If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho, translated by Anne Carlson

For poetry month, I knew I wanted to read poetry, and since I’ve also been eager to return to the Greek classics, I thought I’d take the chance to dive in with Sappho’s lyrics, as translated by Anne Carlson in If Not, Winter.

Because Sappho’s poetry remains for us only in fragments, reading through Ms Carlson’s translations was an enjoyable reminder of the essential building blocks of poetic thought: word choice, simplicity, and metaphor, for example. Continue Reading

Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb

As I followed along with Allie’s Shakespeare Month in January, I was impressed that so many of the plays that other readers discussed sounded familiar, even though I knew I had not read them or seen them performed. I knew I had never seen or read A Merchant in Venice, for example, but the plot seemed so familiar to me.

I recalled I’d read summaries of Shakespeare in eighth grade English class, so I determined to find the volume that we’d read. I discovered Charles and Mary Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare, originally published in 1807, and I’m almost certain that was my eighth grade exposure. It was time to read the volume in full. While I’m glad I rediscovered this classic, I’m hesitant to recommend it for children today.

It’s not to say that there isn’t a place for play summaries for children. Obviously, reading summaries of the plays gave me a background for Shakespeare that I recall nearly two decades later. However, the summaries by the Lamb’s are difficult to get through. Most of the text is exposition rather than Shakespeare’s clever dialogue, and let’s face it, clever as they are, Shakespeare’s plots are quite confusing and detailed. For the plays with which I was not familiar, I found it hard to follow the developing stories. For the plays with which I am intimately familiar (Hamlet, The Taming of the Shrew), it was rather disappointing to read a surface-level treatment of what I consider genius of plot and language. Besides, much as the authors intended to keep their summaries unbiased, they did give their opinions in subtle ways (such as Mary Lamb’s interpretation of the end of The Taming of the Shrew, a play I think is rather ironic rather than misogynistic).

The Lambs recognized the limitations to their task. One of them wrote in the introduction the following:

It has been wished to make these Tales easy reading for very young children. To the utmost of their ability the writers have constantly kept this in mind; but the subjects of most of them made this a very difficult task.

The introduction further explains that they intended the summaries to also be for “young ladies” who are not able to be schooled as their brothers may be. The Lambs suggest that boys simply read the original Shakespeare instead of these summaries:

For young ladies too, it has been the intention chiefly to write; because boys being generally permitted the use of their fathers’ libraries at a much earlier age than girls are, they frequently have the best scenes of Shakespeare by heart, before their sisters are permitted to look into this manly book; and, therefore, instead of recommending these Tales to the perusal of young gentlemen who can read them so much better in the originals, their kind assistance is rather requested in explaining to their sisters such parts as are hardest for them to understand: and when they have helped them to get over the difficulties, then perhaps they will read to them (carefully selecting what is proper for a young sister’s ear) some passage which has pleased them in one of these stories, in the very words of the scene from which it is taken; and it is hoped they will find that the beautiful extracts, the select passages, they may choose to give their sisters in this way will be much better relished and understood from their having some notion of the general story from one of these imperfect abridgments; which if they be fortunately so done as to prove delightful to any of the young readers, it is hoped that no worse effect will result than to make them wish themselves a little older, that they may be allowed to read the Plays at full length (such a wish will be neither peevish nor irrational).

Ignoring the comments about what girls can take or not (and keeping in mind that girls did not recieve a comparative education), I wonder why, then, anyone who can read the original Shakespeare needs to read Lamb’s summary. As I mentioned, there is a place for it, I suppose, and I may even find myself using the Lambs’ summaries with my son in our homeschooling when the time comes for it. Summaries do provide cultural context for young readers.

And yet, I can’t help but feel that we should try to find a way to expose our kids to the original whenever possible. Shakespeare’s writing, not just his plots, are what make his plays magnificent.

Reading Journal: April 2012 Poetry Month

Well, March has been wonderful: I’ve gone through it in a daze of feeding and diapers and naps. Last night, for the first time since before Strawberry was born, I slept for more than three hours at one time! It was almost four hours, long enough that I even started to dream. I have been feeling rather sleep deprived, of course, so this was wonderful.

