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Reviews

Challenging the City Slicker: Tracks (1980), by Robyn Davidson

tracks davidsonRobyn Davidson’s book is one of those things that challenges you because it describes something that is so utterly alien. And there’s more than a few reasons why, on the surface, I thought there would be little to relate to when I began reading her account of a trek across nearly two thousand miles of Australian desert. For instance:

  1. Despite the fact that I have lived my entire life in Australia, I have never seen more than a few patches of desert through a car window.
  2. My tolerance for hot weather peaks at about twenty degrees Celsius.
  3. I have a deathly fear of anything that clicks or slithers.
  4. I have never, nor do I ever intend to, sleep in a ‘tent’.
  5. Cleanliness is an issue with me; so much so that I am prone to anxiety attacks if I don’t shower at least once a day.
  6. Since the fourth grade, when we learnt about the dangers of melanoma, I react to sunlight in the same way that your average teenage vampire does: by slapping on three layers of skin-concealing shirts and scurrying into the welcoming shade of the nearest building/tree/bus shelter, arms held above my head like it’s raining locusts.
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Classics Club Challenge Reading Challenges Reviews

Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (1812-1818), by George Gordon, Lord Byron

childeharoldThis book is #44 on my Classics Club list, and #2 on my Back to the Classics list for 2014.

Hands up everyone who, like me, thought that Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage was going to be about, oh, I don’t know, a young soon-to-be-knight tramping around Europe and going on grand adventures? I feel like there should be a big sign at the end of the book saying, ‘HA HA. Sucked in’.

Don’t get me wrong, Byron’s first major work is absolutely wonderful – just not in the way I was expecting. It’s been so long since I’ve read poetry that I had more or less forgotten the whole point of the Romantics was less about plot and more about Nature, the individual, the human mind with all its ingenious and imperceptible little nooks and crannies. So I went in expecting some sort of storyline, and found something completely different.

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Reading Challenges Reviews

A Sentimental Journey (1768), by Laurence Sterne

sentimentaljourneyThis book is #6 on my Back to the Classics list for 2014.

Well, it’s been a while since I posted a book review. But fear not! I haven’t been neglecting my reading. In fact, now that the winter break has begun, I’ve finally been able to focus on Books I Actually Want to Read, rather than constantly struggling through the tyranny of Books I Must Read For Class or Risk Failing. Meanwhile, I’ve got a backlog of reviews that I’m hoping to share with you all, starting with another travel-inspired tome.

There are several reasons why I wanted to read Laurence Sterne’s A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy. Not only is it a turning-point in the history of travel writing, it also makes fun of the self-obsessed and narrow-minded travel accounts of older generations, something I’m sure almost everyone enjoys, if only in small doses. Sterne’s novel was also a precursor to the approach of Romantic writers like Goethe, whose Italian Journey I read earlier this year.

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Lit Major Abroad

Paris in February (in April): Part II

notredamebackThis is Part Two of my Paris trip. If you’d like to read the first part, please click here.

You might be wondering, amidst all this talk of Irish, American and Argentinian writers, whether there is actually anything to see in Paris for those fans of French literature. Fear not, world literature lovers; there is plenty to keep the French lit-lover happy. You could start a little bit away from the centre of town, at the Maison de Balzac. This is the place where the author lodged for several years. It’s now a nice little monument to the writer, though if you don’t speak French you might find the signs a little difficult to read, as there is no English translation. I managed to muddle through on the basis of about five years’ worth of high school French. Here is what I managed to pick up:

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Lit Major Abroad

Paris in February (in April): Part I

eiffeltowerWell, it’s been a while, but I’m happy to report that this is the final instalment in my Lit Major Abroad segment for the time being. It took me a little longer to put together these last two posts, but I hope you enjoy them. So without further ado, I give you… Paris in February (in April).

Here’s a little confession. When they hear the word ‘Paris’, most people think of romance: the Eiffel Tower at night, walks along the Seine, laughing in the rain, our last summer…. Oh, dear. Do excuse me. I believe I’ve had another Abba outburst. Or, as I like to call them (at least in my head), ‘Abbursts’.

But while most people’s heads turn to candlelit restaurants and sipping coffee with their significant other, some people (myself included) prefer another side of Paris. Specifically, the literary side. There’s no getting around it. Paris is simply the city that every literature lover has to visit at least once in their lives. Some of the greatest minds in French literature lived and worked here.

