Lavinia by Ursula Le Guin and The Death of the Author

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“Perhaps I did not do you justice, Lavinia.”

This is what Virgil himself says to the character he wrote, but never allowed to speak. In Ursula Le Guin’s novel Lavinia, Aeneas’ wife is finally given a voice. The story follows Lavinia from early childhood to her death, and almost reads as a memoir. To me, a particularly interesting part of the book was when Le Guin also gave voice to the author of the Aeneid himself. As he’s dying, Virgil appears as a spectre to Lavinia and talks to her about his work and what awaits her.

“‘And what I thought I knew of you – what little I thought of at all – was stupid, conventional, unimagined. I thought you were a blonde! But you can’t have two love stories in one epic. Where would the battles fit? In any case, how could one possibly end a story with a marriage?’
‘It does seem more like a beginning than an end,’ I said.
We both brooded.
‘It’s all wrong,’ he said. ‘I will tell them to burn it.'”

I loved how Le Guin used the fact that Aeneid was left unfinished and that Virgil wanted his work burned as a part of her own story. It also poses some interesting questions about authors and their characters. Once the characters are written, they begin a life of their own. They do not belong only to the author, they live in the minds of everyone who reads about them. It made me think of Roland Barthes and his “The Death of the Author”. One of the things Barthes points out is that the author’s intent is not what we should be concerned about. Writer, after writing a book, becomes just another reader. Barthes calls for the reader-response critial theory, the basis of which are individual thoughts about a literary work. The point is not to try to understand what the author wanted to say, but to focus on what you (the reader) think the book is saying.

“The reader is the space on which all the quotations that make up a writing are inscribed without any of them being lost; a text’s unity lies not in its origin but in its destination.” – Roland Barthes, “Death of the Author”

I don’t think this novel is trying to make the same points as Barthes, but since I’m a reader and I have the power to say what I think, I’ll just share with you my thoughts. 😉 Le Guin’s novel makes the author just a part of the story. He created Lavinia and her life depends on him, but it also continues without him. His vision of Lavinia is not the same as her own view of her personality and her life. And while Lavinia is a character, I feel she might also be seen as a reader. Virgil tells her some of the things that are going to happen, and she gives her own opinion on them. She also reads the signs and prophecies on Aeneas’ shield. While Aeneas sees a the birth of a city, and his destiny fullfilled, Lavinia sees war and death. Both of these things are going to happen, but they are seeing them in a different way. The entire novel is basically the Aeneid seen in a different way, and from a different perspective.

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Speaking of war, I liked how the novel treats this subject. Yes, Aeneas is the hero. But does this make the wars he leads and deaths he causes acceptable? While Aeneas sees only his mission, and does what he thinks is right, Lavinia sees countless wars in the future. This doesn’t mean Aeneas is an unlikeable charater. He knows not everything is black and white, and is tortured by everything he did. He takes no pleasure in killing, and is trying to teach his son not to seek unnecessary wars. And yet, to him wars seem inevitable. Lavinia notices this, and she sees how men are raised to think of war as a part of their lives. They are raised to seek honour, and even to seek conflict. She, on the other hand, fears war, destruction, and loss. To Lavinia, war represents violence and loss of innocence, and she cannot see it as something that brings honour.

“Of all the greater powers the one I fear most is the one I cannot worship, the one who walks the boundary, the one who sets the ram on the ewe, and the bull on the heifer, and the sword in the farmer’s hand: Mavors, Marmor, Mars.”

Lavinia is not physically strong. She wants to lead a happy, calm life. And in that lies her feminine strength. She doesn’t have to be a warrior in order to be a heroine of her own story – and this is what book Virgil admits having failed to see. First he wonders why it is Lavinia who appeared to him before his death, and not his hero, Aeneas. He talks about heroism and honour, things that are important to him, but apparently not to her.

“Without war there are no heroes.”
“What harm would that be?”
“Oh, Lavinia, what a woman’s question that is.”

But in the end, Virgil sees Lavinia’s strengths. She’s clever, often cynical, but kind and caring. She is an interesting person to have a conversation with because she sees the world in a different way. Lavinia questions Virgil’s ideals, even his religion, and that’s what makes him admire her.

