Book 8: Much Ado About Nothing, William Shakespeare

One of Shakespeare’s romantic comedies, this play is set in the seaport town of Messina, in Sicily. The drama concerns “the battle of the sexes” and focuses on the barbed wits and intrigues that two sets of lovers and their friends and family create. Brimming with wit and antagonism, the play has amused and provoked audiences for centuries.

 

This is my favourite play of all time. 😀 Oddly enough, I first came across it because of a Draco/Hermione fanfiction that I was reading years ago. In it, the students of Hogwarts were staging this play, and so a lot of the play was quoted as the chapters went on. The fic was never finished (at least it wasn’t when I first read it, I don’t know if it has since been concluded), but I needed to know how the play itself ended so I went to my high school library and found a copy of it. That was the first time I’d read any Shakespeare play of my own accord that I didn’t have to study for English. I had fallen in love with it.

Seven years later (I’m pretty sure the first time I read Much Ado About Nothing was when I was sixteen in Year 11) and I’m still in love with this play. It’s another of his fun comedies, and the characters that populate this one are all fantastic. In fact, Beatrice and Benedick are two of my all-time favourite fictional characters, and their love story is up there in my top five, right alongside Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy’s, and Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe’s.

Don John is a fun villain. Having been the conquered party in the civil war, he now seeks his revenge on his brother, Don Pedro, who defeated him, and Don Pedro’s right-hand man Claudio. I love his scenes, and how stands around with his minions complaining and plotting all the time. 🙂

Of course, my favourite part of the play (or really, multiple parts) are all of Beatrice and Benedick’s interactions. I love the witty banter that they have together. There are whole sections of their’s that I can quote off the top of my head, with their very first scene together being my very favourite (and I’ll only quote a couple of lines in order to keep it short ;)):

BEATRICE: I wonder that you will still be talking Signior Benedick: nobody marks you.

BENEDICK: What, my dear Lady Disdain! are you yet living?

BEATRICE: Is it possible disdain should die when she hath such meet food to feed it as Signior Benedick? Courtesy itself must convert to disdain, if you come in her presence. (Act I, Scene I)

And so it goes on. Even just thinking about them are getting me excited again, as they seem to do every time. 😀 While I’m here quoting, I think I’ll include my other favourite line while I’m at it:

CLAUDIO: Now you talk of a sheet of paper, I remember a pretty jest your daughter told us of.

LEONATO: O, when she had writ it and was reading it over, she found Benedick and Beatrice between the sheet?

CLAUDIO: That. (Act II, Scene III)

Hee! I do love Shakespeare’s bawdy jokes.

I picked Much Ado About Nothing up again this year as I had tickets to see Bell Shakespeare’s production of the play (which was an absolutely fantastic production, starring Toby Schmitz as Benedick). Not only that, but I was lucky enough to get a ticket to see Much Ado About Nothing at the Wyndham Theatre (starring David Tennant and Catherine Tate as Benedick and Beatrice) in July, while I was on holiday in London. Which was another unbelievably wonderful production which I loved.

So yes, this is getting quite long with my fangirling of this play, so let me finish by saying this: Everyone should read this play. You will love it.

 

You can  check out Much Ado About Nothing on Goodreads, or you can order it from Amazon and Booktopia.

 

Books left: 142

Days left: 540

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Book 7: Endgame, Samuel Beckett

Originally written in French and translated into English by Beckett, Endgame was given its first London performance at the Royal Court Theatre in 1957.

‘Outside lies a world of death. Inside the room the blind, impervious Hamm sits in a wheelchair while his lame servant, Clov, scuttles about obeying his orders. Each depends fractiously on the other: Hamm alone knows the combination of the larder while Clov is his master’s eyes and last remnant of human contact. The only other survivors are Hamm’s legless parents, Nagg and Nell, who squat in dustbins upstage and die during the play.’ Michael Billington, Guardian

 

So, this is probably going to be pretty short. Because the fact is I don’t like Samuel Beckett. At all. I utterly detested Waiting for Godot when I had to study it a couple of years ago. So when Endgame came up on my English course last semester, I was not happy. Nope, not a happy chappy at all. But I was willing to give Beckett the benefit of the doubt, and give him another try, despite my lack of enthusiasm.

But no, I still don’t like Beckett. Endgame probably just made me hate him more. I mean, I get it, sort of. As I told my lecturer at the end of semester when we were just talking about which texts had been our favourites and which we didn’t like: I can appreciate what he was doing, but I still don’t like it. And I can. I can appreciate what he was doing with theatre, and absurdist theatre, and why he was doing it at the particular time post-WWII. But all the same it annoys me and I hate it.

I think what it essentially comes down to is that above everything I’m a stories girl. I need a narrative, no matter how loose that narrative might be. And Endgame, essentially, has no narrative really. Which I know is kind of the point, but still. Give me a story Beckett, please!

So yeah, suffice it to say I won’t be picking up anymore Beckett any time soon.

 

You can check out Endgame on Goodreads, or you can order it from either Amazon or Booktopia.

