Books Read in 2013

Well, I was way off my goal this year—I only managed to read 21 books. I had originally planned on reading the books from the New York Times’ 100 Notable Books of 2012, but the few books I selected from that list were so mediocre that I stopped. However, apart from some notable exceptions, the quality of the books did not improve. Hopefully 2014 will bring some better reads!

Fiction: 19
Nonfiction: 2

Novels: 14
Short Stories: 4
Comics: 3

Screen: 3

ed. North, Ryan: Machine of Death
The concept was fascinating, but having the same introduction at the beginning of every story was tiresome. I also wished that the stories ventured into more genres, namely horror and thriller (not sure how, but this is a machine of death). In fact, I thought that most of the stories were too comedic sometimes. Death should be a big deal.

Otsuka, Eiji: The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service Vol. 13
Not as good as the ones before, but still quite entertaining!

Clowes, Daniel: Ghost World
I really wanted to like this one—I really did—but Rebecca and Enid just pissed me off so much. Like, you don’t even know.

Anshaw, Carol: Carry the One
I’m still making my mind up about this one.

Bradbury, Ray: Fahrenheit 451
It is ironic that after I read this book, I felt like burning it.

Abrams, David: Fobbit
Now I want to watch The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty.

Auslander, Shalom: Hope: A Tragedy
I didn’t find any of the offensive jokes funny (except for Kugel’s retelling of his mother pretending to be a Holocaust survivor).

Baggott, Juliana: Pure
It can’t be denied that Baggott has a good command over the English language, but the amount of tropes she used rendered reading Pure more like visiting http://www.tvtropes.com.

Boyle, T. C.: San Miguel
I wish that the island in this novel was the same as the island in Lost. In all seriousness, though, I thought that the story was weak, and there wasn’t a lot connecting the lives of Marantha and Edith with the lives of Herbie and Elise.

Stephenson, Neal: REAMDE
The story wasn’t bad per se, but by the end, the sheer length of this novel had driven me to Zula’s point of exhaustion during her captivity by the jihadists. Stephenson tended to ramble on and on. (Also, why didn’t Csongor insist that they contact Richard after they landed at Manila? I mean, it wouldn’t have done any good, but you really shouldn’t be getting addicted to a video game when the woman you claim you love has been captured by jihadists and you have no idea where she is)

deWitt, Patrick: The Sisters Brothers
Brilliant.

Rowling, J. K.: The Cuckoo’s Calling
It surprises me how much Rowling writes like a stereotypical straight man sometimes.

Barthelme, Donald: Forty Stories
I find Barthelme inscrutable—a mindfuck.

Boo, Katherine: Behind the Beautiful Forevers
This was really well-written.

ed. North, Ryan: This Is How You Die
The second installment of The Machine of Death. Some of the more ambitious stories weren’t as good as they could have been, but overall I must say that I enjoyed this a lot more than its predecessor.

Torres, Justin: We the Animals
Sighs. What is up with this navel-gazing trend in “literary fiction” nowadays?

Atwood, Margaret: The Penelopiad
My favourite part of this novel was how Atwood used different literary forms to tell the story of the Odyssey from the point of view of the maids.

Kafka, Franz: Selected Short Stories of Franz Kafka
People who gave this a five stars rating on https://www.goodreads.com are lying. Due to what I suspect to be poor translation, some of the stories in this collection were dreadfully tedious to get through. But I did enjoy “The Metamorphosis” and “A Report to an Academy”.

Brosh, Allie: Hyperbole and a Half
I hate to say it, but for some reason this book didn’t make me laugh as much as the blog did. But that doesn’t really matter, since I always felt that what made Brosh great wasn’t just her sense of humour, but also her honesty and her grasp on human (and canine) nature.

Greene, Graham: The Quiet American
I have such mixed feelings about this—where do I begin? On one hand, I find the portrayals of Phuong, her sister Miss Hei, and other Vietnamese characters to be just as colonialist as the French rule that Pyle was opposed to, but on the other hand I was amazed by the way the story was told and the moral questions it raised—still very relevant today. Yes, it was all about “white men” crises, but it was one of the better depictions of “white men” crises.

