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A Tribute Befitting the Prince of Scribes

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Pat Conroy inspired me. Mostly as a teacher. I wrote recently of my visit to Daufuskie Island, located off Hilton Head, and the very classroom in which Pat taught students written off by other educators. I, like many other visiting teachers, was moved to tears there.

Now, I am an author. Inspiration for my fiction comes more from Mark Twain and Harper Lee, but no one can deny the poetic beauty of Pat Conroy’s prose. It’s exquisite.

On my recent trip to Beaufort, South Carolina, there was no question of touring the Pat Conroy Literary Center. Conroy wrote of deep, painful issues in stories that dared you to turn away. The Lords of Discipline, The Great Santini, South of Broad, The Prince of Tides. Classics.

Some years ago, as part of a large South Carolina Book Festival audience, I heard Pat Conroy speak. Like those surrounding me, I hung on every word. He was as funny as he was compelling. I knew of Pat Conroy’s greatness.

At the center, I learned he wrote his books longhand with examples under glass to examine. Not nearly as many edits as mine. Sigh. His gorgeous desk is on display with the slant board on which he wrote.

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Pat Conroy’s desk at the Literary Center

I told the docent we’d gone to the National Cemetery to find Conroy’s grave but were unsuccessful. She said the author had requested to be buried in an out-of-the-way Gullah cemetery where he is the only white man. As a free thinker who didn’t hesitate to buck traditions, this one last request brought a smile to my face.

I, too, find the Gullah culture fascinating. To anyone vacationing along the Carolina coast, I wholly recommend Gullah-related tours and activities. I’ve participated in several.

In my next book, likely titled Patience Can Cook a Stone, I have a slave healer, Mama Juba, who practices hoodoo. In the story, Mama Juba explains to young Mary Edith about their traditional funerary practices.

Mary Edith shifted on her seat. “Why you got that old pipe piece?”

“For the burial. After the white people done preaching and praying, and the box been lowered in the hole, they’ll each throw on a bit of dirt. Then, off they go on back to the Big House. That’s when the real send-off starts. But you don’t need to worry none about that. You’ll head home like the white folk.”

“How come, Mama Juba? Is it bad?”

“Bad? Lawd, no. It’s fine, real fine. Just too raucous for white people.”

“Tell me,” Mary Edith begged.

“Well, once the family’s gone, Amos and Hercules’ll get their drums. Ida and Lydia will shake the rattles, them ones they made from gourds. All this while Thunder shovels the dirt atop Mr. Tom.”

Mary Edith shivered to think of the dirt smothering their old master. Tears threatened to fill her eyes.

“Once that done, each one gonna put something on his grave, something he might need. A bit of food, small jug of wine. He love that wine, don’t he?” She grew quiet for a minute or two. “This here pipe stem, that’s what I’ll put on the mound. He enjoyed a good pipeful, too. Um hm, I believe he’ll like that.”

“I don’t have nothing, Mama Juba. What should I put on his grave?”

“I can’t answer that for ya, chile. You gotta figure that for y’self.”

 

I was interested to see how these customs fit into Pat Conroy’s final resting place and was not disappointed. Well off the beaten path, we found the St. Helena Memorial Garden. It took less than a second to spot the grave.

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His epitaph is the opening line of ‘The Prince of Tides’.

Countless visitors before us had covered his plot with a variety of tributes befitting him and the Gullah customs. Pens, pencils, shells, rocks, signs, buttons, coins are just a few of the items that smothered the grave. I can’t help but think it was as Pat Conroy had wished.

I have pens printed with ‘M. B. Gibson Books’. Why hadn’t I thought to bring one? Instead, my husband laid a dime on top of the marker. Later, I researched what coins signified.

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My dime is in the mix 

The tradition started as a message of respect to families of deceased soldiers. Each denomination has its own meaning. A dime indicates you served with the deceased in some capacity.

I suppose it’s a stretch, but that kinda fits for me. Like Pat Conway, I served as an educator in the fight to give knowledge and dignity to all students, especially the forgotten ones. As a writer, Pat Conroy served his readers by personalizing life in a dysfunctional family. I hope to bring light to the struggle for dignity within poverty.

