Filed under dewey decimal project

Dewey Decimal Project: 892.1 GIL Þ

For a long time, I had managed to confuse in my mind GCover of Gilgameshilgamesh and Beowulf, most likely because of the earliness of the two narratives. I did puzzle about how I had managed to miss the flood story in Beowulf, not realizing my mistake. But then, I have a long history of this sort of confusion: as a child I had thought that Hogan’s Heroes and MASH were the same show and couldn’t understand why sometimes they were trying to escape. And after nearly two years, my wife pointed out that the Director of Curriculum and Director of Administration at my kids’ school are two different people.

But I’m older and (a little) wiser now so I know that Gilgamesh and Beowulf are different works and I hadn’t read the former, so when I got to the 890s, which encompasses the literatures of anywhere that doesn’t use the languages of Western Europe, I decided to pick up this book. 

Reader, I was amazed. It’s a gripping story, one which feels almost modern in its concerns. Certainly, there are parts that feel fable-like, but overall it’s a fascinating read and its interest extends beyond its presentation of a version of the flood myth which predates the Hebrew Bible. I’m surprised that no one has made a film of the story. It would make a good movie.


Dewey Decimal Project: 882 EUR Iphigeneia at Aulis

Greek literature gets its own decade in the Cover of Iphigeneia at Aulis800s and I decided to pull this one off the shelf since (a) I’ve heard the title before (thanks to an assortment of operas whose titles I’ve heard even if I’ve never seen/heard any of them) and (2) it was reasonably short.

Many of the classic Greek stories are familiar even if we’ve not read the source material. I read Oedipus Rex a few months before I read this play and although I’d not read the Sophocles before, I still knew the outline of the story well thanks to its being deeply ingrained in the culture. On the other hand I’d managed somehow to not know this story which is part of the broader narrative of the Trojan war. The story is a dark tale, a tragedy in the classical Greek sense of the word, and Merwin’s translation makes it all the more powerful. I can see why it was a popular source for so many operas.


Dewey Decimal Project: 871 VIR The Eclogues of Virgil

And now I’m moving on from Spanish/Portuguese to Latin in the literature part of the Dewey Decimal System. (As an aside, it’s interesting to note the cultural biases implicit in Dewey. the 800s—literature—follow a similar structure to the 400s—language—with a decade each for German, French, Italian, Spanish/Portuguese, Latin and Greek with all other languages crammed into a single decade and only a single left of the decimal category to hold, for example, all the Indo-European and Celtic languages of Europe. That a whole decade is dedicated Cover of Eclogues of Virgil translated by David Ferry o Latin seems nearly indefensible in the context of modern culture.

But I’m an odd bird. As an undergraduate, I studied Latin and Greek (the latter not very successfully and the former arguably not so successfully either). I was once upon a time able to stumble through Cicero and Ovid in Latin and I’ve made some tentative efforts at reclaiming my Latin including as part of this project (I’m also slowly working through St Jerome’s translation of the Bible into Latin). 

I’ve managed to have not read Virgil other than a handful of excerpts here and there, and I have an unread copy of a translation of The Aeneid on my to-read shelves. The Eclogues are something that I’d read absolutely none of so I grabbed this off the shelf to read. 

I have to confess that laziness led me to largely ignore the Latin side of this bilingual edition. I did look occasionally at the Latin, but mostly I focused on reading the English side. It was a delightful excursion during the waning days of the pre-Covid era and while I have only a handful of vague memories from that reading, I do recall finding it an interesting read and I think that should I manage to beef up my Latin in what remains of my life, I may return to The Eclogues to read it in Latin without an English text to crib from.

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Dewey Decimal Project: 863 VAR A Writer’s Reality

After Eco, I decidedCover of Mario Vargas Llosa's A Writer's Reality that I would definitely give a similar book by Mario Vargas Llosa a shot. Vargas Llosa is probably the most important influence in the novel I’m working on right now and it’s always interesting to see what a writer has to say about their craft. This book is based on a series of lectures Vargas Llosa gave at Syracuse University. After speaking about other writers, most of what Vargas Llosa talked about was his own fiction, which he does with great insight and understanding.

I’ve only read one of Vargas Llosa’s novels—La Fiesta del Chivo—which he wrote after these lectures, but I found myself very much interested in reading his early fiction even more than I had been from reading the one novel that I had read.


