#MailboxMonday: New Reads Vol. 2

This past week, I’ve received more books for my M.A. thesis. I’m looking at how cultural aspects are portrayed in Australian Literature, so I need novels and I need textbooks about anything to do with cultural representation, Literature, Australia and everything else I can get my hands on.

Australian Literature and text books @Literati Girl

Australian Literature and text books @Literati Girl

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Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas #AtoZ

This post is part of the 2016 April A to Z Challenge.

Dylan Thomas’ “play for voices” Under Milk Wood was devised as a radio programme.

It follows the inhabitants of Llareggub, a small, fictional fishing village in Wales. Using a mixture of first and second person narration, we get to experience the villagers’ dreams and everyday interactions with each other.

There is not much plot as such. But with a whole cast of varied characters, all with their own dreams, regrets, problems and lives, there is never a dull moment.

As is common in small towns and tight-knit communities, everyone has a big secret to keep hidden and old ghosts that haunt them. Behind the socially obligated pleasantries and forced smiles lies a host a contempt and murderous thoughts.

Dylan Thomas’ writing style is beautiful with its lyrical wordplay and poetic descriptions which conjure up the village and the folks living in it. Thomas’ language is almost musical, packed with metaphors, imagery and hilarity. As Under Milk Wood is intended to be read and heard, rather than read, the full effect of the play becomes apparent when you read out loud or listen to one of the many great recordings of the play.

We are not wholly bad or good, who live our lives under Milk Wood.

 

My Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Title: Under Milk Wood
Author: Dylan Thomas
Publisher: Penguin Books
Release Date: February 3, 2000 (originally published in 1953)
Pages: 112
ISBN:  978-0140188882

A Very Shakespeare Weekend

This Saturday, April 23, 2016, marked the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare. In this day and age I find it remarkable that a playwright who has been dead for centuries can still capture people’s hearts and imaginations with his words.

All over the world, events and performances ranging from youth theatre and theatre workshops to practical demonstrations of Elizabethan society and customs took place to celebrate the life and work of the bard from Stratford-upon-Avon. It culminated in Shakespeare Live! from the RSC, a televised, star-studded event showcasing the influence Shakespeare continues to have on the performing arts, which was live broadcast to cinemas all over the globe.

I spent this weekend re-reading my favourite Shakespearean play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, watching Shakespeare Live! from the RSC at the Cinestar in Düsseldorf, and then I spent a lazy Sunday watching David Tennant first in Hamlet and then in Much Ado About Nothing.

Hamlet David Tennant

David Tennant has spent the last 20 years appearing in Royal Shakespeare Company productions, and watching him perform with such passion is always a treat. Watching two of his performances back to back also gives you a chance to see his full acting range.

MAAN

Personally, I was quite late in discovering Shakespeare for myself. While I liked a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream I had seen in Stratford-upon-Avon in 2001, my next encounters with him were in Grammar School.

As is often the case, learning about Shakespeare – especially when English is not your first language – was a chore. We read Macbeth and Hamlet and watched the Mel Gibson film, but our teacher was less than enthusiastic. Shakespeare, to me, became what I dreaded most: another dead poet and playwright we had to analyse to death. But I loved the sonnets. In an exam we even had to write our own sonnet – in Elizabethan English (and while we were treated like native speakers, we weren’t) – in reply to sonnet 116. I remember our teacher collecting the best ones because he wanted to build a collection to give to us at graduation. To this day I have never seen that exam paper again, nor did we get a booklet of sonnets when we graduated. I’d love to know what I’ve written.

Over the years, I began to take more of an interest in Shakespeare. Now that the constraints of school were gone, I could enjoy the work and not just cram to get a good grade. I began to see how much of the popular culture around me is influenced by William Shakespeare. I re-read A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Blessing of the House is still one of my favourite final scenes.