I fall painfully short of Pat Conroy’s abilities in both areas.

Yet, he’s been the star I reach for.

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More Than a Difference, Making a Legacy

The general store on Daufuskie & the guy who rents the golf carts

It’s my birthday (thank you!) and my husband, Wendy, has done it again. I asked for an overnight getaway which he made extra-special by knowing me so well.

As he always does, Wendy kept the plan a surprise until the last minute. After driving around a while, it became clear we were heading to a coastal town in South Carolina. Which turned out to be Beaufort. I love it there! It looked like we’d be kayaking. Wrong! We were booked on a fifty-minute ferry ride to Daufuskie Island where I’ve been wanting to visit for years.

Me in front of Pat Conroy’s classroom at Mary Fields Elementary School

As in Conroy’s day, the tiny island is approachable by boat only. Once there, we drove a rented golf cart from one place of interest to the next through the lush, lowcountry landscape of abundant Spanish moss and spectacular live oak trees. So. Much. Fun!

This is Pat’s classroom.

It was there Pat Conroy, as a young man, taught poor island children others wrote off as unteachable. He wrote about it in The Water is Wide, which became the movie, Conrack. I was transformed. I wanted to be just like him. Click HERE for my March 5, 2016 post, “Farewell, Pat Conroy.”

But the highlight, the place that brought tears to my eyes, was Mary Fields Elementary School and the classroom in which Pat Conroy taught. The school held two classrooms, one of which is now an indigo art studio, and a lunchroom, now a café. Pat’s room still holds tables and chairs where it appears workshops and other instructional activities still occur.

I’m happily retired from teaching now, but the nobility of helping children shunned by others still swells my heart. Pat Conroy was ahead of his time. A woman at the school told us that many teachers travel there from all over, like me, moved to tears by Conroy’s work on this speck of an island off the Carolina coast.

Best-selling books aside, it is a magnificent legacy.

A photo of Pat Conroy teaching at Daufuskie.

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3 Reasons Why Using a Family Tree Can Help a Kid in School

adam bingaman graveAs a former teacher and amateur genealogist, I welcome this guest post from Suzie Kolber, who has developed an online resource featuring free tools for DIY family history projects. Her article is a must-read for classroom or home-school teachers or others who’d like to introduce children to the fascinating discovery of where they come from.

 

Family trees are fun for anyone who wants to learn about their family heritage. However, kids can benefit from them as well even if they aren’t interested in family history yet. Depending on the child’s age and the purpose of the family tree, it can benefit them in four different ways in school.

  1. It Makes History Come to Life

If they are learning about World War I or the Vietnam War in school, it will be much easier to learn the facts if they can associate it with a real person. A great-grandparent or uncle may have served in one of those wars, which will make the information they learn in school a lot more real.

Find out what era they are studying, and make an effort to find out how your family is connected. The further back you have to go, the more difficult but it is possible to find family members from a century ago. Even if all you have is vague information such as your family originated in Ireland, it will make that country more memorable in world history.

  1. It Teaches Kids How to Research

Research is one task your kids will have throughout their school years. Many times, it will be on subjects they consider boring and irrelevant. Make research more interesting by having them help you find out about your ancestors. Teach them how to use the internet and other resources such as the microfiche film at the public library. Show them how to find information from the country records.

As they use these unique resources, it will make research more interesting. Instead of being a required project, it will be more like solving a mystery. As you add names to your family tree, they will feel a sense of pride in accomplishing a complicated task.

  1. It Teaches Kids How to Organize Information

It can be overwhelming to do a research project and then try to put it all together in a way that makes sense. It may be even more challenging if your child is a visual learner. A family tree is a great way to teach a child how to organize information in a way that makes sense and allows the facts to be relevant.

As your child fills in names and other information on the various people in your ancestry, they will learn how to develop associations. They will also understand how to format information so that it makes sense. Since there are so many different kinds of family trees, they can put as much or as little information as they want. With some, it may simply be a name on a tree. For others, they may include birth and death dates, marriage dates and a lot more.

