Reading the Shelves – Check-In

As I began to plan my blog entry about the plays I’ve been reading, I experienced the familiar embarrassment of feeling unqualified to write about “literature.” Although I took courses on Shakespeare during college, they were fairly introductory. I have no degree in literature, nor have I explored it in a scholarly way on my own. There is nothing that I can draw upon to write something erudite or remotely clever.

But I enjoy reading plays! And perhaps in my 40s I’ve finally reached a time when I can swallow the embarrassment and simply write about my experience as a reader and what I’m taking away from the text. It shouldn’t matter if my comments aren’t novel or more thoughtful than what’s expected of a Literature 101 student. I will own my reading experience, and share it the best I can. (Also, as I write this, my teenage son is blasting remixes and EDM from the shower, so I can also blame any simplistic statements on my inability to think deeply with the rising beats blasting through a door five feet away…)

Currently Reading

Plays

  • The Tempest by William Shakespeare. I think I’m finally beginning to understand what draws me to Shakespeare. I’m not sure why it hasn’t occurred to me before, but it’s a wonderful combination of three things I appreciate: theatre, language, and “math.” I put “math” in quotes because I’m not implying that there’s literal mathematics in the plays (although, who knows what else is hidden in there). It’s the idea of mathematical thinking, of figuring out a problem and making sense of the whole by understanding the parts. I get a particular thrill when I can understand a complex passage in Shakespeare, like I’ve solved a puzzle, and the solving is my favorite part of math. (In school, I started losing interest when math became more theoretical. I liked clean answers!) So, as I read through Scene 1 and was happy that I could understand the humor of Boatswain complaining about the self-important passengers who wouldn’t get out of his way as he tried to stop the boat from crashing upon the shore.

Recently Completed

Plays

  • Mother Courage and Her Children by Bertolt Brecht (English version by Eric Bentley). I don’t think I was expecting this to be as funny as it was. Or to include such lyrical songs. Perhaps I expected this to be difficult to read or dark and inscrutable. While it was certainly dark and complex, there was also a lot of humor. This play is about the tragedy of war, specifically the religious wars of the 17th century, but it could apply to a war in any era. It’s not just about the tragedy of lives lost, but about the pointlessness of war as it is held together simply by those who stand to profit from it. In the case of the play, it is the kings and religious leaders who gain the most and lose the least. The soldiers who must fight in the wars (like Mother Courage’s son), and those who are simply trying to live their lives among the destruction and carnage, like Mother Courage herself, must adapt to the business, though they stand to gain little and lose much. As she loses her children one by one, Mother Courage remains a brutal realist, even as she feels her private sorrow, because it is the only way to survive. There is nothing to be done but continue to move forward.

Number of picture books read toward 2019 goal of 500: 80.

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