from Latin. Partly a borrowing from Greek. Etymons: hero n., -logy comb. form; Latin heroologia; Greek ἡρωολογία.Etymology:Partly (in α. forms) < hero n. + -logy comb. form (compare post-classical Latin herologia (1658 or earlier)1678 R. Cudworth True Intellect. Syst. Universe i. iv. 257 A certain Mixture, of Physiology and Herology or History blended together.1720 Magna Britannia I. p. iii, Hero-ology, deducing our noble Families from their ancient honourable Originals.1880 J. S. Stallybrass tr. J. Grimm Teutonic Mythol. I. xv. 366 We may conclude that all the Teutonic races had a pretty fully developed Heroology.1923 Classical Weekly 17 29/1 Athenaeus mentions a Heroology of Anaximander.1990 Folk Music Jrnl. 6 86 Very famous Female Warriors tend to become true folk heroes. The topic, therefore, deserves some attention from herology's point of view.