Sunday, July 20, 2014

Required Re-Reading #2 - #4: Beowulf, Oedipus the King, & The Crucible

Required Re-Reading is a feature here at Buckling Bookshelves where I revisit books I read for school -- grammar school, high school, and college are all fair game. Most of the books I choose will be ones I didn't enjoy the first time around, but think deserve a second chance now that I am older, more interested in the classics, and can choose to read them of my own free will. I will also re-read books I did enjoy because not all of my assigned reading needs an attempt at redemption! I don't always make enough time for re-reads, so I see this as an opportunity to also revisit some of those favorites, hoping I will enjoy them just as much now as I did the first time. Thanks for following along with me on this reading journey :)

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I'm grouping my next three re-reads together because they have two things in common: 1. They are classics that were originally meant to be performed -- whether read aloud or on the stage. 2. Because they were meant to be performed, I re-read all three as audiobooks.

Beowulf, translated by Seamus Heaney
Date: 800
How did I get this book? borrowed from the library
Original Rating: 2 of 5 stars
Required Re-Reading Rating: 3 of 5 stars
GoodReads | Publisher

I remember severely disliking this book when I first read it and probably only gave it two stars instead of one because I knew intellectually it was a significant piece of literature despite my own personal feelings. My World Lit professor (whose class I really enjoyed) assigned the Seamus Heaney translation because he felt it was the best one available, so I sought it out again when doing my re-read. Unfortunately, the only audio version of this particular translation is abridged, but it is narrated by Heaney himself, so I decided it was definitely still my best option. There is an exact listing on the CD's jacket of which lines are included and while there were certainly sections left out, I didn't feel like I was missing a whole lot. I vaguely remember there being a lot of repetition anyway, so I got the impression most of what was left out were those repetitive sections to streamline the narration a bit. I don't find abridgement ideal, but I don't think it hindered my understanding or appreciation in this particular case.

This was definitely a much better experience on audio and listening to it felt very true to the original spirit of the story. I was able to follow along more easily and could really understand how this epic poem was passed down orally through the generations before it was ever set in print. I still didn't love it the second time around, but I had a greater appreciation for its history and significance and how it influenced later writings.

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Oedipus the King, by Sophocles
Date: 442 BC
How did I get this book? free download from the summer Audiobook Sync program
Original Rating: 2 of 5 stars
Required Re-Reading Rating: 4 of 5 stars
GoodReads | Publisher

I don't really remember why I didn't care for this one in high school to be honest -- maybe the whole "kill your father and marry your mother" thing was just a little too much for me at the time? The audio was a really excellent way to experience this play though, especially since it was performed by a full cast. I imagine watching it on stage would be even better, but listening on audio was far better than reading it in print. There was a lot of nuance and feeling that was better conveyed in this medium than reading what is essentially a script, complete with stage directions and notations for the actors. There is also a huge difference between hearing a Greek chorus perform their lines and reading them on the page. For me, plays are not like novels where the writing can really paint a picture -- printed plays seem more utilitarian and are really brought to life by the performers. Oedipus is of course a tragedy -- and a pretty twisted one at that -- but it is a fascinating story that I appreciated much more as an adult than as a teenager (and as a performance rather than in print!)

P.S. I remember reading this in an anthology where it was titled Oedipus Rex, but find it listed almost everywhere else as Oedipus the King, especially when published on its own. Not sure what accounts for that difference!

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The Crucible, by Arthur Miller
Date: 1953
How did I get this book? borrowed from the library
Original Rating: 3 of 5 stars
Required Re-Reading Rating: 4 of 5 stars
GoodReads | Publisher

I've always found the Salem Witch Trials fascinating, so this was one I did like when I first read it for high school. Just like Oedipus, this play was much enhanced when performed by a full cast. When I decided to re-read it, it was short enough that I actually listened to it twice! There were a few parts that got a little confusing, but I realized on my second re-read that those parts were meant to be confusing to convey the hysteria the witch trials created.

I also watched the 1996 film starring Winona Ryder and Daniel Day-Lewis which has to be the most faithful adaptation I have ever seen. There is obviously a big difference between turning a play vs. a novel into a movie, but it was really incredible to see an almost exact representation of what I had just read show up on the screen.

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In case you missed it:
Required Re-Reading #1: The Joy Luck Club

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Reading Challenges:
The Classics Club (Reviews #4, #5, & #6)
Back to the Classics
Re-Reading
Book to Movie
Translated
Lucky No. 14: Once Upon a Time + Freebies Time

14 comments:

  1. Omg I typed mega long comment on my phone and it GOT LOST! In short: love the idea and want to reread school things myself (including Oedipus). I have excellent reread experience with One Hundred Years of Solitude but there are so many more!

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    1. I HATE when that happens! I've been meaning to read One Hundred Years of Solitude for the longest time -- I really must bump it up my list. I hope you get a chance to try some more re-reads :)

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  2. I read Beowulf recently for my ITW list. I didn't love it, but it was better than I thought it would be. Specifically, I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn't as long as I'd for some reason assumed.

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    1. Yes, it was definitely shorter than I expected as well -- and of course the abridged version was even shorter!

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  3. The Crucible has always been one of my favourites. Melbourne Theatre Company did it last year and I forced my husband along to see it because he didn't know the story! (IKR?!). He LOVED it!

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    1. It seems like it would be an excellent performance -- I haven't looked into any local theaters since we've moved, but I think reading these plays is really motivating me to remedy that!

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  4. Great idea, Christine, also good to listen to them rather than read. Some plays work well when read (I tend to find the shorter the better in this case) but you aren't really doing them justice. Glad you enjoyed them all more this time around.

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    1. I think you are right that reading a play does not fully do it justice -- it was a different experience this time around and I'm really glad I chose to go this route -- will definitely be investigating local theaters though to see what's running in my area.

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  5. How clever to re-read thee ones as audiobooks! I'm sorry you didn't have much luck with this group, but it does make me smile to see that the point of your re-reading required books is opening you open to experience the novel in a different setting.

    I read Oedipus in college for a play class and I did enjoy its craziness. I think I would like to re-read it as an audiobook, I think it would make the experience even better. I also really liked The Crucible and the movie version, these I read/watched in high school. I would love to re-read it all over again though. I do agree with you, in the end I think to really appreciate and enjoy a play you need to see it preformed.

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    1. The audiobooks really were great -- and all of these were bumped up at least a little bit from my first read years ago, so I call that a success! I think of all of them, I would most like to see The Crucible performed. And if you do try a re-read, it's pretty short :)

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  6. I love being able to get classics through Sync all summer! It's such a great program. I actually haven't listened to a full cat audiobook yet, but it does seem like sounds like a great way to "read" a play.

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    1. The full cast was really great -- even better than I could have anticipated! The perfect way to go for reading a play.

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  7. I have to say I need to read these. I saw he Beowulf movie years ago and I can't remember anything about The Crucible. I love the Audiobook Sync program and I can't belief I missed it this year. :(

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    1. I also saw Beowulf years ago but want to re-watch it now that I've reread it. And there is still this week and next week for Sync if anything catches your eye :)

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I'd love to hear what you think :)