40 Before 40 {Book #40}: ‘Mythology’ by Edith Hamilton

'Mythology' by Edith Hamilton

‘Greatly he failed, but he had greatly dared.’ {Ovid}

Author Edith HamiltonEdith Hamilton’s, ‘Mythology’ (originally published in 1942) is a best summarized as an intensive collection of ancient mythological stories including all those stemming from Roman, Greek, and Nordic superstitions. Hamilton summarizes the works of famous historians Virgil, Ovid, Euripides, Aeschylus, and Sophocles – to name but a few – comparing the different versions of the same tales told by this myriad of storytellers, and sharing the most clear version of ‘fact’.

A prodigious fan of mythology, I was interested to read through a complete collection of these long ago and sometimes forgotten tales. As Edith Hamilton was an educator, scholar, and long-standing Bryn Mawr headmistress described by the New York Times as one who best, ‘brought into clear and brilliant focus the Golden Age of Greek life and thought’, who spent her life researching and disseminating information about Classic Greek and Roman literature, at a time when scholarly pursuits were not largely pursued by women, I figured her book was the best place to begin.

‘The fierceness of man rules the fates of women.’ {Elder Edda}

If you are interested in learning about mythology, this is the book for you. Hamilton succinctly and with great pains towards accurate research, summarizes what seems to be an entire century of belief and superstition. Although the writing was a little dry and best described as ‘educational’, the amount of knowledge and historical explanation squeezed into this 500 page book was immensely eye-opening.

What was most amazing to me was how many modern day – and at times multi-million dollar earning – blockbuster movies and series can be linked back hundreds and hundreds of years to the myths held within these pages – i.e. Marvel blockbuster ‘Thor’, Japanese animation ‘Sailor Moon’, and Amazonian princess ‘Wonder Woman’. Hamilton’s book is educational, informative, and immaculately researched; but I fear I can not call it exciting, although the stories held within, if written in a different and more fantastical way, could surely become so.

Salon Summary

RECOMMENDABILITY: 5 {out of 5} stars | ★★★★★
REPETITIVE READABILITY: 1 {out of 5} stars | ★☆☆☆☆
RATING: 3 {out of 5} stars | ★★★☆☆

40 Before 40 {Book #8}: ‘The Murder at the Vicarage [Miss Marple #1]’ by Agatha Christie

For years and years, I have heard about the wonderful and thrilling authoress, Agatha Christie. Still I was not enticed. Then earlier this year, I decided to a) create this 40 Before 40 list and b) watch ‘Dr. Who’ via Netflix by request of my slightly geeky but incredibly sexy husband. Since Agatha Christie was on several best female writers lists and featured on an especially fun episode of ‘Dr. Who’, I figured the universe was attempting to tell me something, and thus I was finally convinced to pick up one of her tales, and give her mysteries a go.

Well, thank goodness I did.

‘It’s so much nicer to be a secret and delightful sin to anybody than to be a feather in his cap.’

40 Before 40 {Book #8}: 'Murder at the Vicarage [Miss Marple #1]' by Agatha Christie
Map of St. Mary Mead aka Miss Marple’s Neighborhood
I chose the first tale of Miss Marple – ‘The Murder at the Vicarage’ – to begin my foray into the world of Agatha Christie. Miss Marple is an older, never-married, small-town woman who imagines herself an amateur detective. As you read through the thoroughly enchanting tale, you quickly realize that although Miss Marple is a bit of a busy-body, she is as astute as literary detective Sherlock Holmes and as instep with human psychology as the infamous Doctor Sigmund Frued.

‘I daresay idle tittle-tattle is very wrong and unkind, but it is so often true, isn’t it.’

And I daresay, Ms. Christie has found a new fan in me. Agatha Christie’s characters are vivid, realistic, honest, and just plain fun to get to know – and her stories have more twists and turns than the roller coaster at Las Vegas’s New York New York Hotel. Although I am unlikely to reread any of these tales over and over – because once the conclusion is shown the jig is most definitely up – I know for sure that I am very likely to read through the mass suite of Christie books at least once, and soon.

