A Lit Sandwich between Me, Charles Dickens, and Little Dorrit.

Hello All,
So I’m pushing back the normal reviews post a few days because I feel that there’s a subject that is timelier. And well it’s my blog and I’ll write what I want to.

On Sunday night after 5 weeks the latest PBS Masterpiece classic series Little Dorrit came to an end. I’ve got so much to say about my love for this series. I think that it has the important elements that make for great discussion. Adaptation maestro Andrew Davies has the remarkable ability to take the works of the 19th century and make them accessible to the modern audience. If you haven’t heard of the man here’s a quick list of his must-see adaptations: Pride and Prejudice (1994), Sense and Sensibility (2008), Tipping the Velvet, and Bridget Jones’s Diary.

He rarely slips up. This writer is not afraid of a challenge. In Little Dorrit he takes on an 800-page book from 1857 and makes it wonderfully relevant. At its core Little Dorrit is about economics; how they shape individuals and society. In Dickens’s world if you were poor and indebted it meant imprisonment in the Marshalsea prison. Marshalsea prison doesn’t have bars and your family can stay with you. However unless you had friends/family to bail you out you weren’t leaving.

I was struck by the portrayal of Mr. Dorrit. He is considered “The Father of the Marshalsea” because he is their longest running resident. Dickens, and in turn Davies, explore his heartbreaking psychological imprisonment. Mr. Dorrit’s pride is his deepest flaw. All he can think of is maintaining his position. This becomes more important to him than ever leaving. The same mentality follows him after he is able to leave the Marshalsea and return to society. Mr. Dorrit is insufferable as a gentleman. He falls into all the foolish trappings of 19th century society and is foolish with his money to boot.

Which brings me to Mr. Merdle and Mr. Casby, as well as the Circumlocution office. It is crazy how relevant this story is to our current situation. Mr. Merdle is clearly "the Bernie Madoff" of his age, screwing all the rich folk out of their money while inviting them to dinner. Again if someone is telling you a story that’s too good to be true, it probably is. At the same time Mr. Casby is squeezing the poor out of every nickel so they stay poor. With Pancks as his muscle he works to keep those in Bleeding Heart under his thumb. Clearly Dickens felt that the current economic system in the 19th century only served to hurt the laborer/tradesman. This form of capitalism only served to create another feudal system with Casby as the lord at the top. Dickens caps off his indictment with his portrayal of the bureaucratic horror that is the Circumlocution Office, which actually reminded me of financial aid.

It is very telling that in the end it is a combination of two things that save our main characters. The first is an emphasis on entrepeneurship over old money. Clennam & Doyce are saved because they invent and market a new engine to foreign markets. Clearly this is meant to show that in the new Industrial Age it is invention and new ideas that will triumph. Also it can’t be missed that Dickens has an affinity for those with street smarts. Fanny Dorrit is a mean bitch but she knows when to bail. She will save the Sparklers and she’s already got a job dancing if needs be. You have to admire her moxie.

Now notice that I haven’t even mentioned the main central characters Amy Dorrit and Arthur Clennam. That just goes to show how rich this series is. Yes I found Amy and Arthur wonderful, as well as poor John Chivery. Their strong character and steadfast goodness makes them slightly less dynamic. In this case it is up to the actors and screenwriter Davies to make them appealing. Actors Claire Foy and Matthew Macfadyen do excellent jobs as Amy and Arthur respectively. I found myself cheering their happiness at the climax of the story. Their willingness towards self-sacrifice is an iconic trademark of Dickens’s heroes. And Claire Foy sure looks good in the color purple.

So here we are. How much more do I need to say to convince you? This is well worth your time. PBS has posted the entire series on their website for free through May 3rd and the DVD comes out today. Check it out here.

Well have a good night. Book Slave.


O Will!

Yes today is William Shakespeare's B-Day. My first experience with Shakespeare was actually completely by conduit. Of course I had heard of the Bard before then-I lived in a very literate household. My dad had a Complete Works that was large, old, and wonderfully illustrated. Luckily I still have it. It's the best gift he ever left me. But I didn't feel old enough to crack it open until the summer of 1989. At 10 year's old I got my mom to take me to see Dead Poet's Society. One of the key sections of that movie involves scenes and speeches from A Midsummer Night's Dream. One of the main characters Neil Perry plays the character of Puck in a stage production. We really only see him in one scene from the play which is Puck's farewell speech. This quickly became one of my favorite pieces of Shakespeare.

So after seeing the movie I decided that I would find out what this play A Midsummer Night's Dream was all about. Thus began my first experience with this silly, delightful fun comedy. I think it's still my favorite of these, although I also love Much Ado About Nothing. I guess we'll consider it a tie. Consequently when I was in high school I was a huge drama geek. I actually played supporting parts in both plays, always bringing on the funny. The next summer in 1990, a production of Midsummer was going on up at Sundance in an outside amphitheater. My parents took me to it for my birthday that very summer. It was my first Shakespeare play in it's entirety and I remember enjoying it immensely. I've seen a couple of versions of it since then, even played in one, but nothing matches that first time. I didn't know that the jokes were coming. When Bottom and his players perform in Act 5 it was entirely new and hilarious.