Ishiguro, Kazuo: An Artist of the Floating World
Ishiguro is a good writer—I had loved reading Never Let Me Go—and this novel does not prove otherwise. However, I am weary of the historical accuracy of the novel. He said: “…when I wrote, say, An Artist of the Floating World, I wasn’t terribly interested in researching history books,” Ishiguro is Japanese, but he had came to England at the age of five, and in my opinion, he needed the historical accuracy to do justice to the war that had ravaged so many nations. He couldn’t just be another artist of the floating world.

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Books Read in 2012

I was inspired to catalog all the books that I had read in 2012 by Emily Horne (A Softer World). My goal was to read 50 books. I defined a “book” as the following:

  • Novels (paper or Ebooks)
  • Collection of Novellas
  • Collection of Short Stories
  • Graphic Novels
  • Tankobons

I was unfortunately under by 9 books. Regardless, my year was fruitful: I had read my first Asimov, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Salinger, as well as many of the “comic canon”—The Greatest of Marlys, Fun Home, and Watchmen.

Fiction: 38
Nonfiction: 3

Novels: 29
Short Stories: 2
Comics: 7

Screen: 15

Barry, Lynda: Cruddy
I’m sorry, but Cruddy was cruddy. My grade nine English and grade twelve writer’s craft teacher introduced our classes to Barry’s comic strips, and they were fairly decent. Her style of writing was interesting when it was paired with her (relatively) crude art. However, when it was just text it became really difficult to make sense of what she wrote. Also, the story itself gave off a very hallucinogenic vibe, which I’m pretty sure was her intention in the beginning, and it didn’t make much sense in many parts.

Hill, Lawrence: Any Known Blood
Hill visited our school during the year, and I managed to get a free and signed copy of Any Known Blood from the event. You can really see Hill’s journalistic roots in this, and it becomes clear that he had put a lot of research into writing this book—all the streets mentioned in the stories exist in real life, for example. The stories of all the Canes were also fairly compelling, and the characters were very relatable and realistic. However, the romantic relationship between Langston and Annette at the end felt a little bit weak.

Brown, Dan: The Lost Symbol
Not as good as its predecessor. As a thriller, this book did its job, though it may very well be my inexperience with the formula of thriller novels. However, there are times where I wished that Brown would tone down the crazy a little bit. I mean, “Human thought can literally transform the world” (56)? Come on.

Grab, Daphne: Alive and Well in Prague, New York
At first, I hated Matisse, the primary protagonist. She was spoiled, superficial, and stupid. However, later on I realized that it was these qualities that made her the typical teenager; they are all spoiled, superficial, and stupid. Besides, she was hilarious: “Helping Amnesty International end torture was great, but making out was my priority for the day.” (101)

Caldwell, Ian and Thomason, Dustin: The Rule of Four
Hard to imagine that an old book can cause this much fuss, but this was a good read nonetheless. I am also now insanely jealous of anyone that went to Princeton (too bad the Nude Olympics is now banned). In many ways I felt that Tom was envious of Paul, of his brilliance, of the bond he shares with his dead father, and of his ability to have both friends and the Hypnerotomachia. His relationship with Katie was his way of finding something that he had but Paul didn’t. At the same time, there was no doubt that there was a brotherly bond between the two of them. This nuanced friendship, as well as the existentialist themes present in the novel, allowed this book to be both a loud thriller and a quiet bildungsroman.

Abbott, Elizabeth: A History of Marriage
Yawn. Well, I guess I shouldn’t really say that. I’m pretty sure that I’m the wrong audience for this—this book was meant for the academics. The topic was certainly interesting, but the organization left much to be desired. Abbott would often jump across different points in time and space, which sometimes made reading the book very confusing. I did feel less bad that I’m not getting married anytime soon, though.

Archer, E.: Geek Fantasy Novel
In trying to deconstruct the tropes of fantasy genre novels—in this novel it’s more fairy tales, though—I felt that the author sacrificed the essence of a good story. At the same time, a fantasy novel—even a parody of it—requires a well thought-out world, which this novel is also not equipped with. Also, it tries too hard at delivering deadpan humour.

Standiford, Natalie: How to Say Goodbye in Robot
I wondered for a long time what made me like this book—after all, it had all these cliches: the “Edward,” the weirdoes, the dysfunctional family, and finally, an unrealistic goal. Ultimately I decided that it was Beatrice, the narrator, that stood out to me. Here we have a protagonist that was sometimes strong, sometimes wavering. Sometimes she went with the flow, and sometimes she stood proud and tall. She was, in a word, real.