A family tree project can provide an exciting way to help your child learn in school. It teaches them skills they will use throughout their lives, and it does it in a fun way.

Suzie_Kolber_ObitSuzie Kolber created http://obituarieshelp.org/free_printable_blank_family_tree.html to be the complete online resource for “do it yourself” genealogy projects.  The site offers the largest offering of family tree charts online. The site is a not for profit website dedicated to offering free resources for those that are trying to trace their family history.

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Why Historical Fiction?

WhyWhile I’ve been writing for over twenty years, they’ve not been strong, steady decades of pounding the keyboard. Much of it I spent struggling with why I felt compelled to write. Was it a worthwhile way to spend my time? There were entire years I put down my pencil and quit.

“The Crucial Role of Historical Fiction in Times of Political Turmoil” by Jillian Cantor answers that question for me. Click here to read it.

So, why historical fiction?

I like the idea that human nature is a constant. While we have become more enlightened over the millennia (of which students of history are aware), we feel joy, sorrow, jealousy, bitterness, pride, and love much as people always have.

When imagining life in another era, we have the advantage of knowing the outcomes of turbulent times. But what would a person living through it think and feel without this knowledge? Actual participants hadn’t our luxury of hindsight.

My current book is set in Revolutionary-era South Carolina. The colonies were in chaos. Your neighbor often became your greatest enemy, destroying property or even slaughtering your family. We know the Founding Fathers as extraordinarily wise architects of a world-shattering system of government. At the time, only blind faith compelled them to challenge the greatest military of their day. Yet, had the war gone as most should’ve expected, these men would be a minor footnote in history, barely-remembered traitors dangling from the gallows.

Following an argument over Japanese internment camps, I can remember my father screaming at me, “You don’t know what it was like then!” He was right. I was not there. I cannot understand the fear people suffered during World War II. My indignation over the camps had the indulgence of knowing the U.S. would win in the end.

But, as a lover of history and the fictional expression of it, I can step into the skin of those IMG_2525 (3)who lived and breathed these struggles. In doing so, I gain perspective of life then, as well as life now.

Like Jillian Cantor, I feel we are in the midst of historic times. Some lament that these are the worst of times. Yet, people no smarter nor more ethical nor more courageous than we are right now made it through.

I know that because I’ve read about them.

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Meet the Author: Sasscer Hill

flamingo road (2)Sasscer Hill is an inspired mystery writer whose books are set on and around racetracks. Her recent release is Flamingo Road, published by Minotaur Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press. She has graciously agreed to answer a few of my questions.

You were born in Washington, D.C. What were your favorite books growing up?

Growing up, my favorite author was Walter Farley and my favorite books where the Black Stallion, the Son of The Black Stallion, and the Island Stallion stories. There was a horse book called Cammie’s Choice that I loved, and of course, I read all the Nancy Drew mysteries.

You are a prolific writer of horse-racing mysteries. What prompted you to write in that genre?

As a child I loved horses, action, and adventure, and as I mentioned, I was addicted to Walter Farley’s books. In the fifth grade our teacher asked my class to write a story. Some wrote about waking up, brushing their teeth, and eating cereal. I wrote a scene with a boy and an old man trailering a horse to the races, from the viewpoint of the boy. Something was wrong, I don’t remember what, but the boy was worried. The correlation between my boy and Farley’s “Alex Ramsey” is obvious but here’s how this moment changed my life. First, I was surprised when the teacher asked me to read my fragment to the class. I was even more surprised that several kids seemed genuinely interested, and asked, “What happens next?”Sasscer Hill (3)

There is no greater compliment a writer can get than to have that question asked, and I knew I had something.  I realized maybe I had the talent needed to be an author. Unfortunately, I spent decades working in marketing and promotions for several Washington, DC associations, and two different academic book publishers. My first book, FULL MORTALITY, wasn’t published until I was in my fifties.