That same summer my mother and I went and saw a movie version of Hamlet. This was the Mel Gibson version and with hindsight it's not very good in my opinion. The best I've ever seen is Kenneth Branagh's epic 4 hour film which I love entirely. At the time though it was my first experience with Shakespearean tragedy. At the age of 11 I didn't get it. All I could understand was that in the end everyone dies so what's the point. I figured that I was missing something, so I picked up an ancient copy of Shakespeare's 4 Tragedies. This contained Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar and Richard the Third. I remember trying to read Hamlet and Julius Caesar, but not being able to finish it. Of course later in high school I grew enjoy both these plays but at age 11 it was still over my head. Perhaps I get an A for Effort.

This brings me to my favorite history play. I've always had a rough time with the histories. Sometimes they read like dramatic reenactments that are more aimed at appeasing those who were in power. Rather than show history as full of human beings Shakespeare uses many paint-by-number archetypes. I'll cut Will some slack, it's hard to make Henry VI interesting. So I was filled with trepidation when I learned that we would be seeing Henry IV Part One at the Shakespeare Festival in 1995. I went with a school group and there wasn't much choice because of the schedule. So we went and shockingly this became my favorite Shakespeare play. Henry IV P1 is a great heroes journey tale. In the play we see party boy Prince Hal become the soldier king Henry V. Along the way he has to shed/reject his old friends which include the wonderful John Falstaff. There's comedy, fighting, and internal struggling all in one play. If you haven't read/seen it you really should.

(BTW if you've seen Branagh's film version of Henry V he lifts scene's from Henry IV P1 for the flashback scenes. Also parts of the movie My Own Private Idaho are loosely based on the first half of Henry IV P1. Again note that I said "loosely.")

Anyway Happy B-Day Will Shakespeare! You are the gift that keeps on giving, Book Slave.


Here comes the sun

Hello all,
It is amazing here in the City of the Salt. The shorts are out, the sandals are being worn, and life is good. I hope you all are doing as well.

I wanted to point some attention this week to a website I think is spiffy. A co-worker/friend pointed me towards this site. Admittedly I was skeptical at first but after checking out The A.V. Club, spinoff from The Onion, I was impressed. Sure there's a fair amount of edginess and unswerving mockery, but I also think there are some great series. Under the book tab you can find series such as Comics Panel, Better Late Than Never and the Box of Paperbacks Book Club. I found in these series some fun offbeat reads and reviews. Check it out.

I'd also like to point out that if you look at the sidebar I've added a list of nifty authors/artists blogs. Perhaps check some of those out if you have the chance. Okay Onward!

Invincible Vol. 2
This volume picks up with the aftermath of Invincible's confrontation with his father Omni-Man. Mark has to grow up fast as he deals with his mom and heads off to college. Kirkman does an excellent job of balancing the super-heroes stuff with relationship drama. I found myself still invested in Mark's relationship with his mom and girlfriend Amber, even though it was very Silver-Agey. Like the Flash, Mark has to wrestle with whether he should tell her he's a superhero or not. It also reminded me of Spider-Man. Kirkman pulls from these classic archetypes in a fun way. Unfortunately I missed the urgency of Vol. 1, and the way that Kirkman defied expectations. Sometimes it was pretty predictable. Also I got pretty tired of all the expositional dialogue. I'd have preferred more showing, less telling.

Previous Volume Review: Invincible Vol. 1
Comic Series Info: Invincible

The Reading List
Dangerous Laughter
The Game of Their Lives

Vanity Fair

Captain America #49

Check Out Count: Gonna get better.

Comic Pull List: Daredevil #118, Detective Comics #853, Dynamo 5 #21, New Avengers #52, Outsiders #17, Trinity #47

Have a great week! Book Slave.


Just let the sun come down on me.

Today the rain is endlessly gloomy. It won't stop. What a bummer. I've found myself all week distracted. Flitting from book pile to book pile unable to settle on anything. It must be the promise of spring, if it will ever consistently come.

Previously I've mentioned that PBS is currently showing an excellent BBC adaptation of Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens. Breathlessly I've been watching this miniseries and I highly recommend it. It's so topical in these economical times. If you've had to miss an episode or two they are available to view here for free. Also I've enjoyed the guest blog reviews over at Egalitarian Bookworm and comment over there after each episode. Check those out here.