But I think it was experiencing a professional play (as opposed to a school play) that really convinced me. In the summer of 2014 I went to London to see Martin Freeman perform the title role of Richard III at Trafalgar Studios. And it made a profound difference. Stellar acting, an intimate venue. The front row was on stage and as far back as fourth row (where I was sitting at eye-level of the performers) got covered in fake blood. And I came away with a sense of awe.

Since then, I’ve soaked up all I could. I went back to London to see Benedict Cumberbatch as Hamlet at the Barbican in 2015, saw NT Live and Encore screenings of Coriolanus, and As You Like It, and the recordings of Much Ado About Nothing, Hamlet (starring David Tennant) and Richard II. And I’ve read more of his works. Plus, listening to Tom Hiddleston recite sonnet 18 doesn’t hurt either…

A selfie with my bilingual copy of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Craig Pearce, Baz Luhrmann's co-writer, apparently likes this picture of me, if you can trust his verified Instagram profile. :) ©Literati Girl

A selfie with my bilingual copy of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Craig Pearce, Baz Luhrmann’s co-writer, apparently likes this picture of me, if you can trust his verified Instagram profile. 🙂 ©Literati Girl

 

Review: Shakespeare Live from the RSC

Today’s star-studded event Shakespeare Live! from The RSC in honour of the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death really highlighted what an impact William Shakespeare has had on language and culture over the last 450 years.

Noted actors David Tennant and Catherine Tate, who both previously performed with the Royal Shakespeare Company, and starred together as Benedick and Beatrice in a production of Much Ado About Nothing, hosted the show expertly, as it was broadcast live from Stratford-upon-Avon where Shakespeare was born to TVs and cinemas worldwide. Especially David Tennant’s excitement was palpable, looking as giddy as a kid in a candy shop as he walked on stage.

Shakespeare Live! not only featured some of Britain’s most famous Shakespearean actors of our time, it also showed the influence Shakespeare continues to have on the performing arts. While the show featured a huge variety of speeches and soliloquies, it also included everything from ballet and opera to musical theatre and jazz. Performances ranged from beautiful and gracious, to funny and moving, and even included social commentary written by William Shakespeare more than 400 years ago which is sadly still current today.

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#WeekendCoffeeShare: If We Were Having Coffee… On April 23

Hello book lovers!

Welcome to the Weekend Coffee Share, a blog hop by the lovely Diana over at Part Time Monster. Every weekend we get together for virtual coffees and a little casual chat.

If we were having coffee today, we’d sit inside sipping a hot brew. Even though temperatures reached 20°C here this week, today it’s back down to 8°C. How have you been this week?

If we were having coffee, we’d be talking about the Bard himself, William Shakespeare. Today is the 400th anniversary of his death, and there are Shakespeare celebrations everywhere. In fact, tonight, I’ll be seeing the star-studded live screening of Shakespeare Live! at the RSC from Stratford-upon-Avon.

I’ve been to Stratford twice before. My grammar school actually had an exchange programme with the Stratford-upon-Avon Grammar School for Girls and in 2001 I had the chance to participate. It served as my introduction to Shakespeare and his works, though back then, all we did was read his works. I confess, I may have gotten into Shakespeare earlier if we’d seen some of his plays. I went back in 2010, to revisit Shakespeare’s birthplace, New Place and take a short trip out to Shottery to Anne Hathaway’s Cottage.

I think I really started to fully grasp Shakespeare when I saw the production of Richard III at Trafalgar Studios in London, starring Martin Freeman in 2014. If my first introduction to Shakespeare had been that play, I’d have been a convert immediately. It was updated, set in the 70s, performed in an intimate theatre, incredibly well-performed and so full of energy you didn’t feel the time pass at all. Since then I’ve made it a point to see more Shakespeare plays, like Hamlet at the Barbican last year, screenings of Richard II, As You Like It, Much Ado About Nothing, Hamlet and Coriolanus.

Do you have a favourite Shakespeare play? I can’t decide. I’d probably say A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but I have also found that in terms of theatre, I do like Shakespeare the better the gorier it is.