When I wrote FULL MORTALITY, I followed the old adage, “write what you know,” and since I lived on a farm outside DC, and raised Thoroughbred racehorses for thirty-two years, I knew a lot about horse racing. Not only that, it was my passion and that passion, I believe, found its way into my books.

Describe Nikki Latrelle, the protagonist of your first series. Is the character autobiographical in any way?

She is somewhat autobiographical because her life themes echo my own: chase the dream, fight the odds, help the helpless, and to always remember, you get what you give.

Nikki struggles to chase her dreams. What bigger dreamer is there than a jockey who risks her life to ride in a race? Like many of us, she was born fighting the odds, the odds that say we won’t get what we want.

Nikki also has a need to help the helpless. Maybe she’s searching for that sense of self-worth, or that sense we all get when we help someone, that we are, after all, a good person, that we matter to someone.

For that series, you’ve written short stories, a novella, and three novels. Which form do you enjoy writing the most?

The short stories I’ve written were usually for a Sisters in Crime anthology, or for a competition. I don’t find them satisfying as they are too much like a fragment of a novel. Writing a full novel is the hardest and the most satisfying. I would say the novella took second place in that race.

Now, on to your exciting new release–the first Fia McKee Mystery, Flamingo Road. Tell us about Fia.

Fia is a female agent working for the Thoroughbred Racing Protection Bureau (TRPB), an actual US agency. The TRPB’s mission, which of course becomes Fia’s mission, is to protect the integrity of horse racing against those that ruin the sport’s credibility by cheating, scamming, drugging horses, or threatening jockeys. Sadly, there is an endless list of bad acts and bad actors that can ruin the image of the sport of kings.

Fia’s father was murdered at Pimlico Racetrack and the case was never solved. Fia, angry and resentful, becomes a Baltimore City cop. Hot headed, she’s suspended when she guns down a perp. She winds up working for the TRPB who sends her to Gulfstream Park race track near Miami to investigate why low-level horses are suddenly winning at long odds. When a horse belonging to Fia’s fifteen-year-old niece is butchered for Miami’s Cuban-American black-market in horsemeat, Fia is pulled onto a doubly dangerous investigation that threatens her life and the lives of those she loves.

Fia McKee has two potential love interests in Flamingo Road. What writing challenges did that present?

No challenge at all. Most of us have experienced being drawn to more than one man or woman, and that conflict is fun to write about and adds an extra dimension to the story. It sure worked for Stephanie Plum in Janet Evanovich’s bestselling books! But I was surprised and a bit amused when one Amazon Vine reviewer said the fact Fia would look at two men at once kept her, the reviewer, from giving FLAMINGO ROAD a five-star rating.

When can we expect the next Kia McKee Mystery?

THE DARK SIDE OF TOWN will be out in the spring of 2018.

What would you like to tell us that I neglected to ask?

I wanted to plunge into the next Fia McKee novel which would take place at Santa Anita Park in California. I even traveled to California and took a tour of the track and the Hollywood area nearby. I wanted a murder mystery set at this well-known track surrounded by the glitz and deceit of Hollywood.

But, suppose the first two Fia McKee novels don’t sell well? What good will this idea be then? St. Martin’s Press owns the right to “Fia McKee.” If I want to sell to another big-five New York publisher, any book I write has to be something new, which means yet another series and a new set of characters.

Since I can’t afford not to hedge my bets, I’ve already started a new book–a murder mystery about the Irish Travelers here in America. By happy coincidence, the largest enclave for these people is Murphy Village, not more than forty minutes from my home in Aiken, South Carolina.

Travelers have a fascinating culture. The children are taken out of school by eighth grade, if not before, and the girls are married by contract and usually as young teens. Travelers stick to themselves and have little dealings with outsiders. Society believes the Travelers are scam and con artists. What would it be like for a girl who grows up in this atmosphere? What if she wants out? Where would she go? What would happen to her?

And so, another story has evolved, and another exploration has begun. Only time will tell which way I travel, but at least I’ll be as prepared as possible for whatever happens next.

