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The Literature of Ancient Sumer
The Literature of Ancient Sumer
by Jeremy Black
Edition: Paperback
Price: 34.87

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Reference Source., 17 Jun 2011
Its conforting to read about the hopes, fears and adventures of a real person who lived 5000 years ago, and find they are just like you in so many ways. If there is so similar a person, who can be so removed from you in time, space and race then it bears witness that any ideas of current human inequality are preposterous.
Since these pieces were written down many civilisations have risen and fallen, so many wars, so much distruction, great knowledge has been lost and found again, cultures have even forgotton how to read and write only to discover it once more, but through it all a naked ape has found a way of life so resilient and enduring... well it gives me hope for our future... no matter what happens in the interim.
This is predominantly an academic text and I, who am not an academic, am not informed enough to review it on this basis.
The introduction (available in "Look Inside") makes this agenda clear immediately.
I bought the book to provide a control reference to the many theories that surround human mythology and often use the Sumer, and later Akkadian myths as primal examples of a early civilised social values and psychology.
The changes in that mythos from agricultural centred Sumer to warrior centred Akkadia are often used as key indicators demonstrating any such society's change in cultural values. There are as many wooly, generalising and unfounded theories on this subject as there are valid, informed and balanced ones. I bought this book with the hope its reasonably academic style would serve as a reference for what these stories ACTUALLY said, and for that it served its purpose.
What I do not understand though is why the translators saw fit to reinterpret the sentences into text book english grammer, when it really wasn't necessary (even Shakespeare plays with that to serve his purpose) for our understanding and yet makes no attempt to interpret the line or stanza from the original tablet that only he/she has access to.
I would have prefered a "broken" english that I can interpret for myself, in an approximate verse form that only the translator can attempt. Most poetry is ambiguous, well the best kind is anyway.

In conclusion: This is quite an expensive book and not really for the pleasure reading of the generally curious. If you have a keen interest in Sumer or ancient mythology/ literature then this is an excellent book.

In Search Of Lost Time Vol 1: Swann's Way: Swann's Way Vol 1 (Vintage Classics)
In Search Of Lost Time Vol 1: Swann's Way: Swann's Way Vol 1 (Vintage Classics)
by Marcel Proust
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.99

20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A powertool in the study of the modern arts., 28 May 2011
In Search of Lost Time is a very strange experience and not just while your are actually reading it.
I'm not, although I would like to, go into Proust's strange prose style - which admittedly you do get used to after a while, in fact it becomes so normal you find yourself doing it - because I'm not a student of literature and there are others far more eloquent than I to explain his elongated sentences that go on and on forever without coming to an end and by the time you get there you've forgotten what he was talking about when he started.
But like I said, you do get used to.
Actually, in the beginning I used to underline the subject-verb-object (or whatever order it came in) with pencil - dirty habit I know.

But the strangest thing about reading this book comes after.
You hear his echo EVERYWHERE!
Not just in thoughts on the nature of memory and time, but also: self image, alienation, love, self pity, selfishness, sensation, food, fashion, snobbery, delusion, hypochondira, society, vision, colour, art, fickleness... and you realise you'd never really thought about them objectivity before. Proust breaks these ideas down for you into their constituent parts, contemplates, ruminates (yes maybe a little too long), and leaves you with a clear sense of it within the human experience.
This book had such an impact on early 20th century artists and writers you hear these echoes constantly, even if they are second hand influences, but strangest of all, you hear them in yourself.

The book is a breakdown of all the silly games humans play with themselves and each other.
Very few of the characters , least of all Marcel, is admirable.
Is that because Proust is unafraid to give him over to you guts and psychic bubble and all?
Would any real life human being BE endearing if we could truly see inside their soul every single selfish thought and demon?
I doubt it, but then Marcel is probably a silly boy anyway.

Be warned - you may not necessarily find this "entertaining".
Is it worth it?
I think it was, although I wasn't sure until I was 2 books in. Then I took a break and read Nabakov's Lolita (fabulous book) and realised just how much more I was able to interpret now I could use Proust as a literary window.
If the study of the arts since 1913 was like DIY, In Search of Lost Time is like an electric screwdriver - you never knew how much you needed it until you have it.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 26, 2012 7:23 PM BST

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (Penguin Modern Classics)
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (Penguin Modern Classics)
by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.59

5.0 out of 5 stars Get a big dose of perspective., 2 Jan 2010
This isn't a masterpiece of prose - it isn't meant to be.
This is a masterpiece of a story about the human condition, what it means to be human and what our humanity can withstand in the face of sustained relentless degradation.
Would you be able to withstand it? Would you become an Jackal too?
It also explores, uncomfortably at times, the methods and devices of tyranny and how ,done well, a subject population tyrannises its self, see Orwell's 1984 for more detailed ideas on that.

This easy to read (a character list helps), but never exciting, story is JUST ONE DAY in the life of Ivan and as Macbeth says "and tomorrow, and tomorrow, and to-mor-row ..." you get the idea.
If you think it tedious - Solzhenitsyn meant it to be so, otherwise how on earth could you really identify with the characters.
Its worth remembering that Solzhenitsyn was in a Gulag for 8 years so this book is not entirely a fiction - an advantage it has over Orwell's 1984.
Any one who slights this book for lack of entertainment value is beyond all help.
Personally I couldn't put it down, I found it heart breaking and humbling in a completely non sentimental way.
Racked with guilt and gratitude as I sat down to dinner that night, I savoured every mouthful; In bed that night, I never felt quite so warm and lucky.