If we were having coffee today, I’d tell you I’m still catching up on the A to Z Challenge posts and hoping to be all caught up by tomorrow. So far I’ve reviewed: A Study in Scarlet, Bonjour Tristesse, Cross Bones, Down Under, Everything is Illuminated, Fahrenheit 451, Gulliver’s Travels, Holy Cow, Into the River, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, Kim, Lucky Man, Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, Neverwhere, On the Road, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies as well as Quite Ugly One Morning

I’m afraid this is where I have to leave you today. I still need to drive to Düsseldorf to get to the cinema in time for the screening.

Thank you for having coffee with me today. Same time, next week?

 

Intense theatre with unexpected hilarity – Hamlet at the Barbican Theatre, London

This review of Hamlet at the Barbican starring Benedict Cumberbatch was originally posted on Study.Read.Write on August 11, 2015. I realise this review was of a preview performance (as the likes of me did not qualify for Press Night tickets despite having Press ID), and subsequently, the dialogue has been moved around again, moving “to be or not to be” back to its rightful place.

I am republishing the review here in celebration of #ShakespeareDay on the 400th anniversary of the bard’s death.

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Energetic and intimate theatre – Richard III at Trafalgar Studios, London

This is one of my real-life writing samples. I’m a trained journalist, so I sometimes write theatre reviews. This one I’m particularly proud of, as it combined a trip to London (I’m based in Germany), my favourite actor and Shakespeare.

It’s a review of Trafalgar Transformed Season 2: “Richard III” at Trafalgar Studios, London, which ran from 1st July 2014 until 27th September 2014, starring Martin Freeman.

First published on Fernweh & Wanderlust on 27th July 2014, and subsequently on my other blog Study.Read.Write.

Republished here in honour of #ShakespeareDay,
celebrating #Shakespeare400 and all the Bard’s works.

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The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman #AtoZ

This post is part of the 2016 April A to Z Challenge.

There is something magical about books that transport you back to your childhood, and The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman is one of those special books,

After a family bereavement, a man returns to his rural childhood home and heads down the lane to the old ramshackle farmhouse next door that he used to visit as a child.

And he starts to remember fragments, of how he used to play with a little, remarkable girl called Lettie Hempstock, who lived on the farm with her mother and gran. Who took him to the pond behind the homestead and called it her ocean.

Neil Gaiman beautifully weaves a tale of magic and half-remembered childhood days. The man had not thought about Lettie and her family in decades, and yet, fragments of his past come back to him that seem too strange and frightening to have happened, let alone to a seven-year-old boy. Something incomprehensible happened in the man’s childhood, which unleashed a darkness on the small community on the lane, and set in motion a devastating chain of events.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a beautiful study of what makes us human, and also on how we perceived the world when we were little. Lettie and her family could not really be witches, could they? But which part of the remembered past are true, and which are childish imagination? Maybe there is no distinction between them at all.

Neil Gaiman seems to have found the perfect mixture of truth and imagination, magic, reality, joy and sadness, wit and dry humour, happiness and fear, which gives the story a sweetly melancholic atmosphere. The book captures the reader’s attention from the first page to the very last, spinning a tale of mystery, old wisdom, love, and resentment. Parts of the story hit close to home, in every sense of those words, while others are endearingly whimsical.

Even the physical book itself insists on being whimsical and that little bit different and special, with its intentionally rough, untrimmed edges of the paper.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane stretches imaginations and definitions of what is possible and what is not; and whether one thing could not simultaneously be another as well. And maybe, just maybe, the fantastical stories we thought we made up as children turn out to be real after all. Not remembering properly may simply have been less painful.

This is one of those rare books whose message you have to digest for a while after you finish reading it. It will make you question your childhood memories and the limitations of your imagination, and Gaiman’s exquisite style will immerse you so deeply in the story that you think you are really walking alongside Lettie Hempstock and the boy searching for the ocean behind the old homestead at the end of the dusty lane.