Thank you, Sasscer. Those who enjoy mysteries with strong female characters will enjoy all of Sasscer Hill’s works. You can find a complete list here.

 

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The Illogical Fate of Cretans

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Yesterday (Pentecost) in church, our minister read the well-known Biblical passage of the disciples receiving the Holy Spirit. They were then able to speak their native languages to the Jews in Jerusalem who’d traveled far and wide. The Book of Acts lists the places they’d come from. I pondered the multicultural nature of first-century Judea. We still struggle with that today.

Then, within that list, I heard a clunker. Cretans.

Unfairly, I admit, it took me right out of the moment. I know. They were people from Crete. But today, their name has a different meaning. It was like listening to a list of Europeans. “There were British and Norwegians, Icelanders and French, Idiots and Swiss.”

It made me wonder. What was the deal with the Cretans that their name became synonymous with dunderheads? The answer is more complex than I’d expected. There are two explanations of the term’s etymology. One in a positive sense and the other negative. First, the older of the two.

In the 6th century B.C.E., a poet from Crete named Epimenides formulated the first known mathematical paradox, often called the Cretan Paradox. As with everything else from ancient days, it’s surrounded by controversy, but it basically said, “All Cretans are liars.” Being Cretan himself, is Epimenides’s statement true? If so, Epimenides is a truth-teller, which makes the statement false.

We can go ’round and ’round with this, but likely this was an exercise in logic that got out of hand. Fast forward six hundred years to the Apostle Paul, who wrote “One of Crete’s own prophets has said it: ‘Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.’ This saying is true.” (Titus 1:12-13)

Apparently, Paul, and likely others in the Mediterranean world, missed the point. Epimenides’s logic experiment became a scathing condemnation of all people from Crete. Well, that sucks for them.

A more positive explanation of our use of ‘cretin’ today—which is spelled with the ‘i’ and not the ‘a’, states that the term has nothing to do with the island of Crete. It comes from a medical condition resulting from a lack of iodine known as cretinism. This used to be common in southern Europe, resulting in stunted growth, impaired mental abilities, and other malformations.

According to The Word Detective, “The word ‘cretin’ itself is derived from the Swiss French Alpine dialect word ‘crestin,’ from the Latin word ‘Christianum,’ which means ‘Christian.’” (http://www.word-detective.com/)

That raises the question of why the term for this disease comes from “Christian.” Also disputed among etymologists, one explanation says it was an appeal to people to see the sufferers as human beings, not grotesque creatures to be shunned or mistreated. An outlook we need more of today, as well.

And yet, if this explanation is correct, good intentions devolved over time to a word meaning “one who is less than others, mentally or in terms of character.” And we still think of people from Crete.

Sorry, Cretans. Sometimes you just can’t win.

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“I’m surrounded by cretins.”

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Attack of the Cacarootches

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Okay. Last night my husband, Wendy, and I called it a night around 9:30. An unusual feature of our bedroom is a door leading outside. As I climbed into bed, I heard a ‘thump’ on the aluminum storm door. Odd.

Then another. And another.

“Something’s pounding against that door,” I told Wendy as he finished brushing his teeth.

“I know. I already looked out there. It’s either some bug or a bird.”

Well, there are two doors between whatever it was and me, so I continued playing Words With Friends on my phone. The thumping continued. I was not surprised when my husband investigated further. He’s not good at ignoring aggravating sounds like that.

He opened both doors to have a look and a large bug, with I’m sure an enormous sense of victory, soared into the bedroom. As it zoomed over the bed, I saw it was the dreaded flying cacarootch!

Starting my new book set in colonial South Carolina, I wanted a character to disparage his enemies by referring to them as these undesirable creatures. On Saturday, I looked up ‘cockroach’ on one of my favorite sites, www.etymonline.com.

I learned that in 1624, John Smith wrote, “A certaine India Bug, called by the Spaniards a Cacarootch, the which creeping into Chests they eat and defile with their ill-sented dung.”

