Happy Birthday Mary Shelley!

Coming up this very weekend is a day I’ve always wanted to be celebrated as an international holiday. It’s not, though, for whatever asinine reason, (that’s not swearing; its fancy vocabulary) so instead I’ll simply write a glowing review here and hope my excitement proves catching, or at least not as lonely as I feel it is right now. This August 30 marks the 218th birthday of one Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein.

1857 Portrait of Mary Shelley by Reginald Easton. Courtesy of Wikipedia

1857 Portrait of Mary Shelley by Reginald Easton. Courtesy of Wikipedia

This chick rocks all kinds of socks off. For one thing, she comes from a cool family. She was born Mary Wollstonecraft, named after her mother. The original Mary Wollstonecraft was a feminist way back when feminism was probably considered a mental disorder by most. She was all “Hey, maybe woman shouldn’t have to live their lives defined by how they serve their man. They could actually be smart and talented enough to, you know, do stuff for themselves…” and everyone thought it was a very funny joke until they realized she was serious and steered clear of that lady for a while. Wollstonecraft enjoyed what many would’ve considered an “edgy” sex life at the time, meaning she had a number of unconventional relationships, wasn’t married to all of them and gave Mary Shelley a half sister, Fanny Imlay.
Mary Shelley also had the fortune of hanging out with some truly spectacular friends, friends that definitely had a hand in helping here writing reach its full potential. She famously wrote Frankenstein while she, Percy Shelley (her soon to be husband), Lord Byron and John Polidori and dear old Fanny Imlaywere all having a contest about who could tell the scariest story and tripping balls from copious amounts of wine and laudanum (aka opium you could buy from a pharmacist.) Okay, that last fact is probably less famous than the rest of this famous “scary story contest” story is it’s but nonetheless true. Look it up. I did and it turns out those Victorian types knew how to party.
Finally, Mary started writing Frankenstein at 19 and had it published when she was 21. As amazing as that is for her, I still get a bit queasy thinking about it. I’m 21 right now and, as far as I know, have not published a novel that will be required reading in high schools centuries from now.I mean, I like to think I could’ve written a novel by now if I had the courage to uninstall Candy Crush from my phone permanently, but not necessarily one worthy of the standard  literary canon. You know your doing a really good job when people in your age range start sweating and asking if you could chill for a second.
If I can’t match her accomplishment, though, I can certainly critique it. On to the review portion of this entry. I read Frankenstein for my personal enjoyment before having to read it in class, and on the whole found it a very enjoyable read. For a fair and balanced review though, I will say you might enjoy it more if you understood Victorian style and custom better. Right now, I’m thinking of how my sister complained that every time something exciting happened, the doctor would fall ill and get fevered and delirious with emotion over what his hands hath wrought, and so it took forever to get to the “good parts”. Yes, classical literature can be paced a bit slower than the popular books of today, but the real gems never make this different place a burden. Frankenstein is certainly one of those gems, in my humble opinion.
Reflecting one’s overcome emotional state with physical distress was the thing to do in Victorian literature.  As we must fashionably swoon over realizing we accidentally ate gluten, so they had to swoon over receiving an especially devastating love letter or realizing they have triumphed over death by creating an undead monster. Learn about these things before you call a book stupid, my darling beloved sister. It might lead to, say, your loving older sister attempting to shame you in her blog for dumping on one of her favorite books. Now where were we? Oh yes, the book…
I myself found the book very compelling, though not scary. Thrilling and tragic yes, but never terrifying. I felt far too much sympathy for Frankenstein’s monster to view him as, well, a monster. You see, unlike the hulking green oaf popularized by the movies, Frankenstein actually became very well spoken and well read after his creation, resulting in impassioned dialogues with Dr. Frankenstein and himself about how his life can truly mean anything if he exists outside of mankind and is hated by his very creator. It all makes him a much more sympathetic character than the big green guy yelling “Fire Baaaaad,” no matter how much I enjoyed Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.
The way Frankenstein leads reader through this dialogue about what it means to be, or to make a human creates that excellent sort of dialogue top-notch horror and sci-fi does, making people question things they never thought of before.So snatch up the chance to celebrate Mary Shelley’s birthday this weekend, and perhaps have an early Halloween by ready the book or, even better, telling scary stories with your friends long into the night. Copious amounts of booze and laudanum, not to mention the creation of a famous work of literature, are optional.

The End of Summer Reading

Well, it’s happening. August is middling out, getting ever closer to the end. The end of summer, the end of summer reading. When fall begins, many of us must give up the wild freedom we had during the summer. Sure, that freedom is more than just the freedom to read a lot of books however and whenever you want, but that’s the part of this dying summer that is causing me the most pain right now. Sure, I’ve taken a sizable chunk out of my reading list, but I couldn’t quite finish everything. I kept buying even more books and reading those, which may not have helped. Let he or she who has not bulked up on books for the winter with wild abandon cast the first stone.