 

Books left: 143

Days left: 546

Book 6: Beloved, Toni Morrison

It is the mid-1800s. At Sweet Home in Kentucky, an era is ending as slavery comes under attack from the abolitionists. The worlds of Halle and Paul D. are to be destroyed in a cataclysm of torment and agony. The world of Sethe, however, is to turn from one of love to one of violence and death – the death of Sethe’s baby daughter Beloved, whose name is the single word on the tombstone, who died at her mother’s hands, and who will return to claim retribution.

 

I first came across this book about four years ago when I was meant to study it for a first year English course I was taking called Literature of Revolution. I’ll readily admit that I struggled. I only got through about a third of it before putting it aside, and then never picked it up again. I only picked it up again this year when I again had to study it for another English course (a different one) last semester. I was able to get through it a little easier this time (having read the first section before, so it made more sense when re-reading that part) but it was still hard.

I’m honestly not sure how I should talk about Beloved, so I think I’ll just start with what I liked. First and foremost is the writing itself. Morrison writes beautiful prose, absolutely beautiful. If you ever get the chance, you should definitely read some of Morrison’s work just for the beauty of her words. Another thing is the characters in Beloved. You get an amazing sense of each different character. I’m still not sure if I like any of the characters completely (probably Denver I like the most), but you certainly get distinct well-rounded characters, right down to the house itself. 124 essentially becomes a character in its own right. There are three parts to the book and each part begins with the house: “124 was spiteful.” (page 3), “124 was loud.” (page 199), “124 was quiet.” (page 281). I think “124 was spiteful.” is still one of the best opening sentences to a novel that I’ve come across. It really does set up the entire story to come.

Then there’s the subject matter and time period that the novel is set in. It’s set just after the Civil War in America, and slavery has ended. It probably helped that only a couple of months before reading this I had done an American History course about this particularly period, so I found that part of it fascinating.

However. I’m still not sure how I feel about Beloved as a whole. I certainly can’t say I enjoyed it (although I do think that’s actually part of what Morrison was trying to do. It’s not meant to be enjoyable), and I probably won’t be reading it again anytime soon. But I am glad that I read it. There are some books that I read and don’t enjoy and kind of wish I hadn’t bothered (Virginia Woolf is jumping to mind), and then there are the ones I don’t particularly enjoy but am still glad that I experienced. Beloved falls into the latter category.

So while I didn’t particularly enjoy Beloved, I would still recommend reading it. Struggle through it, perservere with it, and think about the messages Morrison is putting out there. I did, and I’m proud of myself for sticking with it. Because Beloved might not be a fun read but I think it’s an important read.

 

Check out Toni Morrison’s Facebook page to keep up to date with her work.

You can also check out Beloved on Goodreads, and order it from Amazon or Booktopia.

 

Books left: 144

Days left: 547

Book 5: Darkness, Be My Friend, John Marsden

Ellie and her friends had been rescued. Airlifted out of their own country to the safe haven of New Zealand, they’d arrived burnt and injured and shocked, with broken bones, and scars inside and out. They did not want to go back. But five months later the war is not over, the nightmares continue, and there are two compelling reasons for them to return: a planned sabotage of the air base in Wirrawee and, most important, the families they left behind. In this most recent episode of the tale begun in Tomorrow, When the War Began and continued in The Dead of Night and A Killing Frost, John Marsden takes us back to Hell, the outpost for a group of teens in a war-ravaged country.

 

YA novels are termed that because that’s exactly who they’re aimed at – teenagers, young adults. But when I actually was a teenager I didn’t actually read that much YA. I can pretty much name them all on one hand: aside from what we had to read in English class, pretty much the only YA I was reading was Harry Potter, The Obernewtyn Chronicles, Jaclyn Moriarty’s books, and everything I could get my hands on by John Marsden. I’m sure there were others as well but I know there weren’t many. I was too busy reading big tomes from the 19th and early 20th centuries. I had pretty much jumped straight from still loving The Babysitters Club at age eleven to tackling Pride and Prejudice at age twelve. But one of the YA series that I did read religiously during my teen years was the Tomorrow series by John Marsden.

Darkness, Be My Friend is the fourth book in the series. Last year, the first book in the series, Tomorrow, When the War Began, was released as a movie and after seeing it, my love for this series was reignited. I came home and immediately started reading them again for the first time since I’d finished high school. 🙂 And I fell in love with the characters all over again.

In Darkness, Be My Friend the war has been going on for months, but for the last few Ellie and her friends have been recuperating and trying to regain some semblance of a normal life in New Zealand. But then they’re asked to go back into Australia, and that’s when all the dangers they had previously faced during this war come right back to their doorstep again. The characters are seriously the absolute best part of this series for me, and especially during this book, after they are (in reality, even if they don’t see it as such, since they’re not really given much choice) forced back to their hometown of Wirrawee.

Every character is very real to me, Ellie, Homer, Lee, Kevin, Fi, all of them. Every one of them have their strengths and their weaknesses. Where Ellie is strong and driven and brave, she can also be harsh and short-tempered and stubborn.