JSA: The Golden Age
It is generally agreed that the Golden age of comics began in 1938 w/the appearance of Superman #1. After that comics became mostly about superheroes until comics were shut down by the Hays Office in the mid-fifties. It was The Flash that ushered in The Bronze Age in 1956. In his 4 issue mini-series JSA: The Golden Age writer James Robinson brings back the Justice Society of America for a post-World War II reunion. I picked this up because I've loved Robinson's work on Starman and I heard this was a good intro to JSA. Boy is it. I really enjoyed this series. Although it is outside of continuity it brings in so many wonderful aspects of pre-realism comics. Robinson gives us great simple introductions to each character quickly using cool page layouts by artist Paul Smith. Although there is a lot of action, Robinson focuses on giving the characters "real" psychological human issues. My particular favorites were original Starman Ted Knight, who has a mental breakdown, and Liberty Bell, a woman who feels trapped in a bad relationship. The problem I had with this series is that I don't think that it was long enough. There is a lot of wrap up in issue 4 which I think could have been been decompressed. Perhaps may 6-8 issues would've meant less exposition writing and more Ted Knight.

Comic Info: Justice Society of America, Golden Age comics

The Reading List
Game of Their Lives
I Led Three Lives

Four Four Two

Trinity #44

Check Out Count: Not as good as it could be.

Comic Pull List: Action Comics #876, Fables #83, Green Arrow Black Canary #19, Incognito #3, Oracle #2, Stand American Nightmares #2, Trinity #46

Have a great week! Book Slave.


Penelope and Me

Hello world o'the webs,
I hope you all had a great weekend. Here the schizophrenic weather continues. One day it's snowing, the next day it's in the 60's. Makes me want to go outside and walk, but then I feel the need to take a jacket. Because you never know man. This week my library started it's staff book sale. It's an awesome perk to be able to pick over the books before the public. This year because of my financial sit (and well to be honest do I really need more books? No. ) I had to show a lot of restraint. It was hard but I managed it. Due to the new job some money's gonna be flowing again so we'll see how long that restraint lasts. Anyway Onward!

The Penelopiad
I’ve been meaning to read this book for some time. In fact long time readers might remember seeing this book on The Reading List way back at the beginning of this blog. The Odyssey is one of my favorite stories of all time. I love the epic-ness of the story. Odysseus is lost for 10 years, meanwhile his faithful wife Penelope fends off horrible suitors. This book is a part of The Myths series which re-imagines classic tales. I’ve already read The Weight written by Jeanette Winterson and I liked it. So picking up this book I had a lot of expectations. For 3/4s of the book I was satisfied.

Atwood strongly conveys the story from Penelope’s viewpoint with a fair share of modernism thrown in. Atwood uses the situation to comment on how women treat one another. I really enjoyed the antagonistic relationship between Penelope and the woman around her, especially her sister Helen. This emphasizes Penelope’s isolation as a smart, morally grounded, and faithful woman, in a patriarchic society. Atwood clearly wants to challenge the paradigms at work in this story. She portrays Penelope as a victim of the world that she lives in.

It is because of the strong portrayal of Penelope that I was annoyed whenever the story strayed away. Atwood attempts to use Penelope’s 12 maids, who are killed by Odysseus for sleeping with the suitors, as a counter chorus. I know that she is trying to use the classical style, but I didn’t feel it was necessary. Especially in the final chapters where the story shifts focus as Penelope feels guilt for their deaths. Atwood is mighty accusatory here, but really I don’t see the point. It is pretty clear that there is nothing that Penelope could have done to save them. In this patriarchal society Penelope is as powerless as the maids, and it was Odysseus who did the killing. So I enjoyed most of the story but I wish Atwood would have just stuck with Penelope.

Other Reviews
The Complete Review | NPR | About.com

The Reading List
Starman Omnibus Vol. 2
12 Caesars

Echo #9

Four Four Two

Check Out Count: *turn and run away in shame*

Comic Pull List: Captain Britain And Mi 13 #12, Green Lantern #39, Northlanders #16, Secret Six #8, Superman World Of New Krypton #2, Terry Moores Echo #11, Trinity #45

Have a great week! Book Slave.


My Poetry Odyssey

Hey folks,
I have made no secret of the fact that I am a big poetry fan. Strangely enough I have an easier time understanding verse than prose. Well April is National Poetry Month which makes me want to crack open some poesy. I have my favorites, it's tough to choose just one. Collections are invaluable for such moments of indecision. I own Immortal Poems by Oscar Williams. It's got all the classic works that I'd want.

Speaking of classics lately my mind has drifted back to the Odyssey, which is one of my favorite epic tales. I read The Odyssey first in verse, rather than the usual prose versions. Reading it that way I think brought out the classic qualities of the story for me. Like I was hearing the story being told aloud, which reflected the oral tradition which Homer's works represent. Anyway here is my favorite passage in verse. This is a translation from Ian Johnston. Enjoy!

"Not till that time did she start harbouring
within her heart the disastrous folly
which made sorrow come to us as well.
But now you've mentioned that clear symbol,
our bed, which no one else has ever seen,
other than the two of us, you and me,
and a single servant woman, Actoris,
whom my father gave me when I came here.
For both of us she kept watch at the doors
of our strong bedroom. You've now won my heart,

Penelope spoke,
and stirred in him an even more intense desire
to weep. As he held his loyal and loving wife,
he cried."

Have a great weekend! Book Slave.