Wednesday, September 23, 2015

One by one

In the past few days I’ve knocked out several categories for the 2015 Reading Challenge, including:

A Book Older than 100 YearsBeowulf,   the story of a hero from another land who conquers a monster,  his mother , and his own fear of death against a horde-guarding dragon.  I used Seamus Heaney’s translation, which seemed to be the best judging by reviews, and found it far shorter than I expected.

A Book You Were Supposed to Read in High School:  Grendel is a mid-20th century retelling of Beowulf through the eyes of the fearsome beast our doughty Geat  rendered ‘armless.  This was assigned to me in 12th grade English, though we never read it because the teacher was a Guardsman and we were taught by a series of substitutes.  I never gave away the book, though, because I paid $12 for it, and when a book is assigned to me reading it becomes a point of honor. Anyhoo, Grendel was a curious choice for my teacher. As it turns out the fearsome beast is a teenager:   clumsy, chronically mired in an existential crisis, and fairly miserable on the whole.  Aside from a few philosophical conversations with the dragon, Grendel spends the book crashing through the woods, spying on the Danes, feeling sorry for himself, and occasionally screaming at the heavens. Though I endured this in the hope that Beowulf would show up and put him out of his misery, I must say the ending line did make me feel…almost sorry for him. Almost.

A Book Based on a Television Show: Star Trek: Foul Deeds Will Rise,  based heavily on “The Conscience of the King” and touching on another though to name it would give away  the whodunit.

A Book By an Author Who You Love, But Which You Haven’t Read:   Zebra Derby, Max Shulman. Yes, despite saying “anything by Asimov or Wendell Berry” for months now,  last night I spotted my copy of Max Shulman’s Large Economy Size and realized – hey, I’m awfully fond of Shulman, and I haven’t read the third novel in that collection, so why not?  It’s a short bit of postwar satire in which a returning soldier struggles to find his place in the new world. Through his misadventures Shulman pokes fun at door-to-door salesmen, Communists,   psychologists, bureaucrats, and entrepreneurs . It’s not nearly as funny as the soldier’s previous misadventures (Barefoot Boy With Cheek), erring as it does on the side of randomness, but I still like Shulman. 

What's next? Probably either Book on the Bottom of Your To-Read List,  for which I have a nonfiction contender I've been meaning to read for several years now, but have never actually picked up, or A Book with Magic, as I'm  plodding through The Two Towers.   Sure, I could use a Narnia book for the magic, but scavenger hunts are no fun when there's no challenge.


  1. The Heaney translation is beautiful. I've read it a couple of times (as you observed it is short). Interesting contrast with Gardner's postmodern approach to the story with Grendel.

  2. I was tempted to go for Tolkien's translation, but Heaney had such a following! I can see why, though I'd like to compare to others. Have you read many translations?


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