I just love everything about this book, and the series as a whole. John Marsden is a fantastic writer. I cannot urge people enough to read this novel (though I would suggest reading the three previous novels first ;)). I would recommend it to anyone and everyone. 😀

 

You can find out more about John Marsden and his books on his website.

Check out Darkness, Be My Friend on Goodreads, or you can order it from Booktopia and Amazon.

 

Books left: 145

Days left: 555

Book 4: Twelfth Night, William Shakespeare

Twins Viola and Sebastian are shipwrecked. Believing her brother drowned, and determined to survive alone, Viola disguises herself as a boy. As ‘Cesario’ she enters the service of Orsino and is sent by him to woo Olivia. But Olivia isn’t interested and ‘Cesario’ is swept into a merry-go-round world of unrequited love, mistaken identities, high comedy, low tricks and desperate passion.

 

I was very excited when I discovered that Twelfth Night was one of the texts that I would have to study for the English course I did last semester. I’ve only read Twelfth Night once before, back in 2009, but even so it is one of my favourite Shakespeare plays, so getting to study it was a real treat. (Granted I would have been even more excited had it been Much Ado About Nothing on the course, but we can’t have everything. ;))

The most interesting characters, in my opinion, are Viola and Malvolio. Viola, for obvious reasons – she’s the main character and the one who goes undercover as a man in the Duke’s court. There’s just something very interesting about her motivations (she believes her twin is dead and she wants to hide away while she deals with her grief) especially when contrasted to Olivia, who is also in mourning for a dead brother. And of course, a lot of the comedy of the Olivia/Viola/Duke Orsino storyline comes from the fact that she is a woman masquerading as a man.

As for Malvolio, it would seem I have a tendency to find the “evil” characters the most interesting (for example, the only character that I like in Othello is Iago). Of course, Malvolio isn’t actually evil. He’s just serious and didactic and completely anti-fun (Shakespeare’s representation of the Puritan movement at the time who were against everything to do with the theatre, among other things). Plus he aspires to marry Olivia, rise above his station as just her steward, gain her fortune and finally have true power to reign in the unruly Sir Toby and Sir Andrew. And then there’s the second storyline about Malvolio, and Maria, Toby and Andrew punishing him and locking him up, etc., which is running through the play at the same time as the Olivia/Viola/Orsino storyline. The revenge plot cooked up by Maria (and supported by Toby and Andrew) makes for a lot of laughs, but when you look a bit closer at it, it really is actually quite sinister and diabolical.

I really love this play. I could talk about it forever, because despite being just a fluffy comedy on the surface, there is so much more going on in this play. Which makes it fantastic. 😀 Anyway, I’ll stop there before I bore anyone with my analyzing. 🙂

Suffice to say, I can’t wait until I can finally see a production of it on stage. Bell Shakespeare Company maybe you can do Tweltfh Night next, eh? Also, if you want to watch a good adaptation of it, you should check out the 1996 film with Helena Bonham Carter as Olivia. Brilliant, it is.

 

You can check out Twelfth Night on Goodreads, or you can order it from Amazon or Booktopia.

 

Books left: 146

Days left: 559

Book 3: Matched, Ally Condie

In the Society, Officials decide. Who you love. Where you work. When you die.

Cassia has always trusted their choices. It’s hardly any price to pay for a long life, the perfect job, the ideal mate. So when her best friend appears on the Matching screen, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is the one… until she sees another face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black. Now Cassia is faced with impossible choices: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she’s known and a path no one else has ever dared follow — between perfection and passion.

 

I’m going to start this by saying that I love dystopian novels. Some of my favourite books are the old, classic sci-fi dystopias: Brave New World, Farenheit 451 and 1984. As a result of this I tend to be hesitant when it comes to this new sort of wave of YA Dystopia that seems to have sprung up over the last couple of years. I almost feel like I want to be assured that any I try will be fantastic. I didn’t try The Hunger Games series until the third book had been released. Of course, as soon as I started those I read all three books in one weekend.

So yeah, you can say I was hesitant about Matched. But that was only until I cracked open my copy and read the first page. Then I was hooked. Completely hooked.

There is so much about this story that grabbed me. The Society. Cassia. Her family. All of these were major highlights for the novel. Most especially the Society. The way the Society keeps control of everyone and every aspect of their lives really freaked me out. Which is how I know a dystopian novel is truly fantastic, if the idea of the world truly turning out this way scares me.

The only downside I really saw to it was the love triangle. Although granted I’m not sure if it’s even meant to be a love traingle at all, I’m not quite sure. But maybe that’s just because I felt like Xander was kind of sidelined for the most part. I don’t know, maybe that’s just me…

The last thing I need to mention is the cover. The design is beautiful. I know the old adage is that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but as a girl who studied Fine Arts before deciding to transfer to English, a well-designed cover will always get me in. The girl in the green dress trapped inside her bubble beautifully represents everything in the novel itself. It’s just, so perfect. 🙂

Am very much looking forward to the sequel, Crossed, being released in November. 🙂

 

You can check out Ally Condie’s website and the official Matched website, or you can follow her on Twitter: @allycondie

Check out Matched on Goodreads, or you can order it from Booktopia and Amazon.

 

Books left: 147

Days left: 561