Sunday Post #12: Bossypants

Sunday PostAfter saying last week that I usually review books in their own posts, here I go reviewing a book in this post, just like I did last week. It just so happens that I only finished one book this week, anyway, and I finished it today.

First, an update on my reading challenges. I’m still keeping up with my Literary Movement Challenge. Next up in April will be the biggest test of this challenge so far because I’ve decided I want to read The Annotated Wuthering Heights for April (Romanticism). Up until now, the works I’ve read have been shorter and not quite as dense as this book, but ever since I ordered in it December, I have been looking forward to cracking it open. Can’t wait! It’s been a while since I’ve read Wuthering Heights, and and can’t wait to see what the annotated edition offers.

I am doing fairly well with the other challenges, and thought it’s still early days, I feel that I might be able to complete them all this year. I may actually be able to increase my participation level in the Historical Fiction Challenge. I am trying to decide what book to listen to next, now that I’ve finished Bossypants. I’m not sure I’m ready to go back to the Diana Gabaldon books yet. I might read Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness. I enjoyed listening to the first book in this trilogy. I keep thinking I might enjoy the other two, and I already have them in my Audible account, but I just haven’t listened to them.

I’m not really close to finishing anything else, unless I really read a lot this coming week. I have lots of books in the TBR pile, and I’m looking forward to getting into them. On the other hand, I’m looking forward to a busy week, so we shall see.

I think perhaps the best way to read Bossypants is to listen to Tina Fey’s Grammy-nominated audio version. Hearing her delivery added some spark to the book, and I’m not sure I’d have liked it as much if I had just read it. The book has some genuinely funny moments. I loved her descriptions of starting school, her high school days participating in theater, and her early improv days. Hearing her discussion of what it was like to work on SNL, to create her Sarah Palin character, and to create the show 30 Rock were all very interesting to me as well. One thread that runs through the book is that Tina Fey came up in comedy dominated by men, and her experiences of sexism in the industry were particularly though-provoking if not surprising. One thing I didn’t like is that the book didn’t seem to have a narrative arc. It was more a string of different life experiences, and I didn’t see them woven together as clearly as I might have liked. However, Fey’s delivery made me not care so much—I felt like I was having a conversation with a smart friend.

Rating: ★★★★☆
Audio Rating: ★★★★★

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme.

Review: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams, narrated by Stephen Fry

I may in fact be the last person on Earth to read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I will, therefore, dispense with any summary. The Internet makes a lot more sense to me now that I’ve read this book.

Stephen Fry’s narration was excellent. He gave the perfect irritating note (in an American accent) to the ship’s computer. He made Zaphod Beeblebrox sound a little bit like Austin Powers, but not so much that you decide he’s not cool.

If I had to pick favorite parts, they would be as follows (in no particular order):

  • The dolphins, unable to communicate Earth’s impending doom to less intelligent humans, leave and say “So long, and thanks for all the fish.”
  • The bowl of petunias thinks, “Oh no, not again.” After which many people speculated that if we knew exactly why the bowl of petunias thought this, we would know a lot more of the nature of the Universe than we do now.
  • The poor sperm whale created by one of the missiles.
  • The Infinite Improbability Drive as a whole concept.
  • Shooty and Bang Bang, the Galatic Police.
  • Devious super-genius mice who seem to be running everything.
  • Oolon Colluphid’s books.
  • Vogon poetry.
  • The Babel Fish. We should get those things for real.
  • The Earth as a giant computer designed to figure out the the Question.

I first tried to read this book when I was in sixth grade, and perhaps some sixth graders could have read it and appreciated it quite a lot, but I didn’t get it, so I put it down without finishing it. Then years passed, and for one reason and another, I never managed to pick it up again until now. It’s hard to believe it was written in 1979, as much of seems prescient while other parts of it are timeless. It’s quite funny, and I could definitely see its influence on other writers I enjoy, such as Neil Gaiman. I see its influence on Doctor Who as well. And yes, I realize Douglas Adams wrote for that series.

So, one more book I should have read a long time ago crossed off the list, and wouldn’t it have been perfect if I had read it last year, when I was 42? My daughter Maggie told me on my birthday that year that I was “the answer to life, the Universe, and everything.”

Rating: ★★★★★
Audio Rating: ★★★★★

Medieval Lives

Terry Jones’ Medieval LivesTerry Jones is perhaps best known as one of the members of the British comedy troupe Monty Python. Anyone who has followed his career since his Python days knows that he has become a respected medievalist, something my Medieval Literature professor told us one day in discussing Chaucer’s Knight. Jones’s Medieval Lives may be seen as a companion to the series of the same name.

The book is broken down into eight chapters the explore the lives of people of different classes and occupations, sweeping away the glorification given to some (knights) and undue pity given to others (peasant). It’s a refreshing exploration of what medieval life was really like with the most intense focus on medieval life in England, which is clearly Jones’s background. The eight groups Jones explores in this book are peasants, minstrels, outlaws, monks, philosophers, knights, damsels, and kings. My favorite chapter on kings discusses incorrect perceptions and propaganda surrounding medieval English kings and is brilliantly constructed around analysis of the three Richards:

Kings of England can be divided into three types: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly. That, you can take it from us, is a reliable fact… Take all the kings of England called Richard: there’s Good King Richard I—Richard the Lionheart, the idealistic crusader and champion of England—or was he? Bad King Richard II— the vain, megalomaniac tyrant—or has his name been traduced by those who wished him ill? And Ugly King Richard III—the deformed monster of Shakespeare’s imagination—or is he nothing more than that: the product of our greatest playwright’s imagination? (“King,” location 3040)

Jones’s explanation of why Good King Richard the Lionheart was a terrible English king, why Richard II was a fairly good king, and Richard III not at all Shakespeare’s villainous tyrant made for interesting reading, though as an anglophile with a bizarre fascination for the British monarchy, much of it was not new to me.

I also enjoyed Jones’s deconstruction of the knight in the Middle Ages, particularly my favorite William Marshal. I liked Jones’s description of the value of knighthood, perfectly encapsulated by the English defeat of the French at Agincourt: “The flower of French chivalry was cut down by archers on sixpence a day” (“Knight,” location 2523). So much for the French assumption that the English would face them on horseback like proper knights!

Jones’s chapter on damsels gives the lie to the old saw that medieval women were powerless and in constant need of rescue. I was particularly interested in Jones’s discussion of the evolution of the Lady of Shalott:

In the original story the lady was not weak and helpless at all, and she was not under any curse. Nor was she passive and pathetic. She was a wilful, stubborn woman who boldly declared her passionate love for Lancelot. Her tragedy was that it was not returned. (“Damsel,” location 2755).

Later, Tennyson would describe her plight differently:

The story of the Lady of Shalott created an extraordinarily resonant echo in the Victorian and Edwardian imagination; Pre-Raphaelite artists, looking for images that expressed what they saw as a truly medieval perspective, returned to it time and time again… It is an image of womanhood as essentially confined and restricted; full participation in the world is forbidden and fatal. This is sentimentally regretted, but tragically unalterable. (“Damsel,” location 2748-2753).

The entire book is worthy of quotes, and I highlighted and annotated it more heavily than any other book I’ve read on my Kindle. Suffice it to say it’s as entertaining and funny as one would expect from a member of Monty Python and informative and educational enough that you’ll learn quite a lot of history as you read. I highly recommend it. As Jones says in my favorite quote in the book, “History consists of the tales we like to tell each other about our predecessors” (“King,” location 3046). If you’ve ever wondered what “tales” you’ve been told about medieval people, pick up this book.

Rating: ★★★★★