#43 A Review of The Canterbury Tales (Graphic Novel) by Geoffrey Chaucer and Seymour Chwast

If I remember correctly, the first time I was introduced to The Canterbury Tales was in high school.  I remember instantly falling in love with Chaucer’s tongue-in-cheek humor and how he infused that humor with parables that left one with a lesson learned.  When I was at the bookstore and found that a graphic novel version existed, I of course needed to buy it and see how creative Seymour Chwast was in his interpretation of Chaucer’s great work.

For those of you not familiar with The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer writes the tale of 30 pilgrims that are making their way to the Canterbury Cathedral.  Chaucer originally intended for each pilgrim to tell a tale to and from the Cathedral, for a total of 60 works.  Unfortunately, he died after completing 24 tales, of which we will never know the true order in which they are meant to be told.  What is complete, however, are the funny, serious, intriguing, intelligent, and overall entertaining tales of these pilgrims.  From the shockingly raunchy and funny tale of the Wife of Bath to the pious tale of the Prioress, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales cover the whole emotional spectrum and evoke both laughter and sorrow from the reader.

One thing that I think makes people frightened to read The Canterbury Tales or any other Medieval literature is the language barrier.  When I first read the tales it was when I was still in school, and was therefore being taught how to translate the text.  Once I was able to understand fully what each tale was about, why certain themes were important, and what made them funny, I developed a love of them.  What’s great about the graphic novel version is that it’s written not in its original text but a hip, modernized version of today’s English language.  Even the illustrations got in the “modern game”, depicting the pilgrims riding motorcycles instead of horses.  In doing this Chwast has opened up The Canterbury Tales to  not only a new generation of readers, but also a whole new audience in general.

My only critique of the graphic novel is that some of the tales’ adaptations weren’t written cohesively.  The Canterbury Tales is a huge undertaking in its normal format, so to squeeze all of that into 144 pages of text and illustrations is definitely not a simple job.  I felt that some of the stories could have used a little more tender loving care in their adaptation.  Despite this, the humor and morality of the tales still shone through well enough for any newcomers to the tales.

4 out of 5 Stars

This is my twelfth completed review for the Around The Stack In How Many Ways Challenge

The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer and Seymour Chwast
Bloomsbury USA (2011)
Hardcovers: 144 pages
ISBN: 9781608194872

#21 A Review of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Cover Image

I feel the need to start this review off by saying I’ve always been an Austenite.  Knowing that there was a feud between Austen and Charlotte Brontë has always made me distance myself from giving any of the Brontë sisters’ works a chance (horrid of me I know).  I began seeing previews of the new Jane Eyre film and they looked so good that I decided I had to put the feuding aside and give Charlotte a chance.  Never did I think I would have the experience reading Jane Eyre that I did.

Jane Eyre is supposed to be an autobiographical novel told through the eyes of Jane.  She begins her story by telling of her childhood growing up in the house of her aunt and uncle Reed.  After her parents deaths her uncle Reed adopts her and takes her into his household as if she was one of his own children.  Shortly after Jane moves in with the Reed’s her uncle dies, but not before extracting a promise from her aunt that Jane will be raised as one of her own children.  Aunt Reed promises to do so but in reality does nothing of the sort.  Jane is a very passionate child and aunt Reed decides it’s really “wickedness” and punishes Jane often, leaving her in solitude.  Jane’s cousins are horrible to her as well, with her cousin John abusing her both physically and mentally.  During one particular physical altercation Jane fights back against her cousin and is punished by being sent to the room her uncle died in, also known as the red room.  During her time in the room she thinks she sees/hears a ghost and actually faints from fear.  She is found and brought back to her room and a doctor is called.  After speaking with Jane the doctor convinces aunt Reed to send Jane away to school.  Jane is sent to Lowood Institution where she spends the next eight years of her life, six as a student and two as a teacher.  The students at Lowood Institution are mistreated due to the neglect and greed of a Mr. Brocklehurst, the schools treasurer.  After a bad typhus epidemic that kills nearly half the students in the school an investigation is launched and a complete overhaul of the school is completed.  Jane spends the rest of her time there relatively happy, until age 18 when she decides that she would like to leave Lowood and become a governess.  Jane places an ad in the paper which is answered by a Mrs. Fairfax of Thornfield Hall.  Jane accepts the position and heads to Thornfield where her life will unknowingly change forever. 

Shortly after her arrival at Thornfield she meets the master of the house, Mr. Edward Rochester, during one of her walks to the town.  His horse comes out of nowhere in the fog, is startled, and slips on a patch of ice causing Rochester to fall off of his horse.  Jane helps him up and sits with him until he is able to get back on his horse, thus beginning their strange relationship.  I say strange because eerie things begin happening at Thornfield Hall and Jane seems to be there to help out just in the nick of time.  Someone sets fire to Mr. Thornfield’s bed in the middle of the night, a man is attacked, and some of Jane’s clothing is ripped in the middle of the night by an intruder to her bedchamber.  Through all of this Jane falls in love with Mr. Rochester.  Will Mr. Rochester ever find out that Jane loves him as deeply as she does?  Will the strange events prevent a future for the two of them? 

