Friday, January 18, 2013

I Do Not Think it Means What You Think it Means...

To start off, and to prove I'm not crazy (or at least not alone in my particular brand of crazy) my roommate found this fantastic new bag for me on

So clearly Shakespearian Cliffs Notes cause other lit nerds to break out in rage-fueled creativity. (In case you need a refresher, here's my take.)

While any form of Shakespeare Made Stupid does fill me with white-hot rage, they haven't managed to unseat my #1 Bard-Rage slot. This honor is given to the mistake that has caused me to lecture random strangers (and a few co-workers), forcibly throw books across a bookstore, and once almost led to me walking out of a college class. So, without further ado-

BookWench's #1 Shakespearian Pet Peeve
Wherefore art thou Romeo?” does not mean “Where are you, Romeo?”

Yes – this is one of the most pedantic, nit-picky things I can get rage-y about, but just because the vast majority of people misuse this line does not mean I have to accept it. Honestly- if you're attempting to impress me with your intelligence by misusing a line from my favorite writer, I am not going to be impressed, nor am I going to let you continue butchering the Bard. I am also not going to believe that you've read the play, or have any real idea of what happened in it.

If you have read the play, or even just the famous balcony scene in question, then context clues should lead you to the proper conclusion: “Wherefore art thou Romeo?” means “WHY are you Romeo?” Juliet clearly does not know Romeo is there, nor does she expect him to be. Any intelligent Montague would have gone home, quickly, after his identity was revealed to his mortal enemies, whose party he just crashed (luckily teenage hormones trump logic most of the time, or this would be a much shorter play.) Therefore- she's clearly not talking to him or looking for him, she's talking to the imaginary listener of all soliloquies. This line might as well have started “Dear Diary.” All the lines in the rest of this speech are Juliet asking the universe why the boy she met has to be Romeo Montague, son of her sworn enemy, and not John Smyth – random handsome stranger she could totally fall in love with without everyone dying at the end. (Oops...spoilers. It's a Shakespearian tragedy, everyone dies.) In fact it takes another twenty-six lines before Juliet figures out Romeo has been listening. So why would she be asking where he is? She clearly thinks he's gone, not stalking her balcony hoping Tybalt doesn't find him. It's all right there in the text!

I'm seriously getting angry just typing this. Time for a vodka break.

Before everyone starts yelling about how snobby and mean I am, believe me, I am aware that this is weird. At this point, though, it's such an ingrained annoyance I physically react when I hear or see this mistake being made, to the point where you can actually see my shoulders and back tense. I think I would need intense physical therapy to get rid of it at this point.
Once, while working at Borders, I was forced to display a book put out by one of the hundreds of chick lit publishers that cropped up after Bridget Jones became a household name. It was one of the myriad modernizations of Romeo and Juliet, where everyone is ten years older and no one dies (I have yet to see one of these that didn't make me sad for the state of modern publishing.) What made this one stand out was the fact that between the front cover log-line and the back cover blurb they managed to not only mis-use “Wherefore art thou?” but also missed the real meaning of “star-crossed lovers.”* I was so angry that someone high up enough in the editorial department let this get past them I actually composed an angry letter pointing out their extreme stupidity. I didn't send it because I didn't want to lose my job, but I did forcibly throw the book across our warehouse and refuse to put it on a major display. I couldn't find a link to this literary atrocity because most of those publishers went out of business ten years ago, and hopefully the book is now rotting at the bottom of a remainder bin in a Crown Books. Also, I have apparently consumed enough booze to forget the actual title, but it's bad enough that I know it existed and that someone made money for it.
The other major rage incident occurred in college during a mandatory freshman writing class. It was one of the few classes in college where I was the only theatre major in a group of mostly business majors, and there was a built-in animosity between us, because that's how Violets* roll. During a group presentation modernizing classic stories, a fellow student playing Juliet looked at her watch while delivering the “Wherefore” line. I came so close to gathering my things and walking out to ask for a transfer to a different class, one with more lit and drama nerds. I chose to stay because these were poor Stern students who didn't know from Shakespeare,* and at some point I would need them to do my taxes or manage my 401k, or do other math-related things. (That last sentence is hilarious if you're a Tischie.) I silently seethed until the professor opened the floor up for comments, and I was able to vocalize my disappoinment. None of the other students would speak to me for the rest of the semester, but the Bardian Rage Demon that lives in my soul was totally satisfied.

So that wraps up my Shakespearian Pet Peeves. I'm sure most of you are now questioning why you read this blog, or why you're even friends with me, or how you can go about disowning me, but I feel much better having shared my neurosis with others.

*Star-crossed means fated to fail. So if the main character in this chick lit atrocity is wishing for her star-crossed lover, she's basically wishing to fall in love with someone terminally ill.
*Yes, my University's mascot is a violet. As in the flower. We're really hardcore.
* Sorry, apparently I turned into someone's old Jewish grandmother for a moment.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

That's a Deal Breaker!

Recently I've read a  few articles about  certain pop-cultural items that would make someone un-dateable. I don't believe any of them are universal, though if they are then we've hit upon one of the reasons I'm still single (normally I blame my looks and personality). I did find while working in a used bookstore, slogging through piles of people's books, that I had created my own list of books that would, at the very least, raise some dating red flags.
And before people start jumping down my throat, telling me that I should be glad people are reading at all, I agree – it's great that people are reading actual books. However – knowing myself and my personality there are some books that would put a halt to me, BookWench, persuing a serious relationship with someone. And, if we're all being honest with ourselves, we all have literary or film or music deal-breakers, or warning signs. I'm just wench-y enough to form a list and put it online. I'm also fully aware that there are chunks of my library that would put some people off of dating me. (According to most of the articles I've read my signed Palahniuks and vintage Hunter S. Thompson books make me untouchable.)