The New Bloomsday Book: A Guide Through Ulysses (Routledge International Studies in)
The New Bloomsday Book: A Guide Through Ulysses (Routledge International Studies in)
by Harry Blamires
Edition: Paperback
Price: 23.79

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A great, almost perfect, first time guide., 2 Jan 2010
Apart from desperately needing a character reference list The Bloomsday Book is a great first time general guide to Ulysses for a serious reader (if you aren't a serious reader you have no business with Ulysses).
It has a chapter by chapter interpretation, regular page reference numbers for the two main editions, a reasonable index and an accessible style.
For serious study you will still need to use an detailed annotation book, but since annotation books alone can be tedious and overwhelming an interpretative guide such as this is invaluable to help us see a pattern amongst the chaos.
However, since there is no one authoritative interpretation of Ulysses, I would recommend getting your hands on as many guides, essays and audio lectures as possible - see my review on Ulysses for further information and tips in this regard.
As we learn in the Cyclops episode - the more eyes the better!

I also think this book would benefit from some maps and photos of Dublin.

Ulysses (Penguin Modern Classics)
Ulysses (Penguin Modern Classics)
by James Joyce
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.99

17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't make Ulysses's mistake - for goodness sake get a map!, 2 Jan 2010
You may think this good, you may think this bad, but you won't know till you try.
After all not everybody likes chocolate (would you believe).
For my part I thought it the hardest thing I've ever done and by far the most rewarding.
I felt that I had an education in its pages, and as to it being for literary snobs - I can promise you Ulysses has more to offer the Undergraduate than the Professor.
Most chapters require research into different areas of the arts such as music, rhetoric, literature etc., so much so that by the end I felt as though I had also completed an introductory course in a classical education.
My top Ulysses reading tips (for the unclassically educated):
- Put aside at least 3 months - remember Joyce worked on this for 8 years.
- Get a guide or 2 or 3 (don't be a cyclops - the more eyes the better), not just annotated notes (Bloomsday Book, Spark Notes etc). I can recommend the Teaching Company's 24 audio lecture series and the Cambridge Companion to James Joyce.
- Print out a character list or write one yourself (The Dubliners and The Portrait are good sources for this), as Joyce provides very little exposition within Ulysses.
- Read The Portrait of The Artist as a Young Man and The Dubliners.
- Read the Odyssey (and possibly the Iliad).
- Read Hamlet, be familiar with The Tempest and The Winter's Tale.
- Read the Gospel of Matthew (lets face it - the whole bible is useful esp: Genesis, Job, Elijah, Corinthans)and have a basic understanding of Catholism and the mass.
- The reading of: Shelley's Prometheus Unbound, Dante's Inferno and Milton's Paradise Lost is an advantage as is a familiarity with Dickens, Defoe, Plato and Aristotle.
- Be prepared to do a little research into irish folk song, music hall, opera and operatic proceedures in music such as the sonata form.
- Be prepared to stop and read other sources referenced as and when you feel the need. Its possible (I suppose) to aquire many of Joyces references second hand through annotation sources but you're just mugging yourself if you do.
- Be prepared to read through the whole thing again at the end - much like the Old Testament, Ulysses cannot be read, only re-read.
Good Luck and Happy Sailing!
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 22, 2010 5:40 PM GMT

On the Road
On the Road
by Jack Kerouac
Edition: Paperback

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars the only word I had was "WOW!", 7 Mar 2009
This review is from: On the Road (Paperback)
I understand why many europeans don't 'get' this book, it is utterly american literature, like the rebellious grandchild of Twain, Hemmingway and Whitman. But european or not, if you are (or truely wish you were) brave enough to hitchhike across america with nothing but $100 in your pocket and the spirit of adventure in your heart, then you might very well enjoy this book. If you don't, or for example you find insurance interesting, then probably not.
As Sal travels around at frantic pace he is searching for, but also consuming: meaning, experience, people, dreams, food, love, drugs and sex, using Dean as a kind of Avatar for the raw spontainous fearless energy of his religion.
The characters can be naive and wise, dis-illusioned and bedazzelled, depressed and ecstatic, base and spiritual at the same time in a way that only post-modern american youth can.

'I pictured myself in in a Denver bar that night, with all the gang, and in their eyes I would be strange and ragged like the Prophet who has walked across the land to bring the dark Word, and the only Word I had was "WOW!"'

The prose is unconstructed containing long sentences and sometimes few paragraphs giving a relentless frantic feel, and entering stream of conciousness at points. Its is however highly poetic if read at the right speed and intonation. I would recommend finding a clip of Kerouac reading from it (from an unmentioned website - I think you know) and keeping his voice in your mind as you go on - it greatly improved my enjoyment.
You can also find a pair of talks by the fabulous professor Amy Hungerford in the english department at the Yale open courses website that is definitely worth the time.

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