Tag Archives: Nonfiction

universal man: ‘Ben Jonson: A Life’, by Ian Donaldson – review

Ben Jonson: A LifeBen Jonson: A Life by Ian Donaldson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have always been drawn into a writer whose noble ambition and unswerving individuality are distinct from those of the officialized popularity of famed celebrities simply because of the sheer provocativeness of the author translated into the textual world of reality, which is a reflection of his conceptions by the barrier he establishes proudly and profoundly against those of others. In fact, it is this unapologetic individuality that enables the author to become what he is capable of in protean varieties; an alchemist of words, a high priest of the temple of Apollo, a mortal equivalent of Hercules, a neo-classist of a new renaissance, an independent scholar of the great leaning, and a humanist committed to the Classical principles to contribute to the new capital of the Arts. The hero of the splendid epithets is no less the poet and playwright than Ben Jonson himself, and it is in this superbly told biography Ben Jonson: A Life that his modern disciple Ian Donaldson resurrects the person of Jonson in flesh and spirit vividly.

Ian Donaldson’s Ben Jonson begins with the burial ground of Jonson and then comes alive as Donaldson presents the protagonist Jonson through a phantasmagorical display of the epochal chapters of Jonson’s life as though to be screened for posterity in Immortal Theater of Art. Donaldson’s capacity of screenwriter and director of Ben Jonson’s dramatic life is deprived of blind idolization of Jonson as a suffering lone wolf-typed writer whose brightness was unfairly adumbrated by that of his contemporary peer William Shakespeare, nor is it intent upon accounting the greatness of Jonson over Shakespeare by elucidating the dichotomic feud between the two equally but differently brilliant literary stars in the constellation of Arts. Also, the book rejects the conventional mode of biography in the frame of “cradle to grave” by guiding the reader through specific epochal moments that profoundly influenced Jonson both personally and professionally during one of the most politically and religiously turbulent periods in the history of Great Britain.

Rich in details of the political and social backgrounds of Jonson’s plays and poems in addition to his personal elements that make him stand out among the contemporary literary figures, Donaldson follows the Thucydidean way of examining the history of Jonson in attempt to transcend the subjectivity of the time and popular opinions on the subject and to balance scholarly objective equilibrium to test the validity of truth about the subject matter to the extent possible by holding his express personal opinion on thereon. The result is myriad imaginations and images of Jonson as the reader likes to create, whether it be that of dauntlessly confident Achilles, wisely ambitious Agamemnon, divinely valorous Odysseus, or compassionately passionate Hercules.

Upon reading this book, I saw the images of Rodrigo Mendoza played by Robert De Niro from the excellent film “The Mission” and Ben Jonson as himself springing from my mind’s garden as both of their faces a piece like a great Ancient Greek statue. Both of them are passionately devoted to their causes, unfailingly humane, and admirably courageous in fulfilling their destiny to achieve their noble ambitions for the good of humanity – one for the building of terrestrial heaven governed by deeds according to the Gospel in the case of Fr. Mendoza and the other in the person of Jonson for the reconstruction of British Renaissance based upon classical principles as a stratagem of moral and artistic reform. And behind this fascinating literary witchcraft lays Donaldson’s superb biography of Ben Jonson that successfully resurrects the noble and heroic spirit of his literary Hero whose work is enshrined in the Temple of Divine Arts as a scintillating star of the Humanities. And I am sure that Jonson is so happy with Donaldson’s account of his life that he introduces his biographer to the Immortals (including his chum Shakespeare) and that they are having a divine feast with heavenly wine in a constellation of literary stars evermore.

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‘West from Home: Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder’, by Laura Ingalls Wilder – review

West from Home: Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder, San Francisco, 1915West from Home: Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder, San Francisco, 1915 by Laura Ingalls Wilder

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Looks can be deceiving, for sure. It can yield an ill-judged misapprehension of the true person and therefore, form a certain prejudice about the person. A person’s appearance is a false shadow for the substance, but our faculty of mind based on a sensory perception with the works of imagination often falls into fallacy. That said, this charming little book comprised of lovely missives to her beloved husband Almanzo back home in Mansfield, Missouri comes surprisingly pleasant twist of the image of Laura Ingalls Wilder, the creator of Little House on the Prairie, whom I always considered to be stoic and imperturbable, a kind of austere and puritanical mid-west matriarch, who turns out to be one sweetheart with the untainted sensibility of feminity.