Excusing John Smith’s spelling issues, we can see why folklore claims the first syllables, ‘caca,’ refer to poop. It’s that ‘ill-sent’ and shiver of disgust they leave behind. While historically, I could have used the modern-day ‘cockroach,’ who can resist ‘cacarootch’? Not me. It’s in the book.

In the meantime, the vermin soared over my bed, bringing out my true nature. I lay on the pillow with the covers pulled up yelling, “Oh no! Oh no! Oh no!”

If it flew from the room down the hall, would we ever find it? I started to get up and close the bedroom door when Wendy called, “Don’t move.”

I froze as he whacked his camouflage croc a hair’s breadth from my left thigh. The evil intruder had landed right beside me. Severely wounded, he was scooped up by Wendy’s wadded toilet paper and whooshed down the Waterslide to Eternity.

Then I heard it. Thump!

Wendy announced, “There’s a whole swarm of them out there.”

Holy moley! We’ve been in this house almost four years with no cacarootch issues. All I could think about was that commercial with an approaching zombie apocalypse. Foregoing the more usual, subtle approach, these flying fiends have attempted an overt frontal attack. What next?

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The Title is the Story

Aroon_poster

I am often asked about the title of my first published book, Aroon. Where did I get that name? What does it mean?

The answer seems, at first, mundane. But as you will see, the story takes a surprising turn. It’s not one of my plot twists. It’s—well, decide for yourself.

On my trip to Ireland in 2005, I visited a wonderful book store in Dublin. Chapters, I believe it was. In any event, it was vast and magnificent. I bought several books. It’s rare I visit anywhere that sells books and leave empty-handed, and this was that on steroids.

One was Irish Words & Phrases by Diarmaid O’Muirithe. Once I returned home, I was spending a lazy afternoon scanning the book and I came across ‘arun,’ which is Anglicized as ‘aroon.’ It stated the definition as ‘my secret’ or ‘secret love.’ While my story is not a romance, the word had significance to the plot. Plus, I liked the sound of it.

The more the word rolled around on my tongue, the more I liked it, until I locked it in as my book’s title. Ta da!

But that wasn’t the end of it. Three months ago, I contacted a local Tipperary historian who has helped me with my research, particularly for Book Two, Harps Upon the Willows. I’d bought Ed O’Riordan’s comprehensive book on Father Nicholas Sheehy, the basis of my novels, and received a signed copy. Which I treasure. My latest communication was to tell him I had finished my stories.

To my great pleasure, he responded, “I LOVE the titles and I am sure I will love the contents.”

Ed O’Riordan and his ancestors have made it their passion to honor and maintain Father Sheehy’s gravesite and keep his 250-year-old story alive. Just four years ago, eight years after my own visit to the sarcophagus, Mr. O’Riordan arranged for a new plaque for the tomb.

On it, he had etched ‘Sagart Arun.’

This couldn’t be true! I quickly clicked on Google and searched for a translation: Dear Priest.

No, Ed O’Riordan explained. That translation was too weak.

“I suggest Beloved Priest,” he wrote. “It’s a powerful title you have on your book!!”

This still raises the hair on the back of my neck. How did I scan a phrase book so long ago and come up with a title because I liked its sound, while the caretaker of the very man I was writing about used that same word on his tomb?

Coincidence? Maybe. Somehow, it feels like much more. What do you think?

conserved fr Sheehy Tomb
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“That It Should Come to This!”

 

My review of Hamlet for the Back to Basics Challenge 2017

SPOILER ALERT: This analysis of Hamlet is written for those already familiar with the play in its entirety or don’t mind me giving away the ending.

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I have been trying to read Hamlet for quite some time, but was unable to “get into” the story. So, I forced myself. I’d heard it was the greatest play ever written and felt I should know more than the image of some guy holding a skull, saying “To be or not to be.” Which didn’t happen in the play. The skull came later.

A major issue is that I’m not one of those who can read Shakespeare as though it is my second language. I struggle. So, I admit I bought the No Fear Shakespeare version with the original play on the left and the modern translation on the right. I could not have understood the plot without it.