“Is it the gods who set this fire in our hearts, or do we each make our fierce desire into a god?”

Virgil’s fictional realisation validates Lavinia’s importance. And I think it is these metatextual elements that make this book an interesting read, despite some of it’s flaws. If any of these ramblings seemed interesting to you, then I recommend reading the book. 🙂


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Quote for Thought: Reality and Insanity in The Book Collector by Alice Thompson

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“Many years later, looking back, she was amazed at the capacity we have for not wanting to confront the truth. How the humdrum of our own lives, the security of habit and comfort, prevent us from questioning the clues that the truth gives us. We can ignore them, make excuses and forget whatever we want.”

The Book Collector by Alice Thompson is part The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, part Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, part fairy tale retelling. It’s eerie and disturbing, and I just couldn’t put it down. I kept reading, like mesmerised. To be honest, the prose felt odd at times, almost like it was trying too hard. Some sentences were weirdly structured. And, yet, I highlighted quite a lot of lovely quotes.

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The novella deals with many issues, and one of them is the unwillingness to accept the truth if it means getting out of our comfort zone. This maybe spoke to me because I am mortally afraid of change, but I think everyone can relate to not wanting certain things in their life disturbed.

Violet, the main character of the novel, had this idea of a perfect marriage and a fairy tale love story. But fairy tales are often dark and scary. The novella plays with this idea, the way we perceive fairy tales as something ideal versus the violence that can actually be found in those stories. Violet knows something is wrong. She feels it, but at first tries to ignore it. Her fears come alive in dreamlike visions, and in her semi-conscious state she is able to piece together the truth.

“She had married to avoid pain. She had lost herself in the arcadian countryside to avoid pain. Her whole married life had been a carefully constructed edifice to avoid pain. And it had worked well. Until she fell ill.”

This leads to her being sent to an asylum, where she once again tries to get “normality” back. But at the same time, she meets women whose sad lives seem more real than anything in her life ever did. It’s also a commentary on how women were, and sadly sometimes still are, treated in society, how their stories are regarded as imagination or, in todays terms, “hormones”.

“And for an insane moment she thought, this is no different from normality, just women existing and surviving, this is what happens to women who don’t fit into a world created by men.”

The mental institution serves as an example of what happens to those who don’t want to accept the lies they live in, people who dare speak up. It’s an inherent fear in all people – belonging nowhere, having no one to love you, which might happen if you don’t adapt, or even change some parts of who you are. And I think this is what makes The Book Collector so disturbing and claustrophobic.

Have any of you read this novella? Do you have a different interpretation? I’d love to hear from you. 🙂


Classic Spotlight: Antigone in Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

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DISCLAIMER: I’ll try to keep this spoiler-free when it comes to Home Fire, though if you’ve read Antigone I guess you are sort of spoilt anyway. XD


I finished Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie yesterday, and it goes without saying that I really loved it. I love the story itself, but I also loved that it’s a modern retelling of the myth of Antigone, or more accurately Sophocles’ tragedy of the same name. While you can definitely read it on its own, I think the book is even better if you have read Antigone. It was interesting to see how Home Fire uses the plot and ideas from Antigone, and makes them into a completely new story.

Let me start with Antigone. The play takes place in Thebes, and it tells the story of Oedipus’ children. Oedipus’ family line is, in lack of a better word, cursed, because his father Laius had a son despite the fact that the gods have forbidden it. This led to the well-known story of Oedipus unknowingly killing his father and marrying his mother. Oedipus leaves behind two sons, Polyneices and Eteocles, and two daughters, Antigone and Ismene. Polyneices and Eteocles end up fighting for the throne, and kill each other in battle. That’s when their uncle, Creon, becomes the new king and decides to give Eteocles a proper burial, since he fought on the side of Thebes, but leave Polyneices to rot because he fought against Thebes. That’s when the play starts, and Antigone decides to bury her brother despite the orders of her uncle.

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Frederic Leighton, “Antigone

The main theme of Antigone is the opposition between the law, and doing what is right. Antigone goes against the law, but she claims that she’s following a more important law, the one of the gods, who want all people to be given a proper burial. She’s also loyal to her brother more than to any law of the state. The play also poses the question: if the law is unjust, should people break it?