In these letters written to her batter half she called ‘Manly Dear’ during her travel to San Francisco and her stay there too in 1915 following an invitation from her only child Rose, you will read the words of her heart and soul enveloped in tenderness, colored in vivaciousness, and sealed with love, all the marks upon pages in the felicity of vivid descriptions wonderfully mixed with the perspicacity of reflective introspection, so jolly that reading them makes you feel like reading love letters from a smitten maiden to her smashing beau.

It’s one of the reads that require no practical analysis of the psyche of the author or of the social, political climates to make revisionist commentaries. It’s a pure mental delight of peeping into the inner world of the author that puts a smile on your face. Also, it’s a great read to while away your time at one sitting. On a personal note, if you have read Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser, the magisterial biography of Ingalls, this book is a lovely accompaniment to feel this great American writer of all generations closer to you as none other than her true person, talking about her journey to you as a great story-teller.

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She-Ras, Xenas, and Wonder Women

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Ancient Amazonians courtesy of google

Before the mercantile empire of ‘Amazon’ amid the Sea of the Internet, there once was an eponymous band of fierce women warriors whose famed ferocity and fearlessness was enshrined in the Classical literature and history. It is said that they were real women soldiers living in ancient Eurasia with husbands and children who seemed to know something about how to maneuver the sphere of personal life and that of military commitments. The subject of this mysterious ancient militant women from this month’s National Geographic History intends to deconstruct such mysticism surrounding the factual evidence thereof and demystify the origin of the meta women fighters modern feistily feminists and politicians love to panegyrize.

First, the origin of Amazonian warriors comes not from the Amazonian jungle who are believed to be scantily clothed with breasts deformed women prone to attack men without reason. They were, in fact, the female warriors among Scythian and other nomadic Steppe cultures across the Eurasian plain as embedded in Homer’s The Illiad, Herodotus’s Histories, and Plato’s Laws. The recent discoveries of 4 female corpses bearing combat-related injuries, such as slashed ribs, fractured skulls, and broken arms are claimed to be of the lost Amazonians prevalently seen among Scythian women riding to battle alongside their men.

Notwithstanding the above archeological excavation and factual evidence, my personal sentiment toward the adulation of the female combatants is anything but the elevated opinions about them. Although Homer in The Iliad praises Amazonians for being the equals of valorous men, I wonder if he would have wanted to take one of them as his better half in reality. Plato in Laws recommends that boys and girls should be trained for horse-riding, archery, javelin-throwing, etc., which is very indeed commendable, but I opine that no every girl should be forced into such training because every girl is not of the same aptitude or disposition. Of all these complacently abstract perspectives on women soldiers, Herodotus seems to be only one who has a comparatively objective view on Amazonians not as a glorified tribe of female bravery but as a tribe of women freed from conventional conjugality. They were a group of shipwrecked women tended by local men with whom they moved to new lands and happily lived after while maintaining their own separately private lives as something of common law marriage couples.

The modern perspectives on the Amazonians as a manifestation of gender equality in the spheres of domestic and public life exceedingly lionize the necessity of upending what is perceived as traditionally patriarchal gender roles peculiar to the biological characteristic of men and women. Needless to say, the word “Equality” is highly admirable and desirable, especially on the frontline of livelihood, but you can’t force everyone – that is every woman- to be as aggressive or belligerent as these ancient female warriors were in fighting everyday strains of life. Besides, I see there are more widespread issues of racism, classism, lookism, and agism than sexism in daily life because womanliness adorned with beauty and sex appeal armed with the art of seduction can work wonder in every place, helping her to achieve social mobility. Reading the article intent upon the historical evidence of these Amazonians makes me realize that the advocation of public sentiment in practice overrules the consideration of single individuality in theory.

they coveted anything and enjoyed nothing: ‘The Complete Short Stories of Guy de Maupassant’, by Guy de Maupassant – review

The Complete Short Stories Of Guy de MaupassantThe Complete Short Stories Of Guy de Maupassant by Guy de Maupassant

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Attempts to describe ordinary life without an empathetic heart and sympathetic ear are often led to cliched political or social screeds marred by a partisan ideology that fails to chime the bells of the hearts of universal readers across a great divide of territorial, cultural, and biological planes that we want to cross over. In this regard, Guy de Maupassant, a great 19th Century French writer stands alone, showing us what life means to ordinary folk at the heart of its vicissitudes with an honest, profound observation of the performers of acts as an usher to the theatre of human drama.