I think my favorite aspect of this novel is that it is totally pro-feminist.  Jane has a horrid life, but she’s never a damsel in distress.  She deals with the shortcomings of her life with grace and piousness.  She doesn’t let the misgivings of her life turn her into a cruel person.  She is forgiving and accepts the life she’s been handed. 

The writing is absolutely exquisite.  I found myself being so moved by certain passages that I had to go find my husband Todd and read them aloud to him.  Brontë knows exactly what she wants to say and uses the most perfect and vivid language possible to convey it.  The scenes I must specifically point out are the fortune-teller scene and the scene with Rochester and Jane in the garden.  The narrative is absolutely breathtaking.

“I tell you I must go!” I retorted, roused to something like passion.  “Do you think I can stay to become nothing to you?  Do you think I am an automaton? a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup?  Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless?  You think wrong! I have as much soul as you, and full as much heart!”

It’s difficult for me to find the words to express how in love I am with this novel.  Brontë takes the reader on an emotional journey that is stunning, vivid, depressing, shocking, romantic, dark, joyous, melancholy, courageous, righteous, and so much more.  Your emotions while reading the novel literally go on a rollercoaster with Jane.  Brontë’s writing allows you to literally become one with Jane and experience everything with Jane as she explains it.  I’ve never felt more in tune with a character than I did with Jane. I laughed and cried with her, felt dejected and happy when she did, was depressed at some times, and overcome with joy at others.   She is filled with a passion that I now see has been lacking in many other novels I’ve read.  This novel has forever changed the eyes I read with. 

I cannot recommend this novel enough.  Upon finishing it I’ve watched two of the mini-series versions of it as well as a film version.  I’ve become utterly obsessed with Jane’s story, and I have a feeling that you will too after reading it.

7 out of 5 Stars

This is my seventh completed review for the Page to Screen Challenge

This is my twelfth completed review for the Historical Fiction Challenge

This is my first completed review for the Chunkster Challenge

Jane Eyre by Charlotte  Brontë
Barnes and Noble Classics (2003)
Paperback 558 pages
ISBN: 9781593080075

#14 A Review of Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Cover ImageJane Austen is a name synonymous with truly amazing novels.  Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, Mansfield Park, Emma, Northanger Abby, and Sense and Sensibility are all considered to be amongst the greatest works of fiction ever written.  Austen’s first published novel, Sense and Sensibility, was published 200 years ago this year!  In honor of its bicentennial birthday (and the Sense and Sensibility bicentenary reading challenge), I’ve made sure to make this the year for my re-read. It’s amazing to think that Sense and Sensibility is still so loved and revered today, 200 years after its first publication as “a lady’s” first novel. 
Most people are familiar with the plot line of Sense and Sensibility, but for those of you who aren’t, here is a fast run down.  Mrs. Dashwood and her three daughters Elinor, Marianne, and Margaret are left almost penniless when Mr. Dashwood dies.  John Dashwood, half-brother and stepson to the women, becomes the new owner of their home Norland Park due to an entailment on the estate.  John and his wife Fanny move into Norland Park and take over, forcing the women to look for a new home.  During this transition Fanny’s brother Edward comes to visit and begins a close friendship with Elinor.  Mrs. Dashwood and Marianne believe an engagement is upcoming, but a warning from Fanny reveals that Edward is unable to control his own destiny while his mother controls his purse strings.  Insulted, Mrs. Dashwood refuses to stay any longer than necessary in Norland Park and is lucky to find her cousin, Sir John Middleton, offering them a cottage to live in.  They soon set out for their new home, Barton Cottage, and upon arrival meet with their cousin Sir John.  He is a lively man with good manners and a caring heart.  He invites them to dine with his wife, children, and mother-in-law as often as possible.  It is at Barton Park (Sir Middleton’s estate) that they begin a friendship with Sir John’s friend Colonel Brandon, a man who is quiet, reserved, and fascinated by Marianne. 
Marianne, a hopeless romantic, is madly in love with Willoughby, a man who rescued her from a fall during one of her walks.  The two share many conversations about life, literature, music, art, and much more.  Everyone believes them to be madly in love and secretly engaged.  Elinor, the sensible one in the family, tries to curb the gossip as she doubts there to actually be an engagement.  Elinor tries to subtly tell Marianne that she needs to begin following social procedures, lest she become a subject of public gossip.  Marianne tries to tell Elinor that there is nothing wrong in her actions, that she need not be false due to social norms and will continue to act how she feels.  Will Marianne’s actions come back to haunt her in the end?  Will Elinor ever tell anyone of her love and yearning for Edward?
The above barely touches upon half of the plot of the novel.  It’s one of Austen’s more complex stories in my opinion as there is a large focus on the relationships that the characters have with each other.  The biggest relationship is between Elinor and Marianne.  The two are complete opposites of each other in both temperament and disposition.  Marianne is reckless, romantic, eager, spirited, and not at all worried about how others perceive her.  Elinor on the other hand lives by the rules, is sensible with money, quiet, reserved, and dependent on herself.  Towards the end of the novel you see how much they each learn from each other as sisters, friends, and confidants.  I think of all of Austen’s books the relationship between Elinor and Marianne is the one most beautifully written. 
While the relationships between characters is important it’s also the relationships the characters have with themselves that shine.  Most specifically with Elinor.  We watch her struggle throughout the whole novel and she first realizes that she is in love with Edward and then later on comes to realize that she may never have him as her own.  We watch her struggle watching Marianne express herself so simply and easily in a way she knows she is incapable of mimicking.
Austen truly shines as a writer with this novel.  It’s no surprise that 200 years later society is still talking about this story.  If you’ve never read it  I heartily encourage you give it a try.  It’s the perfect year to honor it with your first read.
5 out of 5 Stars