In Home Fire, the story is more complex than that. The novel follows two sisters and a brother who are Muslims living in London. It deals with prejudice, religious fanaticism and family. And it also deals with laws and politics. The novel’s Creon in Karamat Lone, also known as “Lone Wolf”. Karamat Lone is the British Home Secretary, and on his way to the top he turned his back on his own people, and his own traditions. Well, in a way. Karamat Lone wanted to do the right thing, to help Muslims in Britain have better opportunities in life. But in his desire to make things better, Karamat takes a very strict, unyielding path. He calls for integration, but he doesn’t leave room for keeping the traditions. Once a fighter for equality and racial tolerance, he’s now a conservative in his own way. It’s especially interesting to see his point of view, when he realises that the ones attacking him are the people he thought were like him.

“…if someone had said he’d be the home secretary in a safe room while men prowled outside trying to kill him, he’d have known without asking that the men were neo-Nazi skinheads. But how dare they – how dare it be his people? After everything his generation did to make this country better for them, how dare they.”

Now what did the Creon of Home Fire do? Karamat Lone also decided to let the body of a young man rot, the body of Home Fire‘s Polynices – Parvais. Why? Because Parvais was a jihadi. And of course, Karamat is appalled by this, and he sees him as the main reason why Muslims are experiencing so much hatred. Which is a completely justified point of view. What he fails to realise is that the strict laws that are made to protect people from terrorism can sometimes create terrorists.

This is another instance in Home Fire when things are not that simple. Parvais’s father was a jihadi, and he and his sisters, Isma and Aneeka, barely know him. All they know is that he made their lives very hard. But when Farook, a friend of his father, comes into Parvais’ life, he paints him a completely different picture of the man he barely knew. He speaks of the torture Parvais’ father went though, and the great ideals he had. Parvais is aware that Muslims are treated with suspicion and prejudice, which is why he’s easily manipulated and leaves with Farook for Pakistan. It’s interesting how Shamsie in her own way uses the theme of the “cursed” family, in this case the son of a jihadi who becomes a jihadi himself. The media immediately treats Parvais’ case as “we should have seen it coming” and “of course he followed the footsteps of his father”. I also think that the press plays the role of the Choir in Greek tragedies, as it gives commentary and explains some events to the reader.

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Sébastien Norblin, “Antigone and Polyneices

Isma and Aneeka, Parvais’ sisters, reflect the characters of Ismene and Antigone. Isma doesn’t want to disobey the laws. She wants to live her life, and to make sure her siblings have a good future, too. She is the eldest child, Aneeka and Parvais are twins, and she took care of them after their mother died. Isma despises her father, and is aware that he’s to blame for the suffering and even the death of their mother. What he did causes her a lot of shame. Aneeka, on the other hand, has no opinion of her father. She was too young to see how much her mother had changed because of his actions, just as Parvais was, but unlike her brother, she never wanted to know more about him. She simply believes they are better off without him.

In Antigone, Ismene doesn’t want to have anything to do with Antigone’s plan, and she tries to persuade her sister not to anger Creon. Her character is much like Isma’s, but Isma gets much more attention that Ismene, and is a wonderful, kind character. Aneeka is very similar to Antigone. She’s bold, unyielding, and stubborn. She puts her loyalty to her brother first, loyalty to family before the loyalty to state.

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Antigone and Ismene

Home Fire has its own Haemon, too. Haemon is Antigone’s fiancée and Creon’s son, and Eamonn Lone is Karamat’s son. Both Haemon and Eamonn show the emotional side of their apparently emotionless fathers. I won’t reveal too much, but they share a similar destiny, and also show similar characteristics. I love how all of the characters follow not only a similar story, but they also have similar personalities to those in Antigone. While Haemon is just a side character in Antigone, Eamonn gets his own chapters and his point of view, which is very interesting because he’s a person of Muslim background, but was not raised as a Muslim, and he sees himself only as British. He’s even rejected by the British Muslims.

“Eamonn, that was his name. How they’d laughed in Wembley when the newspaper article accompanying the family picture revealed this detail, an Irish spelling to disguise a Muslim name – Ayman became Eamonn so that people would know the father had integrated.”