大塚英志(Otsuka, Eiji): The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, vol. 9
Arguably one of the best manga series I’ve read. While numerous elements made the series what it is, the thing that made me like this series the most is its portrayal of the Japanese society. In your typical, run-of-the-mill shounens and shoujos (and even seinens), the Japanese society is always invisible—it is only the background. In this manga, however, society is fleshed out with all its beauty and flaws. In one story, Japan’s rich traditions are shown side by side with its role in WWII. The author also managed to do so with humour, and the grotesque cadavers made the manga even more interesting to read.

Blaise, Clark: The Meagre Tarmac
This collection of short stories about the experiences of Indian immigrants looked good on paper, but struck a “meh” with me. The characters, with some exceptions, just didn’t make me care about them. You would think that a group of people as diverse as Indians would have a wide range of experiences, but in this collection of short stories, all of them seem to be the same: they’re all rich and successful, they were all good looking during their youth, and they all play tennis… I mean, they certainly sound nothing like the Indian people I’ve met.

Bezmozgis, David: The Free World
In comparison with The Meagre Tarmac, this was a much superior story. There was a sadness that resonates throughout the novel, and indeed, the last scene with the train and the man that have both stopped working made me tear up a little bit on the inside.

Birdsell, Sandra: Waiting for Joe
This novel started out slow, and in the beginning I had little sympathy for the characters. But what began as a story about people that were financially destitute diverged into a story about spiritual discovery, and I liked that quite a bit. I particularly enjoyed the bits about the pair of African immigrant siblings Joe encountered on his travels. In the end, even though I still dislike Laurie quite a lot, I was happy that I waited for the character development that Joe went through in the novel.

Aronson Marc and Budhos, Marina: Sugar Changed the World
I chuckled when I read that the two authors updated their progress of their research to grade five students in New York. Here I am, an eighteen year old, reading a book that was meant for grade five students. However, this book was a very informative read.

Birch, Carol: Jamrach’s Menagerie
My only complaint was the book’s title—Mr. Jamrach only appeared at the very beginning and the very end, and most of the book doesn’t take place at his menagerie. The last quarter of the story was heart-wrenching.

Sheinkin, Steve: The Notorious Benedict Arnold
Unlike my fellow Americans, I had no clue who Benedict Arnold was until reading this book. I suspect that this made reading the book more enjoyable for me – there were no pre-conceived impressions that I had to defeat. I liked how Sheinkin injected humour here and there, and the history behind the book itself is also quite hilarious.

Coady, Lynn: The Antagonist
Despite the fact that I was the polar opposite of Rank in so many ways, and despite the fact that I frankly don’t understand some of his actions sometimes, I found myself utterly engrossed in the novel while I was reading it.

Carey, Peter: Parrot and Olivier in America
It’s funny, because until midway through the book, despite all the indications otherwise, I always pictured Parrot to be the same age as Olivier.

Chayil, Eishes: Hush
This was one of the saddest books I’ve read. Chayil also did not stop from describing Gittel’s childish fantasies and beliefs—which made the sadness even more poignant. Throughout the entire novel I kept on screaming at Gittel to tell the police. To tell the goddamn police and avenge her friend. But then I remembered that she was only a child, and she can’t be blamed for her own upbringing.

Barry, Lynda: The Greatest of Marlys
This was a lot better than Cruddy. There is still a lot of text, but the emotions and humour behind them made reading them worth it. My favourite strips were the ones that featured Marlys’ relatives: sister Marybonne, brother Freddie, and cousins Arna and Arnold.

Cole, Trevor: Practical Jean
The premise was one of the best premises I’ve ever read. The execution was terrifying and terrific. You know when you’re empathizing with a serial killer that this was a good novel.

Cameron, Peter: Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You
My grade 11 and 12 English teacher gushed about this novel in front of us, and I was actually looking forward to reading this because—finally—a gay male character whose experiences weren’t exclusively about his homosexuality! I came to like this novel for a lot of other reasons as well. I think a lot of teenagers, no matter how extroverted, can relate to James in his existential angst.

Comeau, Joey: The Complete Lockpick Pornography
I like A Softer World, and you can really see Comeau’s penchant for using one-liners that stay inside your head for a while. I also liked how this book was so short, even though it was made up of two novellas. It was a nice break from all the other books that seem to just be going on and on and on.

Carson, Rae: The Girl of Fire and Thorns
At first the main character irritated me. She’s always calling herself fat and falling in love with every handsome man she meets. But then she grew on me. Still, the setting of this novel was unimaginative.

