Mini-Reviews: All the Books I Read for Literature Class This Year (Part 2) + 1-Year Blogiversary!

Good morning! Last week, we went over the books I read for the first semester of my literature classThe Great Divorce, The Iliad, The Aeneid, and a whole lot of Plato. This week, let’s take a look at my second semester line-up! Once again, I’ll examine the content of the books and then the edition/translation I used.

This semester was fun because the books we read were from the late Roman empire, medieval, and Renaissance periods, and we read them in chronological order. So my class was able to examine the progression of view on matters such as free will and humanism over the years. Let’s start at the beginning, with…

The Confessions by St. Augustine, trans. Henry Chadwick

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THE BOOK

What can I say about The Confessions? Of course it’s a very good book, foundational to Western Christianity. But I found it dull at times, especially the philosophical minutiae of Augustine’s conversion. Also, I’d already read so much C.S. Lewis (who draws heavily on Augustine, and who would cringe if he read this paragraph) that I felt as if I were familiar with most of what Augustine had to say. Of course, it was interesting to see where Lewis got some of his ideas, and Augustine’s conversion story is remarkable, but I just didn’t enjoy it that much. However, I’m fully prepared to acknowledge that the defect is in myself, not the text! I’m sure that if I returned to the Confessions in ten years, I’d get much more out of it.

THE TRANSLATION / EDITION

Again, I know next to nothing about Latin, but based on my limited experience, this Chadwick translation feels like Latin. That is, it’s dense and ornate, which is not a problem; but it does make it more difficult to read. I’m sure it’s a true translation, though, since it has that Latinate feel. My edition (Oxford World Classics) has limited margin space, small print, and few paragraph breaks, which only adds to the challenge of reading! I do love the cover, though (even though I’m baffled as to why Augustine, a North African, is depicted as a white redhead).

Purgatory by Dante, trans. Anthony Esolen

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THE BOOK

I enjoyed Inferno when I read it a few years ago, and Purgatory did not disappoint. The dynamic between Virgil and Dante is wonderful, and Dante (the poet, not the character) writes so well. He pokes fun at his own pride and uses beautiful imagery to depict the Christian’s journey of sanctification. And the discourse on free will in the middle cantos is so fascinating! I loved everything about Purgatory–the plot, the characters, the themes, the poetry–and if you haven’t read it yet, please add it to your TBR!

THE TRANSLATION  / EDITION

I could write a 100-canto ode in terza rima to the Modern Libary editions of the Divine Comedy, but I’ll restrain myself. First, the translation. I love Anthony Esolen himself, and his Divine Comedy is delightful. He writes in a sort of “sprung” iambic pentameter, rhyming when it works but never forcing rhymes at the expense of a true translation. It’s probably the closest an English translation can get to both the meaning and beauty of Dante’s original poetry. Esolen’s footnotes and endnotes are also incredibly helpful for understanding and writing about the work. The edition itself was like a breath of fresh air after the Confessions:

Dante's Purgatory

So on the left, there’s the original Italian, and on the right is Esolen’s translation. It was useful to have both, because sometimes I’d read something and want to know how Dante himself expressed it. All I had to do was look over to the right and use my Latin/Spanish knowledge to get a general idea of what the Italian was saying! Also, there were a few times when my teacher pointed out something about the Italian, so I was able to make a note of that. Speaking of notes, look at how much margin space there is! I made full use of that, I assure you. And to top it all off, the font is lovely. This is one of my favorite books that I own; I’d definitely recommend this edition and translation!

The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

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 THE BOOK

I adored the Canterbury Tales! My class didn’t read every one of the Tales, but the ones we did read were so much fun. I loved all the different layers of each story: first, there’s the overarching narrative of the pilgrims on their way to Canterbury; then, the character of each particular pilgrim; then, the literal level of each tale; then the allegorical and moral levels; and finally (my favorite of all) how the character of each pilgrim impacts how we should interpret their tale! It’s so meta, y’all. Not to mention that some of the tales themselves were so entertaining (not the Miller’s Tale, that one was just gross). The Canterbury Tales has all the things I love about stories: fun plots, strong narrative voices, deeper meanings, and commentary on the nature of storytelling itself! It may have been my favorite book of the year.

THE TRANSLATION / EDITION

I relied on print-outs from my teacher for the Canterbury Tales. We read the original Middle English for the General Prologue but not for the other tales. Of course I’d rather read the Middle English, but it takes much longer than a modern translation, so I was glad that we didn’t only read the Middle English. There wasn’t one specific translator that we relied on, so I can’t really comment on that aspect of it, except that we read a prose translation of The Knight’s Tale when I would have preferred a verse one. The book I used for my picture is a lovely Everyman’s Library edition with a great glossary and supply of footnotes, which makes the Middle English much more manageable!