I’ve been in such a daze that I accidentally titled this post “March plans” before I realized that March is over and this post is to be about my “plans” or “ideas” for April reading. March was a bit of a loss reading-wise, but I expected that. I’m just enjoying my newborn.

Reviewed in March/Read Earlier

Read in March

I’m feeling like reading again, but my reading is becoming more focused.I have lots of ideas for what I may read in the coming weeks, but I’m not pressuring myself: this isn’t a “plan” and if it all falls through, so be it. I won’t beat myself up.

Because I’m beginning my homeschooling journey with my oldest child, I’ll be reading far more books about teaching/parent psychology. I’m currently rereading Awakening Children’s Minds, and I have a few others checked out: Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child and Raising Your Spirited Child. I also have a review book via Netgalley by Leonard Marcus that contains interviews with picture book illustrators. So far it’s really good.

For school this month, Raisin and I are learning about Australia, which is where he was born and my husband and I (obviously) lived for a time. My interest has been peaked and I have checked out Wise Women of the Dreamtime, a collection of folklore originally collected in the late 1800s. I also might read some Australian fiction if I can find it: I just downloaded For the Term of His Natural Life by Marcus Clarke (a novel about transported gentleman written in the 1870s) from project gutenberg and another one that caught my eye is The Secret River by Kate Grenville (which Eva recently reviewed). I could maybe read some other Australian historical fiction. Do you have any suggestions? (Peter Carey and I did not get along, for the record, but then I only attempted The True History of the Kelly Gang.)

I still intend to read plenty of classics, and I’m hoping to always be reading a Victorian thus year. Right now, I’ve begun Vanity Fair, and I think I’m going to enjoy it! My book club is reading Moby Dick in May, so I hope to start that early so I won’t be rushed.

And then we have the fact that April is poetry month. I want to read poetry with my son: he’s always been resistant to poetry, but maybe he just doesn’t understand what it is. We’ve been writing stories and he makes up songs all the time and I told him today that his song was a “poem.” He got excited about that; so maybe I have a way in with him!

I want to post on poetry a few times this month. I have requested If Not, Winter, Anne Carlson’s translation of Sappho, and I have Letters to a Young Poet by Rilke on my shelf. That later is not poetry, of course, but at least it’s written by a poet. I’d love to finally get to The Aeneid at some point this month, but it probably won’t happen. Other than that, I have many volumes of poetry to love: I just need to make a point of reading it!

Other possibilities for reading this month: The Great Arab Conquests (maybe a few chapters), short stories by Bessie Head, maybe a light novel from my “read or get rid of” box.

Anyway, as I said, I feel like reading again, but my kids, gardening, cleaning the house, and getting sleep will probably continue to be priority for the most part this month. I hope to stop by the blog a little more often, but we’ll see how it goes!

How was your March? What are you planning (or not planning) for April?

A Charlotte Mason Education by Catherine Levinson (Brief Thoughts)

Although I’m a beginner to homeschooling ideas and styles, I think it’s fair to say that A Charlotte Mason Education by Catherine Levinson provides a great overview to the Charlotte Mason style of education, albeit from one home educator’s perspective.

The author’s personal homeschooling style was certainly not for me, and the author’s opinions throughout the book was rather irritating. For example, it seems she was a bit extreme in censoring, such as she refused Dickens in her curriculum for years because he wrote a “ghost story” and those aren’t allowed in her house and she censored artwork by covering body parts with sticky notes.

But I’m interested in the general precepts of the Charlotte Mason style of homeschooling and this book provided a nice overview. I like the emphasis on the fine arts: studying various artists by looking at their artwork, rather than reading about them, and reading classic literature rather than kid summaries of classic literature. I liked the emphasis on narration with young children, and I’ve tried to incorporate more of it in my school at home time with Raisin. (He struggles to write, so it makes perfect sense.)

I liked how A Charlotte Mason Education was so very short (less than 100 pages) and written in a personal, conversational tone. It made it a quick one-sitting read. Even though I can’t say I loved the book because of the author’s extreme personal opinions interspersed throughout it, I feel I have a nice feel for Charlotte Mason education now thanks to reading it.