Nationality, and what it means to be a citizen of a country is also a prominent theme in Home Fire, which is a very topic, especially today, when so many people are moving abroad. The novel offers different sides to the story. While in Antigone the reader/audience is supposed to be on her side, everything is much more complicated in Home Fire. Aneeka’s love for her brother and desire to save him is understandable, but so are the feelings of people who oppose her. As her cousin from Pakistan puts it:

“Did you or your brother stop to think about those of us with passports that look like toilet paper to the rest of the world, who spend our whole lives being so careful we don’t give anyone a reason to reject our visa applications. Don’t stand next to this guy, don’t follow that guy on Twitter, don’t download that Noam Chomsky book. And then first your brother uses us as a cover to join some psycho killers, and then your government thinks this country can be a dumping ground for its unwanted corpses and your family just expects us to jump up and organise a funeral for this week’s face of terrorism.”

But besides all these political and social issues, Home Fire manages to be emotional, too. The later chapters are especially well-written and poetic. So, I’ll end this post with a wonderful paragraph on grief and rage, and once again say that I highly recommend this book to everyone.

“This was not grief. It was rage. It was his rage, the boy who allowed himself every emotion but rage, so it was the unfamiliar part of him, that was all he was allowing her now, it was all she had left of him. She held it to her breast, she fed it, she stroked its mane, she whispered love to it under the starless sky, and sharpened her teeth on its gleaming claws.”


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Unique Blogger Award

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I have a quick, fun little post for you today! The lovely Ellie @bloggingfordopamine nominated me for the Unique Blogger Award, and asked some interesting questions. Now, it’s time for me to answer.

First, the rules:

  • Share the link of the blogger who has shown love to you by nominating you.
  • Answer the questions.
  • In the spirit of sharing love and solidarity with our blogging family, nominate 8-13 people for the same award.
  • Ask them 3 questions.

And here are my answers:

1. I have so many books I’m looking forward to reading this year. What’s your most anticipated 2018 read?

It is (or actually was) Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie, which is now my current read. And it’s great so far, I’ll definitely write a post about it soon. Another book I really want to read is The Sagas of the Icelanders, a collection of old Icelandic tales and sagas. It’s a huge book, but I’m sure it will be worth my time.

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2. When I was younger, I was obsessed with Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and now that I’m older, I have even more admiration for her character. Are there any childhood favourite characters that you appreciate even more now that you’re older?

I can’t really think of one specific character for this question, but the characters from Winnie-the -Pooh as a whole really mean a lot to me. I loved then as a child, and when I reread the book I realized just how wonderful they are. They are all flawed – Piglet is always anxious, Eeyore is depressed, Pooh doesn’t understand what’s going on most of the time… But they are all supportive of each other, and accept their friends the way they are. For example, they try to mae Eeyore happy on his birthday, but they don’t expect him to change and instantly stop being sad. And they say the sweetest, most innocent things. Oh, I just love how pure those books are.

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3. My blog has changed so much since I started it. What was the topic of the first ever blog post you wrote?

My first post as a silly “introduction”. Not really interesting. XD And the first real one was about my favourite books of all time. I guess I could do a new one, since there are some books that should definitely be added to the list.

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Now, here are the questions I came up with:

1. A monster breaks into your home! (Gasp!) But it’s not a very dangerous one, don’t worry. It’s just lost, poor thing. It can easily be scared, and then it will go into the wild and live happily ever after. But you need to scare it. The only thing that comes to mind is to throw a book at it, because you’re standing next to your shelves. You obviously don’t want to throw and possibly destroy a book you love, so you grab a book you don’t like and you don’t even know why you still have it. What book do you choose?

2. You’re walking down the street, minding your own business, and you find a magical lamp. (You now it’s magical because it sparkles. Or something.) And what do you do – you rub the lamp of course. You know how these things work! And, yes, a genie comes out and says he’ll give you any superpower you want.
“But, I thought I was supposed to get three wishes!” you say.
“I’m the genie, I know how this works! You get a superpower!”
You shrug and accept the offer. A superpower is still great. Which superpower do you choose?

3. I’ll keep this one shorter, I promise. XD Now, you have superpowers, but you still need help because you’re new at the whole supernatural thing. Which character (from a book or tv show) would you choose to be your partner and best friend?