Hamlet by William Shakespeare

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THE BOOK

Even though I love Shakespeare, I hadn’t yet read Hamlet because I knew I’d be reading it this year. Let me tell you, it did not disappoint. Hamlet himself is an intriguing character, and I could identify somewhat with his mistrust of Renaissance humanism. Also, his struggling with questions of human mortality and fate hearkened all the way back to Achilles’ struggles, so it was fascinating to see how those views have developed over time. Hamlet has complex characters and tackles dark themes alongside a gripping plot, so how could I not love it?

THE EDITION / PERFORMANCE

I used Dover Thrift Editions (when will I learn?), which was surprisingly OK. It was readable, unlike their version of Symposium and Phaedrus. But the act/scene numbers are off towards the end, which was pretty irritating. Also, it will probably fall apart within two years. So yeah, I wouldn’t recommend it.

We also watched Kenneth Branagh’s film of Hamlet in class. I was grateful that the teacher took the time to show it to us in its unabridged glory, because Shakespeare is meant to be seen, not just read. The film wasn’t perfect, but it was still very good. I enjoyed it a lot, especially Derek Jacobi as Claudius. And it had some very clever moments, such as the two-way mirror in Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy. A solid film, one you should see if you haven’t already.

~ ~ ~

1 Year Blogiversary!

I published my first post last year on May 31, so it’s been a year and a day since I started my blog! Although I no longer think it’s accurate and it makes me cringe a little, why don’t you go check out my first-ever post–7 Shakespearean Boyfriends, Definitively Ranked–just for old time’s sake?

And now I want to hear from you. Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them? Let me know in comments!

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8 thoughts on “Mini-Reviews: All the Books I Read for Literature Class This Year (Part 2) + 1-Year Blogiversary!

  1. Sounds like that was a fun semster! I love going through impactful works especially in chronological order and watching how religion, humanisim and other philospophical thoughts develope. The transition from the Restoration period to the Romantics is always a great shift. If you ever get to the romantics shout out to Colridge’s Rime of the Anceint Mariner. Coleridge also has critical essay on Shakespeare’s Othello so you have to love the man, even though I think drugs rather then nature was his inspiration. I’ve always wanted to read Dante any recomendations on where to start with him? (The cover really is beautiful) Back in school we also had to read the middle English for Chaucer’s Prologue and after I read the modern english version I was amazed by how much I had missed it was amost like reading a whole new book hahah. I am much better at comprehension of old language now. When I read the Miller’s Tale I was so shocked! Not at all what I expected, somtimes I forget old books have bawdy humor too, always expected it to be all prim and proper haha. It’s always great fun discussing the Wife of Bath and tryign to figure her character out. (I actually have two posts on the Canterbury tale, one on the Knight and one on the Miller if you’re ever interested. ) This year I put a lot of time into Shakespear and it was the first time I really fully realized how much he loves a good dirty joke, got to love the man, beautiful lines, insighful mussings, dirty joke, great combination. I actually have plans for a Hamlet post on his mussings on human nature! Hamlet is such a great character, did you ever come to a decision on whether he was truly mad or not? What is your favorite SHakespeare play?
    Congratulatiosn on your 1 Year blogaviersery! You should be so proud of you accomplishment! I have been readign yoru blog for a long time and I love your work and your thoughts so definitely keep at it! You have a lot of talent!
    This was a lovely post, I love the brief overview of the work you give and especially love the edition/translation sectiosn its nice to know what versions and editions are good. As a Shakespeare fan I totally recommend getting the Norton Shakespeare, its exspensive but its a complete collection, with great overviews of the play and the genreal editor is Stephen Greenblatt love that man. His General introduction is amazing, and the footnotes are so helpful and the maragins are wide, you don’t even want to know how full of notes my edition is haha! And still so many plays to go! Also Majarie Garber’s Shakespeare After All is awesome if you’re interested in great overviews and anaylisis of all his plays.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Wow, thanks for the super long comment! Yes, the Romantics are pretty cool, especially how they react against empiricism/ Enlightenment… I took a class freshman year that dealt with a bunch of that stuff and I still remember a lot of it! For some reason I’d never connected the dots that Coleridge was a Romanticist (I knew he rubbed shoulders with Byron and the Shelleys); I haven’t read much of him, just Kubla Khan and Ancient Mariner years and years ago so I should revisit it. Thanks for the recommendation!