So here's MY list, with reasons-
  • Anything by Tucker Max – I'm past the phase of my life where I date this type of guy.
  • Anything by a Fox News Personality/ Extreme Conservative (i.e. Limbaugh, O'Reilly, Coulter)- Because as much fun as intense political debates are, that's what I do with my family when we've all had too much to drink and need a good cry. It is not a great foundation for a romantic relationship, unless you're James Carville and Mary Matalin.
  • I Am Legend – This one is not an immediate deal-breaker, but it will cause some concern, and a need for me to dig a little deeper. I learned through experience that if a guy is a little too on-board with Matheson's idea that women are the root of all evil and will cause the downfall of civilization, we're going to have some problems. If they just like post-apocolyptic vampire stories, then we'll be fine.
  • A Library Composed Entirely of One Genre – I understand that most people have a genre that they enjoy the most, but if all you ever read or ever plan to read are mysteries/ sci-fi/ philosophy/ obscure novels about the War of the Roses, I worry that the topics of conversation are going to be similarly limited. It's like only wanting to eat one kind of ice cream for the rest of your life, where's the fun in that?
  • An Overwhelming Number of Religiously Conservative Books- This mostly applies to things like The Surrendered Wife, or extremely evangelical books, not all things religious or spiritual. Again – wildly dispirate views on religion rarely lead to a strong relationship.
  • No Books at All –

These are the big ones, but there are plenty of others that would at least start a serious line of questioning, like 50 Shades of Gray, or Twilight (Especially since I date men. Men reading these books and dating women are either trying to hard or unaware that they don't really like women. Or they just have deplorable taste in books, still a cause for concern.) I'll give passes on popular, mindless fiction if everyone acknowledges that it's not a great work of literature, but if you try to convince me that Dan Brown and James Patterson are two of America's greatest authors, we're done. Making this list may make me seem mean or judgemental, which I am, but I feel like it will also help me avoid future dating disasters. Maybe to balance it out I'll start a list of things that make someone super-date-able, or at the very least, fling-able. Maybe it will start a new series – the softer side of BookWench.

"It's no good pretending that any relationship has a future if your record 
collections disagree violently or if your favorite films wouldn't even speak to each other if they met at a party."
 - Nick Hornby

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Literary Resolutions

Happy 2013 everyone! Amongst my many other personal resolutions, my professional resolutions involve writing far more posts for the blog this year. I've got a lot of ideas for recurring series of posts and thought I'd start the new year with one of those.

Inspired by my blog crush* Sam Greenspan of 11 Points, I've decided to do some Top 11 lists of my own, and my literary resolutions seemed like an excellent starting point.
The following 11 books are literary classics that somehow I've not read. Most people covered these in various English classes, but due to some weird departmental shuffling in high school and some oddly niche college Literature classes, I missed out on some widely read works. I narrowed the list down to books I felt I actually wanted to read and set them as part of my reading goal for 2013. (The to-read spreadsheet on my computer is up to 982 titles, so I have to narrow my focus into something manageable.) So here they are, in no particular order:

Top 11 Missed Classics I Resolve to Read in 2013

  1. Pride and Prejudice/ Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen – The fact that I have not read these books is one of the major reasons I question how well I'm doing at the whole “being a girl” thing. I've read Emma, I've watched most of the BBC adaptations of her work, but somehow I've never sat down and read these two major works by one of the most important classic female authors. I vow to get through at least one of these.
  2. Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens – Somehow in my Dickens phase in college I missed out on what is considered to be his greatest work. In my defense, I have read The Old Curiosity Shop, so I feel like my lit-nerd cred is still pretty solid.
  3. Any of Mark Twain's novels – Mark Twain is one of my favorite thinkers of the 19th Century, but I've never finished one of his novels. I love his letters, short non-fiction, and random thoughts, but my entire knowledge of Huck Finn comes from a Classics for Kids version I read when I was eight.
  4. Ulysses – James Joyce – This is the one I'm worried about actually finishing since I hated reading Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. However, Ulysses is referenced in several other books that I love, so I feel obligated to give it a try. It might actually take me all of 2013 to get thorough it.
  5. Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck – One of those works of literature I can reference, and fake it enough to sound like I've read it, so I feel like I should end the charade and read the book. 
  6. War & Peace/ Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy – I've read a few of the other big names in Russian literature, but I've missed out on Tolstoy. I'll be happy if I make it through one, both may be pushing it.
  7. Dracula – Bram Stoker – Another one I'm worried about finishing, mostly because I tend not to enjoy epistolary- style novels. Case in point – I love the play and the movie version of Dangerous Liaisons, I do not enjoy the source novel nearly as much. Plus, I read so many other books that involve vampires, I feel I have to read the one that started it all.
  8. Vanity Fair – William Thackeray – This one I'm genuinely looking forward to reading. Becky Sharp has always sounded like a heroine I can get behind and enjoy, this list just gives me the push to make the time to read her story.
  9. Don Quixote – Cervantes – Another one I feel really bad about having missed. I would like to work some aspects of Cervantes and this book into the show I write, so this one is a priority.
  10. King John – Shakespeare – One of the Bard's I haven't read. My main motivation for reading it would be to really throw off a future cast of The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged), because I will see that play again, and I want to test their improv skills.
  11. The Scarlet Pimpernel – Baron Orczy – Makes the list entirely because it serves as the framework for one of my favorite episodes of Black Adder the Third
That seems like a decent start to my 2013 reading list. I'm hoping to read at least one new book a week, so I just need to pick 41 more to round out the year. I'm also hoping to post here at least once a week, so be sure to check back regularly! 

 *What? That's a thing. Oh, and go read his blog, it's awesome.