Now I will nominate some people, but if anyone wants to answer these questions, feel free to do it. I’m interested to hear your answers. 🙂

Anna @mybookishdream

Chelsea @spotlightonstories

Lola @lolaetlavie

Sarah @dragonsandzombies

Jewel @foxynerdyrebelle

Naty @natysbookshelf

Luna @bookishluna

Izzy @thinkingandinking

Maniacal Book Unicorn @maniacalbookunicorn


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In First Person: The “Why Didn’t She Leave” Argument

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I didn’t think I would write a post like this, not because I don’t think this topic is revelant, but because I wasn’t not sure I’d be able to bring anything new to the discussion. Seeing just how many cases of sexual misconduct happened and were never talked about, let alone prosecuted, makes me angry and sad. I really do care about everything that’s going on. And while all these cases are hard to read and think about, I hope the discussion they have started will lead to a better world in the future.

It also might not. Maybe we’ll be shocked for a while, and then just forget about it. Some people will suffer the consequences, but most will just move on with their lives. This is a thought that truly makes me sick. And this is why I decided to talk about it.

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There is another reason why this post came to being, and that is the fact that in my last post, just a couple of days ago, I mentioned Master of None, a tv show written by Aziz Ansari. You probably know where this is leading, but in case you don’t, apparently, the person who talked so much about woman rights in the show is now accused of sexual misconduct himself. HERE is the original article if you haven’t read it yet. This case made me feel betrayed, though I’ve never met Aziz Ansari and he definitely has no personal importance to me. I felt betrayed because this person was someone who was supposed to be on the “right” side of the debate. He was supposed to be one of the men who understands, or at least tries to understand, what women go through. This feeling that there are no men left to trust is horrible! Now, I certainly don’t feel that way, my boyfriend and my brother are my best friends, two people I trust the most. And they are men. So, of course, I’m aware that not all men are the same. But I understand when, in the midst of all this, some women start to feel that way. This way of thinking is horrible and destructive. It divides people and nourishes anger.

Now, back to the Ansari case – it turned out to be the most divisive case in the entire discussion. Ashleigh Banfield attacked Ansari’s accuser on CNN, saying that what happened to her was not abuse, and that she’s hurting the entire movement. (Watch it here). Many (feminist) women, for example Margaret Atwood, are expressing certain issues with the movement. Is it becoming attacks without proof? How big is the possibility of false accusations hurting innocent people?

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Now, I’m not saying that these issues should not be addressed. On the contrary, false accusations would definitely ruin everything that the movement stands for. The problem with sexual abuse victims has always been the lack of understading. The victims are met with doubt, and even blamed themselves for provoking the abuser. And this is something that the movement is trying to change. Women and men should not be afraid to press charges. They should never be mocked for what they went through, and their pain shouldn’t be belittled. A woman doesn’t deserve to be raped because she’s wearing a short skirt. Men can be raped, too, and this doesn’t make them less “manly”. Unfortunately, some people still can’t seem to grasp such simple concepts. And why is that? Largely because of what the society teaches us about men and women. And this is why the case of Aziz Ansari has to be talked about. He apologised to the accuser and said that he never realised she was feeling uncomfortable. But how could a person who openly speaks about these issues not see the problem? How can it be normal to proceed with sexual advances after a sentence like: “I don’t want to be forced because then I’ll hate you.”

Why didn’t the woman say a strong “no” or just left, some may ask. And others may pose a counterquestion: Why didn’t he stop if he wasn’t sure what she wanted? This leads to one of the the things we are taught, one way or the other: women are not supposed to act like “sluts”. This kind of labeling is where the problems start. It basically means women cannot enthusiastically consent to sex. They have to play “hard to get” (as if sex is something that is won by men). So, if a woman backs away, she may not really be saying no. It might just be a game. And in this game, the woman is a prize, an object. This is such a frequent trope that it’s become inbedded in our minds.