Salon Summary

RECOMMENDABILITY: 4 {out of 5} stars | ★★★★☆
REPETITIVE READABILITY: 2 {out of 5} stars | ★★☆☆☆
RATING: 4 {out of 5} stars | ★★★★☆

40 Before 40 {Book #32}: ‘Franny and Zooey’ by J.D. Salinger

40 Before 40 {Book #32}: 'Franny and Zooey' by J.D. Salinger

Titular characters, Franny and Zooey Glass, are sister and brother respectively, coming from a large New York family. The Glass family is one of some importance for writer, Salinger. Apart from the two short stories of ‘Franny and Zooey’ which have been merged together into this charming novella, Salinger also wrote about other members of the family in ‘Nine Stories’, ‘Raise High the Roof Beam’ and ‘Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction.’ This is my first introduction to the quirky and enigmatic Glass family, but I doubt it will be my last.

The entire Glass family, particularly the brood of seven siblings, is portrayed as having higher than normal intellectual capacities. Franny, herself, is written as very emotional and spiritual; whereas, Zooey’s personality relies heavily on wit and sarcasm, and maintains a little more of the world-weary traveler. The pair’s personalities compliment each other, and consequently, they rely on each other for both emotional support and intellectual discourse. The story begins with Franny suffering an emotional breakdown. Through the haze of her cigarette smoke, you see almost immediately that this character is one not easily understood or soon to be forgotten.

‘I’m sick of not having the courage to be an absolute nobody.’ {Franny}

As the reader, you enter Zooey’s story through the doorway of a bathroom – his bathroom – as he sits reading in the bath, until his mother unceremoniously intrudes upon his solitude. It is then that Zooey is compelled through pages of intriguing conversation and maternal goading, to help his younger sister Franny through her emotional setback. Zooey first attempts to reach his sister through a little rouse, but eventually turns to brutal honesty.

‘You’re lucky if you get time to sneeze in this goddam phenomenal world.’ {Zooey}

If you have never read anything by Salinger, then he is best described as unique. While most authors follow certain guidelines for story telling – i.e. an inverted pyramid, chronological format, or hourglass structure – he follows no organizational plan or structure. To use a crude metaphor, while most authors write in black and white, Salinger writes in big, bright, disruptive color. He doesn’t restrain himself with the need for a plot or a climax, he simply shares his and his characters thoughts via an explosion on the page, comparable to a journal or collection of personal letters. In the end, you either enjoy reading Salinger or you don’t – and I do.

Salon Summary

RECOMMENDABILITY: 4 {out of 5} stars | ★★★★☆
REPETITIVE READABILITY: 3 {out of 5} stars | ★★★☆☆
RATING: 4 {out of 5} stars | ★★★★☆

Two down on my 40 Before 40 list –  38 more to go. Read along with me.

40 Before 40 {Book #3}: ‘Gone with the Wind’ by Margaret Mitchell

40 Before 40: 'Gone with the Wind' by Margaret Mitchell

Certain characters in a novel are so memorable, that once you journey through their tale they become forever imprinted on your mind – characters like Dickens’s Miss Havisham, Salinger’s Holden Caulfield, Alcott’s Josephine March, Rowlings’s Harry Potter, Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, and Tolkien’s Bilbo Baggins (to name a few of my favorites). There is no doubt in my mind that Margaret Mitchell’s, Scarlett O’Hara, easily slips into this auspicious company, and is – in my opinion – one of the most vivid and memorable characters brought to life on the page.

And while for years I refrained from reading this novel because I honestly thought it was just a cheesy love story, it in fact turned out to be much much more. Scarlett, while not specifically likable or a woman I would choose as a confidante, is a force to reckoned with and far from the idea of a quite Southern matron. This is a woman who would be better suited for navigating Wall Street in our era of female empowerment, rather than mucking about in the war-torn South of the 1880’s. As Rhett Butler states, Scarlett is far from helpless even in the most extreme of situations.

‘Anyone as selfish and determined as you are is never helpless.’

And while there was definitely a love story in the peripheral of this tale, the heart of the story speaks of the horrors of the Civil War and the way Southern women handled the loss of their men, their way of life, their plantations, their traditions, their security, and – at times – their lives. It is only at the end of the tale, as Rhett was leaving her, that Scarlett ‘sheathed her claws’ and gave into love – before then she was too busy just surviving.

‘God help the man who ever really loves you. You’d break his heart, my darling, cruel, destructive little cat who is so careless and confident she doesn’t even trouble to sheathe her claws.’

Salon Summary

RECOMMENDABILITY: 4 {out of 5} stars | ★★★★☆
REPETITIVE READABILITY: 2 {out of 5} stars | ★★☆☆☆
RATING: 3 {out of 5} stars | ★★★☆☆