Alright, so what do I think? Sigh. My first thought went to Old Hamlet’s ghost. “Are you happy now?” I wanted to ask him. “Is this what you’d hoped would happen?” It seems the death of his widow and heir along with his brother/murderer was, so to speak, overkill.

And what of Young Hamlet? He was hurt and angry by his mother’s remarriage to his Uncle Claudius, but the revenge his father’s ghost required seemed more an unwelcome burden than an undying passion. (More death words, reflecting the major theme) He basically knew he was charged to kill his uncle, but found a myriad of ways to avoid the actual act.

That’s when I realized. This is a parody of the popular genre of the day, the revenge tragedy. Not in the sense of making a mockery of it, per se. To me, it explores the shallowness of the stereotypical drama. Shakespeare himself must have been, like Hamlet, very introspective to develop the deep, layered characters he did. I can imagine him in the audience of one of these plays and asking, “What’s the point? Is making revenge your life’s goal really productive?”

Hamlet spends most of the play ruminating on such dilemmas, all while feeling hogtied to a doctrine of honor killings. Eventually, he goes about his life, letting it slide. Only through the unintended chaos of a sword fight—designed to murder Hamlet—did he follow through on his father’s command to kill Claudius. With disastrous results all around.

I’ve read analysis on Hamlet‘s themes and learned that experts believe this exploration of the play itself is a factor. To me, it’s a major takeaway. Perhaps because I feel the same whenever I watch an action movie. Really? I want to ask. Was all this destruction necessary? Why are the characters so dumb? A little forethought, please.

I believe Shakespeare was pleading for just such reflection and depth of character when he wrote this classic play.

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My former stereotypical view

 

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Reading Challenge 2017

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Happy New Year! I’m going through my usual New Year’s Day goal-setting which will include another stab at a BACK to the CLASSICS Challenge. This contest sets up twelve categories of classic literature for the participant to read throughout 2017. If you’re curious about this or would like to join, go to https://karensbooksandchocolate.blogspot.de/ and click on the logo.

I have chosen a dozen books I’d love to finish before December 31, 2017 which could help me win a $30 Amazon gift card. Of course, the prize would be nice, but that’s not the point. As one who works best under a mild amount of pressure and reasonable deadlines, joining this competition helps me accomplish what I’ve always wanted to do anyway—read some of the world’s great books.

I am also a remote member of a book club in Queensland, Australia, which has introduced me to many wonderful contemporary novels, so 2017 is looking to be a good year for some intellectual stimulation.

Not to worry. My primary goal for the New Year is to complete Harps Upon the Willows, the sequel to my debut novel, Aroon. How long? Not long. I’ve finished 93,000 words of what I expect to be a 100,000-word book.

Anyway, as part of my commitment to this challenge, I am listing the books I plan to read next to each of this year’s categories. (If I state it publicly, I’m more likely to follow through.) I’ll post reviews as I finish each one.

count-of-monte-cristo-jpgA 19th Century ClassicThe Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (read The Three Musketeers in a previous challenge and loved it.)

A 20th Century ClassicNight by Elie Weisel (Heard him speak in Columbia, SC years ago and he was the rare combination of wise and humble)

A classic by a woman author – My Antonia by Willa Cather

A classic in translation – (one initially published in another language) Don Quixote by Miquel de Cervantes

A classic published before 1800Hamlet by Shakespeare (tried before but couldn’t get into it. I’m determined, though, since it’s rated the greatest play ever written)dorian-gray

A romance classicFar from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

A Gothic or horror classicThe Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

A classic with a number in the title – A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (another I’ve planned to read for years, but haven’t. I enjoy Dickens, though.)

A classic about an animal or which includes the name of an animal in the title They anna-kareninaShoot Horses, Don’t They? by Horace McCoy

A classic set in a place you’d like to visit – (I’ve chosen London) Bleak House by Charles Dickens (As I said, I enjoy Dickens)

An award-winning classic – The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington (won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1919)

A Russian ClassicAnna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (2017 will be the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution)

What are your thoughts on these choices? Have you read any of them? Please let me know in a comment.