      For Dante–I’d recommend starting with Esolen’s translation of Inferno. Take it slow, just one canto at a time, and read the endnotes; they’ll really help you understand the philosophical, religious, and historical contexts of everything. The translation is pretty readable so I think that would be a good starting point. I liked Purgatory more but Inferno is still really, really good!

      Oh my goodness–the Miller’s Tale was quite shocking! I had been warned about it, thankfully. The crazy thing is that some scholars do think there’s allegorical truth in the story (I read an article about it called “Poetic Justice in the Miller’s Tale), even though it’s so awful. And I hated the Wife of Bath so much (which just shows how well Chaucer did her character)–it drives me nuts how she completely misses the point of all the Scripture she quotes. I’d love to check out your posts on the Miller and Knight!

      Yes, Shakespeare and presumably his audience sure do love those dirty puns. There is a stereotype that old books are “prim and proper” but I’ve completely stopped expecting that after Shakespeare, Chaucer, and even Homer before them. I can’t wait for your Hamlet post! My favorite Shakespeare play is “As You Like It,” what about you? Also, I own a copy of the complete works of Shakespeare (The Riverside Shakespeare); my mom got it for super cheap from a church rummage sale years ago. I just didn’t want to lug it to class every day! But thanks for the recommendation; I’ll check out the Norton edition if I ever need to.

      Again, thanks for the long comment and kind words! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hahaha I have a tendency to ramble when I am interested or know a lot about a topic! I don’t normally get so insane with the length! Yeah he’d definitly one of the interestign Romantics cause he doesn’t fit it quite as nicely as Wordsworth did. They had an unlikely friendship for a while, I read some of their lyrical ballads. It was cool cause the both kind of did the oppossite sides of romanticisim, Wordsowrth was all nature and memories, and Coleridge fantasy and imagination and the supernatural. Very cool! Totally reommend given the Rime of the Ancient Mariner another go super cool imagery and interesting aspects to the story. Kubla Khan has awesome imagery but lacks any sort of plot or specific point. Literally his writings on like some sort of drug induced hallucination I beilieve. Still very beautiful.
        I will definitly give Inferno ago, Dante has been on my list for years so good to have a recomendation on a solid translation.
        I will have to check out the essay on the Miller’s Tale. Agreed The Wife of Bath was super hard to swallow, it was fasinatign watching the vastly different reactions different people had to it when we discussed it in class. Some yay some nay. Got a bit spirited. She was not however my favorite.
        Oh yeah I no longer am surprised by those dirty jokes, and I got to be honest nothing better than a pun and then when it’s dirty and by Shakespeare man, it’s like the trifecta of hilarious. I can decided between his Tradegy or his comedy I really liked Twlefth Night cause hilarious and dark, and then Othello becasue I was fasinated by the character of Iago and Othello. I haven’t read As You Like It, I’ll have to put it on my soon to read. Hahah feel you, Shakespeare’s complete works is not miniscule at all. Shakespeare’s work speaks for itself so you definitly don’t need a exspensive version. As long as his work is in your collection thats what really matters!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Very cool about Coleridge and Wordsworth! I’m not the biggest fan of Twelfth Night (mainly bc my drama class last year did a few Shakespeare scenes and my twin sister was Viola so I had to be Sebastian even though I’m a girl and it was very Shakespearean and all with the double cross dressing but it was still mortifying… also I really hate Malvolio) but yeah I do like how dark it is. And of course it’s amazing that it’s what She’s the Man is based on haha! Haven’t read Othello, that’s on my TBR list for the summer.

        Liked by 1 person

      • You did a reverse shakseape crossdress. Love it, I’ve found I always ended up playign men in schools plays as well despite beign a girl. So I feel your pain. I loved all the Malvolio scenes where he was gettign made fun of cross garter and yellow hahah. I also thought there was somthign interestign about Feste and the danger Malvolio possed towards him. Didn’t love the romance of the story though. Also She’s the Man is so funny and I love that movie. The Golden Globe put on a modernized production of it (I think Anne Rice was the director, hope I got her name right) over the top and hilarious. Didn’t get to finish it a friend was watching but the parts I saw were so funny! Let me know what you think of Othello, I was fasinated by the motivations of Iago and the curruption of Othello’s character.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve actually been looking into getting an English/Italian version of The Divine Comedy because right now I only own the Mark Musa translation. It can be difficult to get a sense of the best translation to purchase just from looking online, so this was a very timely post for me! I’ll have to look into the Esolen edition. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

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