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The other side of the story is the notorious “friendzone”. This is what happens when a man doesn’t win “the game”. He does everything right. He’s nice, he tries so hard to be liked, but in the end, the woman still doesn’t want him. And the truth is, yes, some women chose a wrong man. This, however, doesn’t mean that the self-proclaimed “nice guy” is the right choice, either. Being nice in order to get something means you’re not that nice after all. *

Another thing we are taught is that women are supposed to be motherly and keep their marriages at any cost. You think this is something that has changed? It’s something we don’t have to talk about anymore, in the 21st century? There are so many proofs that, unfortunately, the problems are not yet resolved. I won’t go into much detail, since you can easily find all of the statistics on the internet. I won’t even go into the Star Wars: The Last Jedi debate, because I’m really done with that, but I feel the need to mention that a “men’s rights activist” made a no-women cut of the movie. Yes, really. And, of course, you can hate the movie, but hating it because there are too many women in to is just idiotic! Anyway, I don’t want to want about film or even books. I have a better example. Everyone trusts the victims these days, you say? Well, let me tell you a little real-life story from my own country, Croatia. It ended not even a week ago. And it didn’t end well.

County Prefect Alojz Tomašević is from the leading political party in Croatia. And he beats his wife. The wife decides to come forward, to finally press charges. After that, everyone she knows turns their back on her. EVERYONE. Even her children. The press mostly backs her up, but no one she knows gives her any help. And then the Minister of Demography, Family and Social Policy, Nada Murganić (a woman and a former social worker!) says that these things happen in families and it would’ve been better if they resolved it as a family, without going to the press. After that, the woman withdraws the charges. Literally NOTHING happens to her husband. He’s still in charge of the county. And her son writes a post on Facebook in which he thanks God that He enlightened his mother, and made her see that she made a mistake. (He’s probably just happy that his father is still influential and can “buy” him a good life.) The Church never addressed the problem directly, but an article comes out in which a priest says that divorce is a great sin, and women should never leave their husbands. All this in the 21st century. (I found a short article about it in English, if you’re interested.)

Why didn’t she just leave, you ask? Well, this is why! She was left alone and no one supported her. And this is why even smaller issues have to be talked about – that’s where everything starts. Every cat-call, every sexist remark shapes the society we live in. Yes, everyone makes mistakes, everyone sometimes says something that can be seen as problematic. But if someone warns you, you should just learn from it. If people are willing to think about ther people’s fellings, and what makes other uncomfortable, then it’s not that hard to change certain behaviours. And these changes are important for everyone. Women and men, because as I mentioned earlier, men are often mocked if they say they were sexually abused since they are expected to be strong, and to want sex all the time.

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And, since we’re talking about this, did you know there was a Spider-man comic which addressed this issues, and Peter Parker talks about his own experience of sexual abuse when he was a boy? I think this is a very important comic. To see a superhero, someone they look up to, someone powerful, go through such things, sends a very powerful message and validates the issue. It helps children realise that abuse can happen to anonye, and that it doesn’t mean you’re weak. You can read more about it HERE.

This is where I leave you, but please feel free to comment on these issues. It’s not an easy topic, but it’s important, and I’d love to talk to you!


*This goes both ways. What about the girl who is “one of the guys”? She likes her friend, but he dates the vilified “pretty girl”. The “one of the guys” girl does everything right. She likes the same things as he does. She’s not nagging like the other girls. All girls nag, but no, not her! Even if something bothers her, she will laugh it off. She never makes scenes. She doesn’t wear make-up. Boys always say how make up is misleading, how it’s “false advertising”, but still date girls who wear it. Now, why is that? And in a movie, she would get the guy. But real life is something else…


The pictures are from Pixabay.com. The Spider-man one is from HERE.


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What Makes a Good Comedy?

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> DISCLAIMER: This post doesn’t answer the question from the title. It’s just me, rambling about comedy. Basically…

This is a question I asked myself after finally watching a sitcom I actually enjoyed. (More about the sitcom later on). I rarely watch sitcoms or comedies these days, because I often find them too silly to be actually funny. And I almost never read funny books (the closest to that are Terry Pratchett’s books). And I sometimes watch some funny tv shows, but I mostly just want to rewatch those I’ve seen before.