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Books and Reading Reviews

The Top Five Things Goethe Can Teach Us About Travel

goethesdisguiseI recently read Goethe’s Italian Journey, an account of the famous German writer’s trip to Italy in the 1780s. At the end of my review, I promised I’d share a few pieces of wisdom that I picked up from reading Goethe’s account. It’s amazing how recognisable some of his experiences are. Close your eyes, and you can almost imagine nothing has changed. This got me thinking, and I ended up going through the text looking for a few lessons Goethe might have been trying to impart on his readers. So, without further ado, I’d like to present…

The Top Five Things Goethe Can Teach Us About Travel

#1: Enjoy the Ride

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Reviews

Review: Italian Journey (1816-17), by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

goetheitalianjourneyHere’s a question: what does an eighteenth-century gentleman, with a fair amount of money, a comfortable desk job, and a passion for rocks and plants do when he finds himself suffering through the throngs of a mid-life crisis?

My natural answer, of course, would be this: he buys a racing carriage and starts wearing leather coat-tails.

If, however, that eighteenth-century gentleman happens to be Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and the desk job happens to be a post working for the Weimar government, and the passion for rocks and plants happens to be – well, a passion for rocks and plants – then he might very well drop everything he’s doing and run away to Italy. We’ve all been there, right gents? Your hair starts receding, you go to Italy. It’s been done so often it’s almost a cliché.

However, while most gentlemen in this position content themselves with new haircuts and a little harmless flirting with the girl who brings their coffee every morning, Goethe went one further. In 1786, he set out from Weimar in the dead of night, possibly elaborately disguised (at least I’d like to think so), and using a fake name.

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Lit Major Abroad

Romantics in Rome: the German Edition

IMG_1457.2Last week I looked at some of the English Romantics who chose to call Rome their home. I’ve already discussed one of my favourite museums in the world, the Keats-Shelley House, but Rome also appealed to writers from the other side of the Channel. So while in Rome I decided to visit the Casa di Goethe and see where the famous German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe lived, wrote, and painted. It was also a place of particular interest because at the time I was knee-deep in Goethe’s book Italian Journey, about his time in Italy (though not literally knee-deep, of course. That would have been embarrassing while trying to read on the train to Pompeii).

So what was this famous German writer doing in Rome? Well, it’s a funny story, and it goes something like this:

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Lit Major Abroad

Romantics in Rome

ColosseumViewOut

Go thou to Rome,—at once the Paradise,
The grave, the city, and the wilderness …

-Percy Bysshe Shelley, ‘Adonais: An Elegy on the Death of John Keats’

John Keats, one of the best-known poets of the Romantic era, died in Rome in 1821. Not long after, Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote these beautiful and heartbreaking lines, which encourage the reader to visit Keats’ grave in Rome. Since then, Keats’ final resting place has fascinated generations of visitors. A few weeks ago, I decided to visit it and try to grasp its significance for myself.

Keats left England for Italy in 1820. In a little house on the Spanish Steps, he spent his final months with his friend Joseph Severn, fighting the illness that would eventually claim him. Today the house is a museum, devoted to the writing of Keats and his contemporaries.

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Lit Major Abroad

Just Like a Greek Drama

Parthenon

The isles of Greece, the isles of Greece!
Where burning Sappho loved and sung,
Where grew the arts of war and peace,
Where Delos rose, and Phoebus sprung!

-Lord Byron, ‘The Isles of Greece’

Now that I’m back home and going through the depressing delightful process of sorting through the pictures from my trip, I have a feeling the last leg of my journey through Europe will take more than a few weeks to find its way onto the internet. Today I’d like to share just a few little bits and pieces from the country that gave the Western world so much in terms of culture: Greece.

Greek mythology is full of juicy stories and amusing anecdotes. Greek drama became the basis upon which Western civilisation crafted their own plays for hundreds of years. And then, of course, there’s the philosophers, statesmen, and poets that the ancient city of Athens produced. By all accounts, if you had to pick somewhere in the pre-Christian world, ancient Attica was the place to be. So a visit to modern-day Athens is necessarily steeped in centuries of history, not to mention the expectations of the thousands of tourists that flock there yearly.