A New Challenge

A lot has happened in the eight days since I last posted something here, and to be frank a lot will happen in the days and weeks to come. Thankfully it seems no one really missed “Shelf Reflections” too much, so…

Anyway, I’m excited! Not just because of certain life circumstances and decisions to make at this juncture (it’s actually terrifying more than anything else), but because I am going to embark on a journey that I think it’s high time to start:


That’s right, folks – I’m going to read War and Peace. All of it, cover to cover.

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t want to sound reckless or itinerant, and I’m not going to turn every post from this point forward into a BuzzFeed-esque list of “10 Ways Anna Pavlovna Scherer Is Just A More Articulate Mrs. Weasley,” etc. (Sorry.) As with almost every book I encounter, though, I want to read a good story, and I hope to figure out what it is about the book that lends it such weight and prestige in the history of literature.

I’m also going to hold myself to a daily commitment of about 20 pages a day. The edition I have (footnotes, intro, and appendices excluded) is just over 1300 pages in length – a 65-day project, if all goes well. (Future Chris: It won’t. But there’s no reason not to try.)

Nevertheless, it’s the kind of challenge I relish, and I suspect the rewards will far outweigh the effort…and hopefully the book itself. Onwards!

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Bookmarks: 1/20/14 – 2/16/14

In this edition of Bookmarks – black birds, black sausage, black rights, black paintings, and black humor (somewhere). Onwards!

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Narrative and Authority in Oroonoko: “A Thousand Little Accidents”

Aphra Behn doesn’t like this East Coast snow either. Image source: Wikimedia Commons (“Aphra Behn”).

It’s been a slow snow slow day – unless you were a New York City public school student, in which case I’m sorry – so here’s another little something about Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko (1678) from the archives to fill the shelf.  The novel recounts the life of the title character, an African king sold into slavery and shipped off to Suriname with his lover, Imoinda. But all of this is refracted through the eyes of Oroonoko‘s speaker, a white Englishwoman who witnesses the “royal slave’s” life in captivity in the West Indies (if I remember correctly). So how does her position – racial, political, and gendered – affect the way things ‘unfold?’

Click the jump to find out – and if you’re concerned about any spoilers, read that free online version I’ve given you (it’s short, I swear)!

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The Shelf Life of Good Humor

It’s six weeks. Oh wait, I’m sorry – that box I had in the freezer actually expired all the way back in August of last year, so really the shelf life should be…

Ok, so maybe I won’t be next in line to take over for Seth Meyers once he gets Jimmy’s new gig – then again I’m not Carson Daly so that’s fine with me – but as always, there’s a madness behind the method. On to today’s topic then: Why is humor, especially literary humor, so transient and short-lived? And what does the limited shelf life of a ‘good joke’ (compared to, say, a dramatic monologue) suggest about the linguistic and literary cultures we inherit and inhabit?

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“Don’t Sound Like a Sonnet:” An Experiment in Form

Anyone who took an English class in high school or college has probably learned about iambic pentameter – you know, the fancy term for duh DUH duh DUH duh DUH duh DUH duh DUH – at least once. Even if the name doesn’t sound familiar anymore you can probably remember the other words that accompanied it: “Stresses…unstressed syllables…five feet…Shakespeare…sonnets, etc.”

There’s probably another thing your teacher or book might have told you about iambic pentameter: namely, that “normal speech” or everyday speech follows that duh DUH pattern. It’s obviously very difficult and impractical to think about regular conversation in terms of meter without banging your head against the metaphorical fourth wall (and yes that was a deliberate literary pun; sue me don’t sue me). On the other hand, it’s a bit curious (to me, anyway) that poetry written in perfect or near-perfect iambic pentameter rarely, if ever, sounds like normal speech; instead, as in a typical sonnet, there’s always some kind of verbal gymnastics taking place, and even if poets choose to do so for aesthetic reasons, I want to take it to the other extreme. What does a sonnet in “plain English” look like?

So I dove right in and wrote one myself. Click the jump to find out…

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Volpone! (More specifically, a scene from a 1941 film production.) Image source: http://www.literaryramblings.com/1000-books-in-10-years-vol-218-volpone-by-ben-jonson.

Volpone. Volpone, Volpone, Volpone…Volpone?


Volpone – Volpone; Volpone (Volpone), Volpone…


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Wild Horses


Happy Chinese New Year everyone! As you’ve probably heard or already know, it’s the Year of the Horse (not my year yet), and festivities are underway all across the globe to celebrate the occasion. And while we’re talking about horses, I decided to re-post this little Chinese fable about horses and the (mis)fortunes that come with having them. Enjoy, and 恭喜發財!

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