Why is this? Are the comedies nowadays really not that good, or am I the problem? The thing is, even some comedies which I found funny before are not as funny to me anymore. Did I become too old and bitter? I hope not, I’m only 26. XD

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As I thought about this, I asked myself what comedies and sitcoms I liked and why. What makes me laugh? And I realised that I liked a bitter kind of humour, humour that actually has something to say. And these things can vary. The most obvious one is social commentary. Now, I know what you are thinking (okay, not really, but some of you might be thinking this): Does humour really have to be socially aware to be funny? Shouldn’t the main point of humour be to relax and just not think about the millions of problems our world faces? And you would be right to ask that. But, if you think about the origin of comedy, it was always, at least a little bit, a social comentary.

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If we want to go to the very origin of comedy, it would probably be the Ancient Greek theatre. Humour certainly existed before Ancient Greece, but they were the first who put some rules on how comedy should look like, and are the ones who basically invented drama. Those Greek comedies were often satirical, even political. Even religion was not left out, and sometimes the myths were changed and incorporated in comedies. One of the rules which stayed to this day is that all comedies end happily, and the conflicts are resolved.

In the Middle Ages, comedy as it once was disappeared. Theatre completely changed, and was reduced to religious and biblical stagings, and on the other hand on mistrels and troubadurs who travelled and entertained. But something else took its place as main entertainment and escape from everyday problems – carnivals. Carnivals were the time when everything was allowed. The poorest peasant could pretend to be a king. Carnivals destroyed social rules and constructs, but at the same time they affirmed those same roles. How? Well, canivals made people’s everyday lives more bearable. They were allowed to make fun of the people above them, only to return to their own social role afterwards. Carnivals were a form or regulation at the same time as they were a form of entertainment. They also created typical (or stock) characters, which remained a part of comedy to this day, just in their more modern roles. It’s basically impossible to not have society influence comedy.

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Picture from Pixabay.com

Now we come to the Rennaissance and commedia dell’ arte, which coexisted with erudite comedy which followed the ancient rules. Commedia dell’ arte was based on the stock characters and the actors’ improvisation. The stock characters were easily recognized because they wore the same clothes and some of them had masks. This is something we have today – typical characters. And this is something that, in my opinion, good comedy should use in an intersting way. Good comedy should not accept the typical characters, but play with them. I guess that originality is also something that makes a piece of art (or entertainment) good. And originality doesn’t necessarily mean moving away from every single trope. It means using what we know in a unique way.

 

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Commedia dell’ arte was very popular, which means it wasn’t boring to people even though it always had the same types of charactes. It usually satirized recent events, often some local scandals, and that’s what made it entertaining. At this point I will stop with the history of comedy, and say that this is something that definitely makes comedy a good one – being current. This leads to the sitcom I actually enjoyed recently. (Yes, I’m finally getting there!) Master of None is created by Aziz Ansari (who also plays the main role) and Alan Yang. It deals with recent issues, such as race and multiculturality. It talks about subjects people actually face today. For example, it commented on the treatment of women in a way which I rarely see in TV shows – by using the actual arguments of women that I’d read many times online but never saw being validated like this. The main character Dev and his male friends are completely oblivious to some things women go though almost every day. This was stressed by Dev complaining that he had a horrible night out and mentioning some quite petty things in comparison to what the women he was talking to went through – she was followed by a man to her apartment. (And bonus points for the stalker guy exclaiming: “Oh, come on, let the nice guy win for once!” This “nice guy” thing really has to be talked about.) Master of None uses fresh subjects and fresh jokes, while also making a social commentary. It doesn’t use real-life issues just to make a joke and then validate the status quo. It actually makes you think about those issues and gives validation to them.

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But can a show that is recent be truly good if it’s not funny some ten, twenty, fifty years in the future? Seinfeld is a sitcom I enjoy so much, even today, though it was based on (then) recent events. I guess some topics are always relevant and some things (sadly) never change. So, yes, there’s a risk of becoming dated. And, sometimes, only time can tell if this will happen. Seinfeld points out certain small social pet peeves and problems that happen to everyone, and which in a certain way won’t change that quickly. I also want to add that this is a problem with Shakespeare, too. He’s taken too seriously! But Shakespeare wrote for the people. Even his tragedies have humour and, yes, sex jokes. The thing is, he uses the language of his own time, so those jokes go unnoticed. And no one is really looking for jokes when reading Shakespeare, because that’s not how he’s taught. I think it’s a missed opportunity… Of course, explaining jokes doesn’t make them funny, but making students aware of the context can be quite interesting. Can something be truly timeless, anyway? Especially humour?