So, how do you deal with this sudden change? Reading time is restricted by returning classes, and what time you have left is often taken up by the reading and assignments of classes you now have to take care of. How do your deal with this change mentally and practically? Seriously, if someone wouldn’t mind telling me, I wouldn’t mind. It’s always a bit of a struggle, every year.

This fall term at least, I got lucky. I’m taking classes revolving around authors texts I like, mainly Toni Morrison and Shakespeare. I can’t say I’ve ever heard those two grouped up before, but they are now on my syllabus and I’m fine with that. Some years, it’s harder and I have to go from reading whatever I want to reading books I have absolutely no interest in.

As helpless as I may feel now, I suppose sheer experience means I have a couple of methods of getting through through this readjustment period, and breathing in and out of a paper bag at the first hint of a panic attack is just the beginning.

First off, maybe you could cheat a little and get a head start on your class reading ahead of time, if you know what will be covered and when. This homework-over-the-summer can seem like a hardcore nerd option, but think of it as redistribution. Reading just that bit of school stuff now means you’ll have an extra half hour or so of free time later in the year, when you’ll be needing it the most.

Next, and here’s where time is your friend, stay indoors more. The weather is practically begging you to do it anyway, what with it getting colder and darker the further you get into fall, so use the time summer you takes to go swimming at the beach or frolic around in lush green meadows to hunker down in a cozy chair and read what you like.

Hiiisssss! Go away! (Credit: Wikipedia)

Hiiisssss! Go away! (Credit: Wikipedia)

And finally, switching up the format always helps. I’ve talked about why I like audio books before, and here’s the perfect example. When school books take up your recreational reading time, even with the increased time you spend huddled indoors and hissing at the increasingly rare sunlight, take the books you want to read and listen to them instead.Listening to books opens up new times and opportunities for getting your “reading” done. Car trips, running errands, doing laundry, cooking, reading a book would be next to impossible with any of these, but you can certainly listen to an audio book then. Congratulations, you’ve opened up more time for your reading!

So, as intimidating as the end of summer reading may seem every year, the reality is that I… I mean you, or we, can definitely get through this and there is no cause for alarm. With some practical planning, you’ll find time is even on your side.

How to Read Shakespeare- A Student’s Guide

Hello everyone, I missed you dearly, but I had a very refreshing vacation. My family went to Stratford, Ontario and saw a couple of Shakespeare plays, because that’s what a family as intensely nerdy as my own does for a good time. We saw a pretty decent Hamlet and Taming of the Shrew, both plays I’ve seen versions of before. It got me thinking. Because being the spawn of literary nerds, one of whom teaches Shakespeare year after year, means I’ve seen a great number of Shakespeare plays performed on stage, probably more than I’ve had to read in the classroom.

All this experience has led to me forming opinions, of all things, about what leads to the best, fullest experience of Shakespeare for the average student. There are loads of ways people try to make reading Shakespeare easier. I, as an English student, can only greatly appreciate these aids. The No-Fear Shakespeare books and comic book adaptations of Shakespeare’s works do help make these prestigious plays more approachable, and I certainly can recommend them. In all honesty though, reading comics or “translations” of Shakespeare’s works is helpful, but in my personal experience, not necessarily the best way to get a hold of his plays. Strangely enough, the best advice I can give to struggling students looking to find a way to read through this or that Shakespeare play is don’t read it.

No, I’m not encouraging you to give up on passing English Lit or becoming a cultural fancy-pants altogether. In this case though, I really think the best way to get through Shakespeare is to cave into that lazy student instinct and watch the movie version. Shakespeare’s plays are… plays after all. Watching them performed is, arguably, a more authentic experience of the art form, which is a fun little pretentious card I encourage you to play on your teacher. Even more important though, a passage that seems like a lot of confusing wind on paper can become much more clear with the emotional force of a performing actor behind it.

Don’t throw away that book though, unless you’ve got some serious experience with Shakespearean language. I’m relatively proficient in those poetic turns of phrase and obscurely ancient sexual innuendos, but for a while I needed assistance. Keeping a book on hand to read any words you didn’t pick up or explain truly confusing references or phrases in the book’s footnotes.

There are loads of film adaptations of Shakespeare’s works and some are certainly better than others. Some edit the script down more than others too. I’ve watched quite a few film adaptations of various Shakespeare plays, but I’m not nearly capable enough to write you a whole comprehensive list of these films. In all honesty, more than half of it would just be what Wikipedia and IMDb tell me anyhow. For the best results, I recommend asking your English teacher their opinions about which Hamlet or Macbeth is superior. Frame it as I have here, a desire not to cut corners on homework but to more fully understand the work and you’ll no doubt earn some serious brownie points and valuable advice.