Recent Reads: Shakespeare, Vintage Horror, and Modernism

This past long weekend, having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I settled down in my big blue chair for a mini readathon. I’m dreadfully behind on the 100-book Goodreads goal, so my nefarious scheme is to read a bunch of short works to try to catch up.

The Wife (Kristin Lavransdatter #2) by Sigrid Undset

Now, this is one I actually finished a couple weeks ago, but I owe y’all an update. Without going into spoilers, I did like The Wife a great deal better than The Wreath (book 1). We get the whole fallout of Kristin’s “happily ever after” which, as it turns out, is happily ever disaster. (Ok, it’s not all bad, but it almost is.) I appreciated the realism. I didn’t love the sensationalism, which seems to be a trademark of the book (think the TV series Poldark or Downton Abbey). It’s a decent middle book, and I’m still curious how the trilogy ends, though not champing at the bit to read the last book yet.

Jakob von Gunten by Robert Walser

This is a novel, a Kafka precursor, I wanted very much to love but honestly didn’t. I’ll fully admit I wasn’t in the happiest frame of mind while reading it, so there maybe some personal bias seeping in. But I found Jakob to be a deeply unsettling, sinister story, much more than Kafka even. The writing is more accessible; there were some beautiful passages, too, even some that moved me to tears—I will probably do a follow-up post of favorite quotes. Overall, I wouldn’t recommend it personally, but it’s worth a try (your mileage may vary). I would probably still read more by Walser since I like this kind of writing for itself.

Sonnets by Shakespeare

I have a poor track record with Will… I’ve only read a handful of his plays and the only one I enjoyed was Hamlet. I actually bought this book mainly out of politeness (I hate going into a small bookshop and not buying anything to support the place). All that aside—I really got into the sonnets! Of course, we all know the very famous ones like “Love is not love” and “Shall I compare thee,” but I found some I’d never heard before that touched me deeply. There were two on time I liked very much and some on love and loss that were quite powerful. I think my favorite is 87.

Prufrock and Other Observations by T.S. ELIOT

I read this on good ol’ Wikisource. I’m glad I haven’t bought any Eliot yet because I was underwhelmed by this collection and even “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” failed to amaze. I enjoy his style and he has some good rhymes and imagery. I just found these poems to be rather forgettable, if I’m being honest. “Portrait of a Lady” was probably the best.

The Willows by Algernon Blackwood

Wikisource again. I specifically marked this one as “list for 2021,” so read it, I did. It was a bit overwrought in parts, but I found it sufficiently creepy, when read at night. I enjoyed the premise—two guys canoeing down the Danube, the “sensible” one and the “imaginative” one. Pretty soon they start seeing some weird stuff. It reminded me a lot of Malicroix by Henri Bosco (another review I failed to give you, I’m sorry). But like Malicroix, it tried to be a bit more than it could live up to. Still a fun read, though.

“The Call of Cthulhu” by H.P. Lovecraft

Wikisource again (again)! Amazingly, this was my first time reading Lovecraft. It won’t be my last, but I’ve been extremely spoiled by the horror stories of Arthur Conan Doyle and H.G. Wells. By comparison, “Cthulhu” seemed to be too much tell and not enough show. I liked that it was a compilation of notes of other people, but somehow Lovecraft’s version of this isn’t as interesting as Doyle’s or even Bram Stoker’s Dracula. He told me many times how Cosmic, Cyclopean, and Bad things were, but I wasn’t feeling it, even at the end. Still, I do love old sci-fi/horror, so I will read more of his stories to get my fix.

In fact—if you have any sci-fi/horror to recommend from this general time period (late Victorian to 1920s), do let me know!

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Kristin Lavransdatter – Current Thoughts, Current Events

I am nearly halfway through the Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy, currently reading Book 2, The Wife. This recounts the early years of Kristin’s marriage, including the fallout from Book 1. To say any more about the plot would be spoilers, so I’ll stop there.

So far, this book is proving to be far more satisfactory than the first one. I felt The Wreath (Book 1) was a bit too melodramatic, bordering on romance genre. The Wife brings the story down to earth, and we get to see the consequences of the characters’ earlier decisions. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s resolved all of my peeves about Book 1, it’s nonetheless a compelling, thought-provoking novel. I’ve found at least one new character I care about, which, if you know me, is critical for wanting to continue reading. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Kristin has also added dimension to my musings on traditional vs. modern life, changing social structures, and all the topics that have lately reentered cultural conversation.

Continue reading Kristin Lavransdatter – Current Thoughts, Current Events