Maybe we should consider some older tv shows, the ones that could be described as “timeless”, and one of them is certainly Blackadder. The humour in this show can be a bit dark, so maybe not for everyone, but I think it will never get old. Why? Because it’s mostly based on witty dialogue and wordplay. It’s also set in different periods in history, and it makes fun of certain historical figures. It plays with our expectations when it comes to those people. Another similar example is ‘Allo ‘Allo! which manages to make one of the darkest periods of history funny.

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But, is it necessary for humour to be timeless to be good? I’m actually not sure. I guess, in the end of the day, what’s important is that we have something that makes us laugh. So, what do you find funny? Which books, films, and tv shows made you laugh, and why?



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My Top 5 Non-fiction Reads of 2017

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I made my Top 10 Books of 2017 list a few days ago, but it was actually a list of my favourite novels from last year. This was intentional, because I’ve read some great non-fiction books in 2017, and I wanted to make a separate list for those books.

These are, of course, books that I’ve read in 2017, not books published in 2017. And this list is in no praticular order since these books are all quite different, and all great. Anyway, here’s my list:

1. Romantic Outlaws; The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley by Charlotte Gordon

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This book is the most “bookish” one on the list. As it says in the title, it’s a dual biograpy of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley, and it’s just perfect. It’s very detailed, and it really gives the reader a sense of everything these women went through, and the world they lived in. I would highly recommend it to everyone interested in these two writers and thinkers, Romanticism, feminism, and just literature in general.

“[A Vindication of the Rights of Woman] outlined the evils of the present state of society, and introduced solutions that would redeem men as well as women. Yes, men. From the first page to last, Mary emphasized that women’s liberty should matter to everyone.”

2. Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

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This book left such an impression on me that I wrote my longest post ever after reading it. Even if you’re not a vegetarian or a vegan, I think you would learn a lot from this book and the things that are happening not only to animals, but to the entire environment because of factory farming. It’s well-researched book, and the author talked to many people on different sides of the debate. And no, there are not just two sides – things are not that simple. I think that the fact that Jonathan Safron Foer writes novels also helped to make this book very readable, and well-written.

As told by Kafka’s close friend Max Brod:

“Suddenly he began to speak to the fish in their illuminated tanks. ‘Now at least I can look at you in peace, I don’t eat you anymore.’ It was the time he turned strictly vegetarian.”

3. The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from a Secret World by Peter Wohlleben

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This is a book I would recommend to everyone who loves nature. It was very interesting and I learned so much from it! We, humans, are destroying everything. And our lack of knowledge isn’t helping, either. So, let’s learn! The point of this books it that trees (and plants) are living beings and they deserve respect. They also deserve that we try to understand them better.

“If we want to use forests as a weapon in the fight against climate change, then we must allow them to grow old, which is exactly what large conservation groups are asking us to do.”

4. The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century by Ian Mortimer

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If you like reading about everyday life in different historical periods – this is the book you’ve been looking for. Also, it’s a perfect book for anyone interested in the Middle Ages. I always thought history should be taught this way – give students a real sense of how it was like to live back then. History is nnot just a list of kings and queens, a list of conflicts and wars. And it’s interesting to compare other time periods to our own. For example:

“When people declare that ‘children have to grow up so quickly these days’ they should reflect on this fact. Medieval boys are expected to work from the age of seven and can be hanged for theft at the same age. They can marry at the age of fourteen…”

5. De Profundis by Oscar Wilde

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This is a different kind of non-fiction, so if you’re someone who likes to read memoir-like non-fiction, this is my recommendation for you. De Profundis is a long letter Oscar Wilde wrote to his lover Lord Alfred Douglas  while he was imprisoned in Reading Gaol. It’s his reflection on his sentence, his life, his plans for the future, philosophy and literature. It’s amazing to read Wilde’s deepest thoughts during the probably hardest time of his life. I wrote a little post about what he says about nature which you can read here.

“But it is a very unimaginative nature that only cares for people on their pedestals.”

And that’s my list! Do you have any non-fiction recommendations? I’d love to know!