Tag Archives: History

Review: Miller’s “Circe” and Lindsay’s Opinion vs. Mrs. C-T’s Opinion

What a beautiful respite from my reading slump! Of course, after my long trek through the desert of boring books, I was over-thirsty for quality and, thus, finished Madeline Miller’s Circe in a few days, so now I’m back to square one. What will I read now?

Hannah finished Circe before I even received it and texted me a few afterthoughts; it sounded like she was somewhat underwhelmed, but I was adamant that I would go into it as a “blank canvas” and let it paint all over me. I was not disappointed.

In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child—not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power—the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.

Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.

But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

Now, I am rather well-acquainted with Circe as a character from Homer’s The Odyssey, which I teach to freshmen every year. I went into this reading hopeful that it would contain something I could incorporate into this year’s unit (more on that in a bit), but due to my recent bad luck with books, my number one goal was to read and be entertained, to enjoy a book as I haven’t done in a while, regardless of academic application potential.

I loved this novel. The story was narrated from Circe’s 1st-person perspective and felt almost like sitting by the fire listening to story time. She was looking back on her life and telling her story to an anonymous audience (me!) and occasionally interjected her past story with musings about how naive she was or how later she would think differently. Due to these brief snaps back to the “present” story time, the vibe of the book was easy-going and familiar, which made it all the more enjoyable.

Considering the fact that most people only know Circe as a witch and temporary love stop on the Odysseus Express, imagine my surprise when the emotions and relationships weren’t 50 Shades levels of cringe. Mythology is fascinating, so we all roll our eyes and shrug at the unhealthy relationships and mistreatment of women, as though they’re just as unbelievable as gods wielding thunderbolts or six-headed sea monsters, but the truth is that misogyny seems to have weathered the test of time in a way that gods and monsters didn’t. I give 100% credit to Madeline Miller for her interpretation of Circe’s story, as well as her story-telling ability. Instead of relating every detail of each copulation session (be it willing or forced, so yes, be trigger-warned), she implies and leads the reader to understand what’s happening, but dedicates her time to the why.

The Odyssey presents Circe as a witch who transforms men into pigs because it pleases her and only Odysseus could outsmart her, changing her heart of stone to typical female emotional mush. FINALLY, Circe is portrayed as an individual, whose life was difficult and complicated long before Odysseus came along and made it more complicated. She is given a why. Why transform the men? Why be there waiting for him? Why be so enamored by a turd like Odysseus? Like all women, Circe is a complicated being and she existed outside of her connection with literature’s most well-known “hero” for centuries. Homer wrote The Odyssey around 800 B.C.E., so we’ve known one side of the story, the male’s perspective, for almost 3000 years. Let’s hear HER side of the story!

Okay, I can feel that I got on my soapbox there. The point was to say that depending on how deep down the Mythology rabbit hole you’re known to go, anywhere between a little to a lot of this novel will be yesterday’s news to you. Spoilers aren’t really that big of a threat, since we know how it will end, generally. However, the refreshing and necessary thing about this novel is that we are given insight into the thoughts, feelings, and motivations of an ancient woman.

So, from what I’ve seen, people have disliked this when they aren’t fans of historical interpretations. Again, this is a tale as old as time, but Miller’s work came from embellishing stories and creating a new perspective. Some times, her embellishments stray from the original and a lot of hard-core mythology junkies reject any creative license. For instance, in The Odyssey, Odysseus is given moly by Hermes, he eats it, drinks Circe’s potion, and is not transformed, thus beguiling her with his “power.” It doesn’t go that way in Circe and I could be mad about it and be all “look at me; I’m so smart; I know the original; this is wrong; I’m right” but what’s the point in that? It’s no fun to be such a know-it-all that you can’t enjoy anything but the original. Chill.

The other thing about that divergence from the original is that it must exist for a reason! That is one of the most well-known plot points; anyone can point it out (so calm down, know-it-all’s), so why would Miller change it? The new version must serve a purpose in telling the audience more about Circe. This is where my mind swaps from Lindsay, the “for fun” reader, to Mrs. C-T, the critical reader. The wheels were turning nonstop towards the end of the novel, to the point where I had to get out some post-its so I could refer to important excerpts later. Here are some teachery thoughts that are still mulling and taking shape in my pre-planning mind (we won’t get to our Odyssey unit until November, so I have time to hammer out details). However, I must say that these sort of critical reading thoughts and questions do not exist exclusively in a classroom; anyone can read, but it is an entirely different skill to read critically, allowing texts to tap into your mind beyond surface-level enjoyment. Even if you are not a teacher or student, even if you don’t enjoy when this reader blog crosses the line over to a teacher blog, I encourage you to take a look at the questions posed below. You don’t have to be a student to continue to challenge your thinking. Now, to the musings:

  1. Read Book 10 of The Odyssey and then read the excerpt of their meeting from Circe. Consider how the two main characters’ vices and virtues are shifted and challenged with the difference in narrative. How are the narrators biased? Which story do you believe? Why? How are you biased?
  2. Our textbook does not include Book 11 (Odysseus’ trip to the land of the dead) but I think it is interesting/important. Last year I just did story time for missing sections and I’ve asked my department chair for a class set of Gareth Hinds’ graphic novel, but if those options fail or fall short, I can use the excerpt from Circe where she gives him guidance.
  3. This one is exciting: include our article about PTSD to read after Odysseus comes home and he and Telemachus slaughter all the suitors and “unfaithful” servants. Also, include the excerpt where Telemachus talks about what Odysseus was like when he came home. Is it human nature to hope “they all lived happily ever after”? Why do so many stories lack falling action and end after the climax? What do you think life was like for Odysseus/Penelope/Telemachus after his return? Why? How does Telemachus’ account support or challenge that?
  4. Include excerpt of Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad, specifically including the Chorus from the servant maids Odysseus killed. Then, include excerpt from Circe that gives Penelope’s account of Odysseus’ return. Why is it so unbelievable that Penelope and Circe would meet and interact so positively? How are readers of The Odyssey led to believe these women would treat each other? How does Penelope’s account shift your perception of Odysseus? Recall how Odysseus portrays Penelope in The Odyssey: how does Penelope’s portrayal of Odysseus in Circe and/or The Penelopiad compare/contrast? How do these characters show bias?
  5. After completing the epic, discuss whether Odysseus is a hero. Further discuss whether he fulfills the steps of Joseph Campbell’s Heroic Journey. Can one fulfill the steps but fail to be a hero? Can one be a hero without being “heroic”? Include an excerpt from Circe where Telemachus talks about Odysseus’ life and legacy. Does the inclusion of personal experience and opinion alter your perception of Odysseus’ heroic status? How could it be biased? Can one determine heroic status without the inclusion of personal accounts?

As you can tell, I LOVE to include various perspectives in my classroom. I know that it is human nature to form opinions and, sadly, some people spend more time building their own opinions by ignoring or attacking the opposition and stacking up supporting arguments than by exploring and engaging those adverse opinions in constructive discussion. It is my goal that students learn to explore the opposition as much as their own side, challenging their own biases as well as those of others, and building informed, malleable opinions. Circe will undoubtedly help me work towards this goal.

Hope you enjoyed this and I’d love to hear any and all thoughts!

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L: Bartoletti’s “Hitler Youth: Growing up in Hitler’s Shadow”

I’m having a hard time articulating my thoughts about this book into sentences that are half as meaningful as anything included in this 150 page, picture-filled book that is astoundingly categorized as Juvenile Non-faction. I am fascinated by WWII and Holocaust accounts, so my reading on the subject has been relatively widespread, but this was easily one of the most profound texts I have read about WWII Germany and the horrific inflictions upon the Jewish (and other non-Aryan) communities from 1926 to 1945 under Adolf Hitler’s reign of terror.

hitler

Honestly, no review containing my own words and thoughts could serve as a better recommendation for this text than its own images and words. Unfortunately, I had to return the book before I remembered that I wanted to include direct quotes, but at the same time, that would have been a problem since I would’ve want to quote every single line; every sentence and every photo shed more light on the devastating details of Germany’s actions during WWII and the ways in which Hitler managed to recruit ultimately 7 million young Germans into the Hitler Youth, a group of the Neonazi Party that focused on young “Aryan” Germans, ages 13 to 18, and prepared them to assist in Germany’s martial efforts to take control of Europe. My eyes were opened to the countless rights I take for granted today, since those same rights were robbed from anyone and everyone who even seemed not to support Hitler. The harshest punishments were inflicted on those who did not support Hitler’s cause, and everyone, supporters or not, were at the mercy of the Fuhrer’s whims.

hitler3

2I say all of this because I’m afraid for my country. When I read about the power that a fanatical leader can hold over millions of willingly ignorant followers, I can’t help but be frightened by the echoes of a similar level of radical injustice that is unmistakably present in U.S. politics today. There are still people who absurdly believe that the Holocaust never happened, and even that is addressed in Bartoletti’s text, but blind obedience and willing ignorance can make millions of people do terrible things and, unless we educate ourselves on how it happened last time, history may truly be doomed to repeat itself.

1That means only one thing: we must educate ourselves. I thought about doing a “Love This, Try This” segment for this review, but it seemed too cheap, and I had a hard time narrowing it down to one recommendation. Thus, I will give all the recommendations I can think of that will help shed light on the atrocities that occurred, so as to prevent such an occurrence from ever happening again. I know enlightenment on genocide isn’t exactly at the top of anyone’s To-Do List, but PLEASE look into at least one of these things.