Dewey Decimal Project: 853 ECO Confessions of a Young Novelist

If I weren’t already a fan of Eco’s Cover of Confessions of a Young Novelistwriting, I would pick this up for the ironic title alone—Eco was 48 when he published his first novel The Name of the Rose, and 79 when he published this slender volume.

Eco playfully explores the boundaries between fiction and nonfiction and gives some insight into his own creative process without fully opening the kimono. Overall a delightful little book.


Dewey Decimal Project: 843 KRI Powers of horror : an essay on abjection

The 840s put me in French literature, Cover of Powers of HorrorI spotted Kristeva’s name on the spine and, having read Desire in Language during my MFA, I decided I’d read this. I’d forgotten that I hated Desire in Language, finding her writing incoherent and her uncritical acceptance of Freudian theory laughable. I also had read another Kristeva book along the way on this project, her biography of Hannah Arendt which I liked enough to have forgotten my distaste for her writing in Desire in Language

My feeling here was that it was more of what I disliked about Desire in Language and less what I liked about Hannah Arendt. I think the biggest issue is just that I’m too turned off by Freud and Lacan to be able to appreciate Kristeva.

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Dewey Decimal Project: 832 BRE Saint Joan of the stockyards : a drama

After a couple rounds of writing about writing, I Cover of Saint Joan of the Stockyards by Bertolt Brechtdecided to go for some actual writing when I got to the 830s, “German and related literatures.” Spotting this book, I decided that a bit of Brecht would be  good refreshment.

It’s a bit of a “lost” play, one which never saw a theatrical production until after Brecht’s death (although it was presented as a radio drama in 1932). Here, Brecht took the story of Joan of Arc (a figure of some fascination to European writers in the 20s and 30s thanks to her canonization in 1920).

Here, Brecht takes Joan and puts her in a version of the Salvation Army in the midst of disputes between capital and labor in the Chicago stockyards of the 20s and 30s. While it falls into didacticism at times, it’s a great presentation, and I would love to see a production of this sometime.


Dewey Decimal Project: 820.93 GOL Sexual repression and victorian literature

After my disappointment reading Mamet, I decided to go in a direction that was bound not to disappoint because I would come at it with low expectations: An academic approach to some obscure corner of literary study. This is one of those books that I sometimes wonder how it got on the shelves and if they ever left the shelves before I picked it up. My rating on Goodreads is the only rating it has, although there are another eight mysterious figures who’ve added it to their books, some even marking it as “to-read” but none have it marked as “read” besides me. On Amazon, there are no reviews and only a generic cover image.

So I may be the only one to have read Mr Goldfarb’s work in recent memory. In it he makes an argument that the societal mores around sexuality didn’t prevent louche ideas from appearing in literary texts of the era. Of course, even so, things were still discreet and the discretion along with the academic writing make for a not that exciting read. 


Dewey Decimal Project: 814 MAM Writing in restaurants

I first heard of this book NewImagesometime in the late ’90s when I was, on occasion, literally writing in restaurants, sitting at Mitchell’s Diner at Clark and North with a ham and cheese omelet, a 5×8 spiral-bound notebook and a fine-point felt-tip pen. 

Mitchell’s is gone now, replaced by an Elly’s Pancake House which Google informs me is permanently closed and I no longer write long-hand, having realized that fetishization of process and tools meant that I was not really actually getting anything written. But Mamet’s book is still on the library shelves so I decided to pick it up and see what, exactly it has to say.

Overall, I found myself unexcited by the book. So much so that when I finally got around to writing this blog post about a year after reading the book, I have little memory of its contents. Even going through Goodreads reviews to refresh my memory does little for me. It’s strange that I have stronger memories of that omelet from more than twenty years ago than this book from last year.


Dewey Decimal Project: 808 DAG The lifespan of a fact

To initiate the 800s—literature—I picked this odd Image of the Stratosphere Hotel in Las Vegas ittle book. I first encountered it in excerpts during my MFA and I was curious to read the whole thing, both D’Agata’s essay and Fingal’s fact checking of it. There was some exaggeration in the conflict between the two as it was portrayed on the page, as revealed in this interview not to mention an assortment of odd synchronicities surrounding my reading of the book—I finished the book on my way to the funeral mass for a friend who died by suicide and I learned about the interview linked earlier in this sentence courtesy of an unrelated article I happened to read a few months after I finished the book.

Overall, it made for an interesting look into the process behind writing “facts” and whether something needs to be true in order to be True.

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