 

My Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

Title: The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Author: Neil Gaiman
Publisher: Harper Collins
Release Date: June 18, 2013
Pages: 181
ISBN:  978-0062272348

Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse #AtoZ

This post is part of the 2016 April A to Z Challenge.

Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha is a classic example of a Bildungsroman.

The development and progression to maturity of the main character, a young Indian man called Siddhartha, is at the centre of this German classic. Finding enlightenment is the most important aspect of the journey the character undertakes in his life, as the novel follows him from a vagabond childhood through what can only be termed a mid-life crisis to his spiritual awakening.

Hesse’s prose is beautiful and poetic, whether you read it in the original German, or in the English translation. For being written by a German, Siddhartha does a wonderful job of bringing the old Indian way of life and the philosophies of Taoism and Buddhism to life.

However, you can have too much of a good thing. Siddhartha’s story follows that of the buddha – who, incidently, was also called Siddhartha. The names are taken from deities and holy people. And those unfamiliar with Eastern lifestyles and disciplines might have trouble keeping the terms apart as Siddhartha encounters brahmins and ascetics, and discusses the Atman, hindu deities, moksha, and samsara.

The German word “Bildung” means education, and this is what Hesse attempts with this novel. To educate about the path of enlightenment. But it comes across as trying too hard. While the story itself is enjoyable enough, the constant life advice does grind on. Some books you read and come away from them, and your whole view of the world has changed. And I am sure this is what Hesse was going for with Siddhartha. But some books, like this one, don’t get the message across between the lines, and become too obvious about it.

Someone in a more spiritual state of mind would probably enjoy Siddhartha, but to me it read like a nice story around an Introduction to Buddhism textbook which was meant to give a basic overview and introduce terms and names to be discussed in further lessons.

 

My Rating: ♥♥

Title: Siddhartha
Author: Hermann Hesse
Publisher: Bantam Books
Release Date: December 1, 1981 (originally published in 1922)
Pages: 160
ISBN:  978-0553208849

Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch #AtoZ

This post is part of the 2016 April A to Z Challenge.

Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London was a huge surprise. Expecting a crime novel and police procedural, this book is so much more than that.

It all starts with Constable Peter Grant, an officer in the Metropolitan Police. He’s only supposed to take witness statements in a murder inquiry – and ends up interviewing a ghost.

Turns out there’s a Chief Inspector at the Met who is also the last wizard in England. And Peter Grant has just become his first trainee in decades, investigating cases that could have supernatural elements to them.

Rivers of London is refreshingly British. Sort of Scotland Yard meets Harry Potter (minus the wizarding school), and you can’t get much more British than that. Aaronovitch really knows how to write convincing dialogue incorporating British slang with just the right amount of sarcasm, and DC Peter Grant is a very well-written character and a narrator with a great voice. It’s smart and witty, without being patronising. It is also just as refreshing to see a non-white protagonist, especially as a detective of the Met, who is unselfconscious about his mixed-heritage ethnicity.

The author obviously knows London like the back of his hand. It is also pretty obvious that Aaronovitch is a proper geek as there are several references to the works of authors and scientists, as well as British pop culture. The amount of detail that goes into the police procedure descriptions is incredible.

The magic in this book is unique. The river Thames and her tributaries are in fact deities who are alive, and the Old Man of the River and Mama Thames are both fighting over the control of the rivers. There’s no silly wand-pointing. Peter and the Chief Inspector can pick up the essence that magic leaves behind, and they really use their full magical and non-magical arsenal to solve their cases.

Rivers of London is a great urban fantasy with the perfect mixture of detective story, magic, and British humour.

 

My Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Title: Rivers of London
Author: Ben Aaronovitch
Publisher: Gollancz
Release Date: January 10, 2011
Pages: 392
ISBN:  978-0575097568

Note: In the US, this book is known as Midnight Riot