***All of the images above were featured in Bartoletti’s text***

Books:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Documentaries/Shows:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Love This? Try This! – “The World of Ice & Fire”

pixshark.com; click here for Amazon.com

I’ve decided to review this book by creating a new “If you like this, you might also like this” segment. A lot of my reading choices are based on comparisons to other things I’ve liked (thank you, Goodreads; find me at lindsayjohnna!), so I’m hoping to find a few similarities along my reading road that might offer some helpful insight! Let me know what you think.

Photo from bgr.com

The first one is a little obvious, but this past Christmas, Brice got me The World of Ice & Fire by George R. R. Martin, Elio M. Garcia, Jr., and Linda Antonsson since he’s aware of my love for Martin’s magnificent series and also for tracing literary lineages. Martin worked closely with the other authors to ensure that the book read as a history, much like J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion (another reason I simply adore it). He also worked with the artists to ensure that the book’s illustrations captured his mind’s image of his imaginary world, and thank God for that because these pictures are above and beyond the reach of TV.

Photo from inspirationhut.com

I’m the kind of reader who loves to know back story; throughout the series, we come to understand how the realm came to be a unified kingdom, but The World of Ice & Fire elaborates on the migration of the Targaryens to Westeros, the conquering of the kingdoms, the reigns of many Targaryen kings, Robert’s Rebellion, the many houses and realms in Westeros and Essos, etc. I loved reading this and I go back frequently to check my facts & review the mesmerizing illustrations on every page. Truly, I cannot praise the artwork enough. I highly recommend this book for anyone who loves the series of novels and wants to know more than can be contained in the already very long books.

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L: Review of “Inferno” by Dan Brown

​I work in a dangerously small town, the kind that considers itself “modern” for having a Subway, so I wasn’t surprised upon visiting the local library that my pickings were depressingly slim. However, I was desperate for something, absolutely anything, to entertain me until my book on hold came in from across the state. It’s times like these that I turn to Dan Brown. That’s how I came across his other works way back when, and just like that I found myself departing from the library with Inferno in hand.

I know why I expect so little from Dan Brown novels: they’re all just so similar (same Robert Langdon; slightly different dilemma) that I anticipate Inferno being the same as The Da Vinci Code being the same as The Lost Symbol being the same as Angels & Demons. I’ll go ahead and make it clear that Inferno is indeed the same unnaturally all-knowing Symbologist traipsing around one of the world’s most influential centers of art/culture/history/religion with a beautiful and helpful but non-romantic ladyfriend in order to save the rest of the oblivious world. However, the passion that I feel for Dante Alighieri’s “Inferno” planted a seed of slightly higher excitement and expectation for this novel, in particular.

Inferno

Click here for Goodreads

Much like Andy Weir in my last post, Dan Brown astounds me when thinking about the amount of research that would have to go into writing this novel. Not only does Robert Langdon, Brown’s recurring main character, go into vast detail about the minutiae of Dante’s most popular work, but equalling mind-numbing detail is applied to countless other books, poems, paintings, and historical sites that are someway remotely connected to “Inferno.” The novel follows Langdon, who cannot recall anything from the last 48 hours, through Italy in an attempt to save the lives of himself and this installment’s “Bond girl” and to find out how in the world his unfortunate and dangerous current state is connected to Dante and “Inferno.” I found the twists, turns, and ultimate ending to be altogether unpredictable, which is refreshing in this era of “been there, read that,” and I truly enjoyed it from beginning to end.

The best part of the novel, however, was the almost “behind the scenes” feel of the endless descriptions. Brown is a master of detail and the product of this effort is that I genuinely felt as though I was standing in Florence, staring up at the vast ceilings or gilded doors, the pigeon-topped statues or floor-to-ceiling paintings, or the fragile detail of Dante’s death mask. As Langdon found the hidden passages behind paintings or sprinted through rafters, I felt as though I was getting a VIP tour of a city I’ve never seen, much less via hidden corridors above the city streets. I found it hard to read this novel when I didn’t have access to a computer, as nearly every paragraph contained beautiful descriptions and secret details about the many paintings and historical landmarks peppered along Langdon’s journey that I absolutely needed to see to believe.

If this review was based solely on the plot of Inferno, it would still be a positive review, as it posed a true question of societal norms and the inevitable dangers of our over-populated planet; fortunately, the plot is also supported by extraordinary details and connections that only enhanced my fascination. I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves a good mystery, a thriller, a historical or literary expose, or anyone who loves Dante. I think you’ll be equally pleased.

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