This is my eighth completed review for the Historical Fiction Challenge

This is my first completed review for the Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Challenge

This is my fourth completed review for the Page to Screen Challenge

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
Barnes and Noble (2004)
Hardcover, 324 pages
ISBN: 9781593083366

#78 A Review of Sense and Sensibility (Graphic Novel) by Nancy Butler and Sonny Liew

Sense & SensibilitySense and Sensibility is a classic story of family, friendship, heartache, love, grief, and sisterly bonds.  This brilliant rendition of Sense and Sensibility turned graphic novel brings Jane Austen’s vibrant words to life through incredible illustrations.

I was very nervous at first about picking up the graphic novel version of Sense and Sensibility because of my thoughts on the Pride and Prejudice graphic novel. (Both are produced by Marvel comics)  I thought that the artist’s rendition of the Pride and Prejudice version was just completely off.  All of the women, to put it frankly, looked like porn stars.  The writing done by Nancy Butler stayed fairly close to the original work, giving it points in my book.   What sold me on the Sense and Sensibility version was a new artist, Sonny Liew. 

Liew’s illustrations are exactly what I pictured Sense and Sensibility looking like.  The clothing looked like the proper pieces women of that time would wear, Norland Park, Barton Park, and the cottage all fit the images that Austen herself created.  The one negative I had with the illustrations was how Elinor was drawn.  Elinor was often shown with an extreme receding hairline, making her seem bald most of the time.

Nancy Butler stayed fairly true to Austen’s original work, adding and subtracting here and there.  As she states in her introduction to the graphic novel,

“while re-reading the book, I realized I was in for some rough going.  Austen had originally written Elinor and Marianne as an epistolary novel, in the form of letters.  Although she eventually changed the format, many key scenes are still conveyed through narrative rather than dialogue.  Not the optimum source material for a graphic novel, let me tell you.  So I hope readers will forgive me for taking some liberties – in the creation of speeches where none existed and the fleshing out of scenes Austen merely hints at in the book…”

Butler does a great job fleshing out those scenes that Austen hints at, and makes sure the important stuff gets into the graphic novel.  I was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked this rendition, after Marvel’s Pride and Prejudice debacle.

Marvel has recently announced that a graphic novel version of Emma will be released in the spring.  Marvel has also turned other classic novels into graphic novels: The Wizard of Oz, The Last of the Mohicans, The Three Musketeers, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Treasure Island, The Man in the Iron Mask, The Iliad, The Odyssey, etc.   

I definitely recommend those who are iffy about graphic novels to give them a try. I was introduced to graphic novels in college when I had two as textbooks for a Holocaust history course I took.  I was hesitant at first with how such heavy subject matter would be conveyed via a comic-like interpretation but was blown away. While they aren’t for everyone they certainly can breathe new life into the classics that you love.  This rendition of Sense and Sensibility is a perfect example of that breath of fresh air.

