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Book Review: Beowulf by Anonymous/Unknown

March 11, 2010 2 comments

Man covered in chainmail.  Summary:
This classic, epic poem tells the story of the life of Beowulf, a Geat warrior.  In his youth, Beowulf assists the Danes who are being terrorized by a monster named Grendel.  He defeats Grendel and Grendel’s mother single-handedly in hand to hand combat.  When the Geatish king dies, Beowulf acts as guardian of the kingdom while the prince grows up.  All is well until a dragon starts to terrorize the land.

Review:
Having read The Odyssey, The Iliad, and The Aeneid and liking them all quite well (in spite of the fact that The Aeneid is a Roman rip-off of the Greek epics) I was expecting something somewhat different from Beowulf than what I got.  Although the adventures in these epics generally center around one or two characters, they are also the tales of the history of an entire people.  Since Beowulf conducts pretty much all of his battles on his own, I don’t really get that vibe from Beowulf.  It also is odd to me that these people seem to have a real talent for pissing off monsters buried deep in the Earth.  Whereas the other epic poems are about battles between nations and the impact that has on individuals, this is really just about some guy who goes around killing monsters that people have managed to royally piss off.  It’s kind of like reading a videogame in which every level consists of one monstrous boss.

Maybe this whole difference in tone is due to the fact that this pagan history is being told by a Christian narrator, whereas the other epics are told by pagan narrators.  There’s definitely a vibe of “oh those silly old pagans” to Beowulf, which makes it rather hard to relate to the characters.

On the other hand, just as in the other classic, epic poems, the language is beautiful.  Since I listened to this as an audiobook, I got to really listen to it.  Hearing epic poetry read aloud is almost always better than reading it, as the oral tradition is where they came from.  Bloody scenes manage to come across as exquisite due purely to the language being used.

If you enjoy epic poetry, you’ll definitely enjoy Beowulf.  However, if you’re new to epic poems, I’d recommend you start with The Odyssey instead.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Librivox recording via Audiobooks app for the iTouch

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5 Questions About Books

January 21, 2010 15 comments

I stumbled on this fun meme over at Readers and Reference, and I really liked the questions it asks, so I bookmarked it for future use.  I tweaked it a little bit to be in question format and to be a bit clearer.  If you decide to do the meme yourself, please post a link in the comments here so we can all check it out and get to know you better too!

What’s a book you most want to read again for the first time?:
Hmmm, there’s a lot of books that have meant so much to me in my life, but I think I’d have to say The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.  I had seen the movie and absolutely hated it.  My nerdier friends at university told me over and over again to read the “trilogy,” and I would love it.  I refused to for years, but then one day I decided to take a whack at it.  I can’t remember why.  Anyway, I was cracking up reading it, which hadn’t happened to me in years at the time.  It really reminded me why I love to read.

What was one of your favorite childhood books?:
Absolutely no doubt On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  I loved the whole series growing up, but this was my favorite entry.  In it Laura lives next to a creek, and I lived next to three beaver ponds, so I felt a bit of camaraderie.  I also was completely obsessed with the sod house for some reason.  I wanted to live underground just like Laura in a house that plants grew out of and, best of all, that I could walk on.  I also enjoyed their problems with cows, since I was frequently sent out to chase cows back into their pastures.  Plus, Laura’s relationship with her father, Pa, I identified with as it reminded me of mine with my father.  Also, not gonna lie, I wished repeatedly that I had a mother like Ma.

What’s a book that you were assigned in school that you were expecting to be bad, but that turned out to be really good?:
I was a US History major in undergrad (my other major was English and American Literature).  We were required to take two courses that gave you an overview of all of US history.  I was dreading the Civil War portion, because I just don’t like that war.  Every historian has a time period within their specialty they don’t like.  Anywho, so this professor assigned us Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe to read, as it was one of the big stimuli for the Civil War.  She wanted us to see beyond the modern controversy and read it with historian’s eyes to see why it had such a big impact on the abolition movement.  I was expecting it to be fingernails-on-chalkboard bad, but, you guys, it is so good.  It really demonstrates how abolitionists saw African-Americans as equally human, just downtrodden as the victims of slavery.  It also shows the high expectations placed on Christian women at the time.  It’s a heart-wrenching book, and I encourage you to read it and judge it for what it is and not for the racist movies and plays that followed it.

What’s your “guilty pleasure” read?:
This is a tough question for me, because I don’t tend to feel guilty about anything that I read.  I’d have to say though that British chicklit books like Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella probably count.  The cheesey, romcom storylines annoy the heck out of me, but for some reason, I still read them periodically.  I guess it’s kind of like watching Teen Mom on MTV.  I can’t look away from the train wreck.

What’s a book you feel you should read, but haven’t yet?:
I’m not sure it quite counts as a book, but Beowulf.  I took this AMAZING class in undergrad on ancient mythology, and we mentioned it umpteen times, but didn’t have time to read it.  I absolutely love ancient myths, like The Odyssey is one of my favorite books of all time, so really there’s not much of an excuse for the fact that I have yet to read Beowulf.  Hm, except maybe that I’m not sure which translation is the best, and we all know how much translation matters in the ancient myths.

*waves* Hope you enjoyed the meme!