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Books in Brief: The Oresteian Trilogy

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The Oresteian Trilogy is the foundation of tragedy. You need to read it just like you need to read The Odyssey. This was my first time through even though I was familiar with the tropes and scenes through references from other works. The plays are a lot of things, but at its root it’s a metaphor for the ascension of society’s motivation for good from fear of reprisal as embodied in the Furies, to duty (and fear of its retribution) as embodied by Apollo, to a kind of holy rationality, as embodied by Athene and her counsel. It is ultimately a Whiggish work, convinced society moves ever forward in progress towards harmony.

The one thing that shook me as a modern reader coming to the book in 2017, and a reader who knows the connotations of “maleness” and masculinity in ancient Greek and Roman writing, was that in the climactic scene of The Eumenides, Athene says she sides with Orestes, saying that killing a man as his mother killed his father is a worse crime than killing a woman, as Orestes killed his mother, because of “male supremacy in all things”. It’s kind of a shit explanation, especially coming from a woman written by a man.

Anyway, read the book. It’s embedded in many works of tragedy and worth knowing how the building was built these 2400 years later.

Books in Brief: The Peregrine

Read The Peregrine. This book is unique; I have never read anything like it before.

The way Baker uses english is beyond poetic. At first it seems like a put-on: is this book really a journal, without plot or direction, and full of this absurd writing? Slowly my requirement for structure fades in his descriptions of the English countryside, until I am with him under every tree, gazing through the same binoculars, sharing the same hill. His words are the beauty of wildflowers, swaying and shining in the sun, resilient in the gray green rain of spring, and violent as thistle thorns dashed by gale winds.

My god, this book is good. Read it slowly, savor every sentence. Let the book take its time with you. Read it in quiet moments, first in the morning and right before sleep.

Hat tip to But She’s a Girl for the recommendation.

Books in Brief: I Love This Part

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Like most poems, describing this doesn’t exactly work. Just get it. It’s beautiful and captures very well something very important. This interview is a good place to go after you read the book. Read the book first.

Tillie Walden’s other graphic novel, The End of Summer, is on its way to me now. She has another coming out in May.

When I first heard about this book on tumblr it was out of stock on Amazon. Looking back the other day I saw it was in stock, so I ordered. The author herself shipped it to me!

Books in Brief: If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home

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Lucy Worsley wrote If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home after doing a television program on the history of what it was like to live in the past in Britain. She’s the chief curator at Historic Royal Palaces, the caretaker of many castles and relics of noblesse gone by. She covers the history of bedroom, the bathroom, the living room, and the kitchen, starting from the 11th century and ending in the now.

This book is not A Distant Mirror, but it doesn’t try to be. It covers much more, and falls in the genre of rapid fire facts framed in a fun and engaging way. It’s written in a conversational tone and is fun and engaging without being heavy. At the same time I found myself wishing for just a little more detail in many places, and some bibliographic information.

I read it before going to bed every night for the last month or so, and it really made me appreciate the modern conveniences both in our terrible old rented 1950s house and those that have spread through society, like running water. One cold night the water main on our street broke and we were without running water for a day, and our electric baseboard heating and horrible postwar newspaper insulation couldn’t keep up with the -11°F temperature outside. (When tussling with the cold, upstate New York really doesn’t have its shit together compared to Wisconsin.) Reading Worsley’s book gave me a sense of communion with the people of the past as we tried to sleep in our 59°F house, some semblance of empathetic comfort while I read under a down duvet, something that didn’t even exist in the english-speaking world until the 1970s.

© 2020 Jordan T. Thevenow-Harrison, all rights reserved.