4 out of 5 Stars

#69 A Review of Our Town by Thornton Wilder

Cover Image Our Town is a Pulitzer Prize winning play written by Thornton Wilder in 1938.  Our Town is a play told in three acts.  It’s a very minimalistic play that uses barely any props and set pieces.   The actors mime almost all of their actions and even mime some conversations.  The character of the stage manager fills in for multiple roles and acts as a buffer between the audience and the acting.  He acts as the play’s narrator, giving us an even deeper insight into the lives of the characters.
Our Town follows the lives of the residents of Grover’s Corners through the jovial times and through the miserable times.  The play is not long enough for me to go into great detail about it, but suffice it to say it tackles, life, death, marriage, love, birth, and more.  In Act I you are introduced into the daily life of the Webb and Gibbs families.  Act II, is about the love and marriage of George and Emily.  George and Emily are the children from the Webb and Gibbs families.  They have lived next door to each other all of their lives and have fallen in love.  Act II goes into detail about how they decided to get married and the nerves they were having on the day of their wedding. 
Act three is about death, Emily’s to be exact.  You’ve missed out on nine years of the goings on in Grover’s Corners but the stage manager fills you in on the important particulars. Emily decides to revisit a day in her life, so that she can see the people she’s left behind once more.
I LOVE this play, and I think the reason why I love it is that there is so much truth in what is said.  The play as a whole is meant to show that we fill our lives with so many mundane things, that we don’t appreciate what we have till it’s too late.  We don’t stop to look around and see the beauty in the people we’re sharing our lives with.  In the third act, Emily says,
“Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? –ever, every minute?”
This is the point that Wilder tries to drive home with the play. Wilder wants the reader to see that life can end at any time.  You can be any age.  It doesn’t just happen to those that are old, the young can die as well, just as suddenly.  He tries to bring an appreciation to life that most people don’t understand. Emily is told that it’s better to forget the living; the memories of what you didn’t do or who you didn’t cherish while you’re alive is too much for the dead to handle.  Emily responds her agreeance by saying,
“Good-by, good-by, world.  Good-by, Grover’s Corners….Mama and Papa.  Good-by to clocks ticking…and Mama’s sunflowers.  And food and coffee.  And new-ironed dresses and hot baths…and sleeping and waking up.  Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you.”
I read this book in high school, and also saw my high school produce it for the fall drama one year.  Reading it as an adult, especially as a newlywed one has given more poignancy to what I read. Having added also to my years, I’m able to appreciate Wilder’s words more.  As a high school student you’re main focuses are getting a boyfriend/girlfriend, who’s the most popular student, playing sports well, not getting a pimple, prom dates, etc.  You don’t worry about spending time with your family, or cherishing the moments of your first kiss, your first love, the birthdays, that chat you had with your friend at lunch. Reading it as an adult now that has experienced love and death in a variety of ways, I can see what Wilder is saying better now. I truly appreciate this play.
I cannot speak enough about how much I recommend this play.  If you’ve never read it I hope it touches you as it has touched me.  If you have read it, give it another try; I bet you look at it in a whole new light.
5 out of 5 Stars

#67 A Review of The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

Cover Image The Old Man and the Sea is a short simple novel that was written by Ernest Hemingway in the 1950’s. 
The story tells the tale of Santiago, an old fisherman, and his epic battle with a giant marlin fish out on the open sea.  It has been eighty-four days since last catching a fish.  His apprentice, a young boy named Manolin, has been forced by his parents to start fishing with another crew, leaving Santiago to fish alone.  They feel Santiago is unlucky and want their child to spend his time catching fish with another crew.  Manolin still keeps an eye out for Santiago, making sure that he helps him take his equipment on and off the boat each day.  There is a real sense of caring and friendship between the two. On the morning of the eighty-fifth day Santiago claims that he will catch a fish!  Out he goes on his normal routine, baiting the sardines and setting up the fishing lines.  It takes a little while but he soon sees the line tugging on one of the fishing poles.  He knows it to be a large fish, judging by how the fish is tugging at the line.  It is this fish that Santiago will wrestle with for the remainder of the book.
This was not my first Hemingway novel.  I read The Sun also Rises when I was still in high school.  I didn’t remember what it was about and decided to embark on a crusade to re-read it and other Hemingway novels.  Hemingway truly does have a great simplistic style about his writing in this novel. Everything is fairly straight forward, one major conflict with two major characters. 
I recognize that this novel changed the way writing was looked at and done in the 50’s. Sadly, I couldn’t get into the novel.  The story seemed so dragged on. The battle with the fish is almost 70% of the entire book.  It’s page after page about how the old man is holding the fishing line, how hard the fish is tugging on the line, which direction the fish is swimming in, the old man hurting, etc. I enjoyed the interaction between Manolin and Santiago more than anything else, and craved for more of that.  Since the old man is out at sea alone while the struggle with the fish is going on, all the dialogue is one-sided.  He talks to the fish and himself, and after a while just becomes too much to listen too. 
I understand the major theme of the story, overcoming even the most insane circumstances with faith and confidence, but I just couldn’t wait for it to be over. I’m upset with myself for not liking this more than I did.  I would have thought that I could relate to the theme of the novel since I myself am battling to read 100 books this year. Thankfully, this hasn’t deterred me from reading Hemingway’s other works and I’ve eagerly added them to my to-read pile. 
I strongly encourage others to try to read the book.  While I myself was not a huge fan, you yourself might like it.  If you do, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
2 out of 5 stars.