The short stories are vignettes of collective contemporary lives of ordinary French folk from the middle class Parisian civil servants to the Normandy peasants that are all connected in one way or another in the wheel of fortune spun on the whims and caprice of Lady Fortune. Titles and ranks lose their forces in this game of cruel lottery, and the characters are fallen apart from their most cherished yearnings, treasured wishes, deluded hopes, and forced beliefs. Humanity, in general, lays bare its essence in the face of tragedy, and it is this aspect of human nature that Maupassant laments and pities as a detached observer of each act of the drama. “Two Friends” shows how life can be altered by the current political affairs of the time, while “Monsieur Parent” portrays a man consumed by solipsistic passions kept in a voluntary estrangement. The hypocrisy of religious sanctimoniousness aided by the idiosyncratic custom in the guise of regional tradition in “The Christening” is accused of a crime against humanity. The bullying of meekness and joviality in “Toine” manifests Shakespeare’s adage that the unkindest beast is kinder than mankind. And there is the awakening of greed and sloth in “The False Gems” as Lady Fortune beckons with a fortuitous lure that even you will be tempted into. The panoply of emotions, varied incidents, and inner conflicts are blatantly displayed in their revelation but are nuanced in their language.

Maupassant is a genius in this regard that he elevates the perspective on the seemingly ordinary outlook on life into the intricate psychology of the human mind with the feeling of the sublime as though seen from the position of a god or an angel not permitted to interfere with mortal life. Through the characters, Maupassant shows us what makes them behave the way they do lest we should criticize their follies and foibles a priori. He is in a way a pre-existentialist by which the experience of their characters precedes their existence. That is, if you know them, you will understand them. Maupassant through the literary looking glassed-selves of the characters tells us to read their own stories breathed in a pulsation of unfulfilled longings, disallowed happiness, and shattered dreams to find sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility toward them.

This book is not for a rapid reading at one sitting. Rather you should read this anthology of short stories chapters by chapters, words by words, day after day like you are reading psalms that speak to your heart amid the vicissitudes of life that try your trust in yourself and others. For that’s what Maupassant wants you to as life is seldom fathomable to ascertain how far it will have to be lived and how much it can be appreciated based upon your own appreciation of the meaning of life in daily life.

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Terror made him write: ‘Ghosts, Apparitions, and Poltergeists’, by Brian Righi – review

Ghosts, Apparitions and Poltergeists: An Exploration of the Supernatural Through HistoryGhosts, Apparitions, and Poltergeists: An Exploration of the Supernatural Through History by Brian Righi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A ghost is really unfinished business. It was, it is, and it will be. The existence and belief of supernatural entities are universal in all human societies as regards the sense and sentiments common to all mankind. From the Far Eastern shore of Japan to the end of the Aegean Sea across a great divide of time, the forefathers of humankind revered, feared, or cherished the souls of the departed regardless of cultural and racial differences. Such human tendency of holding onto supernatural existence is, therefore, not an antediluvian pagan belief to be scorned or debased as a superstitious practice of the misty past but a natural phenomenon validated by historical eyewitnesses as presented in Ghosts, Apparitions, and Poltergeistsby Brian Righi.

Although the title of the book may mislead you straightforwardly to the world of ghostbusters and mediums, it is anything but a sensational book about that sort of thing aimed for the jolt of psychedelic horror. Righi is both an erudite and refreshing writer well conversant with the ancient histories of the world and the related academic subjects, who treats the ghostly subjects of the book enlighteningly and entertainingly with the sap of a fresh-eyed academic, gripping the mind of the learned reader without losing the attention throughout the pages. He references Plato, Pliny the Younger, and the other ancient notables to corroborate the existence of supernatural strangers still roaming their once earthly abodes either not knowing they are dead or refusing to emigrate into the beyond for undying attachment to their life on earth. The method gives his stance on supernatural phenomena power of reality vested in the authenticity of truth.

I find this book very much in accordance with my perspective on the souls of the dead, as it also corresponds to the Catholic belief in which the souls of the dead are officially revered in the fashion of feast days of saints and daily prayer for their deliverance from purgatory to heaven and asking them to pray for us to God. However, there is no prerequisite for reading this book as long as you want to know about why some of our once fellow-citizens of the terrestrial world are roaming about and living among us, seriously.

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