Austen, Jane: Pride and Prejudice
The beginning of the novel was hilarious, but it went downhill from there. The more I read, the more I’m beginning to think that this entire story was a huge satire on the institution of marriage. I didn’t really get the hype for this novel that much, but maybe this is one of those books that require a teacher to guide you through it.

Dee, Jonathan: The Privileges
For the first two-third of the novel I kept on praying to God that something terrible happen to this family full of terrible people. But in the last one-third I actually empathized with them somewhat. I mean, I still hate them, but I get their almost pathological fear of not having what they want.

Asimov, Isaac: The Gods Themselves
My first Asimov was…alright. The first act was good for setting up the premise. The second act, with all the alien sex, was great. It was in the final act that the entire thing just went downhill. Asimov’s human characters, with the exception of possibly Lamont, are all cold and rational creatures that all oddly seem to be able grasp higher-level physics with no trouble at all.

Bechdel, Alison: Fun Home
I know that this comic was pivotal in establishing comics as a legitimate media, but there is something incredibly irritating about autobiography in general. I mean, talk about overanalyzing your life…

Gartner, Zsuzsi: Better Living through Plastic Explosives
Some of these stories were great, but overall they criticize a perceived privilege that I, as a city boy, simply cannot see.

Fitzgerald, F. Scott: The Great Gatsby
When I was very young and I first came across the title, the “great Gatsby” rendered an image of a crack in the Earth akin to the Mariana Trench. After I read the novel, I realized that I was partially right, but it wasn’t a great crack in the Earth, but a great crack in the soul.

Otsuka, Julie: The Buddha in the Attic
I liked the first person plural perspective in the beginning, which enhanced the touching and affecting stories of the Japanese mail-to-order wives, but after a while it became a bit too much. Luckily Otsuda kept it short.

Moore, Alan: Watchmen
Amazing.

Galgut, Damon: In a Strange Room
Strange title, considering that most of the stories took place in the outdoors, in foreign countries. Or is the Galgut perhaps referring to the constant state of travel he is in? The lack of “?” gave this novel, even in its most explosive points, a surreal serenity.

Salinger, J. D.: The Catcher in the Rye
The bildungsroman to end all bildungsroman – this is one of the best novels I have ever read.

Hubbard, Jenny: Paper Covers Rock
I was so pleasantly surprised by this novel – the narrative structure was very effective, and the Jenny Hubbard really knows how to write from a teenage boy’s perspective. The main character’s crush on his teacher was icky, but the beautiful language more than makes up for it.

Hemingway, Ernest: A Farewell to Arms
I have decided that I absolutely hate Hemingway.

大塚英志 (Otsuka, Eiji): The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, vol. 10
Once again a huge success. Even if we didn’t delve into the mythology of the series, these “filler” stories were wonderful, and – especially in the case of Numata’s backstory – emotionally tugging.

Krivak, Andrew: The Sojourn
This novel ties very nicely with A Farewell to Arms – it’s also about WWI, but from the perspective of a Slavic soldier fighting for the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

大塚英志 (Otsuka, Eiji): The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, vol. 11

The first story was very creepy, but I was happy that we got to see more of Makino. The subtle reference to Sasayama’s past was also great.

大塚英志 (Otsuka, Eiji): The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, vol. 12
Not as good as the previous volumes, but still quite entertaining!

McGregor, Jon: Even the Dogs
I actually found the usage of the stream of consciousness and abruptly ending paragraphs to be very well suited for a novel about heroin addicts. The entire story was just tragic, and everything just reminded me of Requiem for a Dream (which I avoided watching after hearing the soundtrack made me cry).

Trevor, William: Love and Summer
This was a good novel to read after Even the Dogs – it was quiet, peaceful, with only a subtle undercurrent of despair flowing through.

Lovers’ Spit

“Kiss me,” he said.

“I’m sorry, but I can’t.” She said.

They were together in the living room. In daylight, the room would’ve been bright, but now deep in the night, it is pitch-black and neither he nor she could see a thing. But this was of little concern to them.

“Why not?” He asked impatiently. “You’ve kissed me before.”

“Yeah – when we were having sex.” She said.

“What makes this any different?”

“Why do you want to kiss me anyway?” She ignored his question.

He was just going to tell her to answer his question first – something she always tells him to do whenever they had an argument – but he relented. Instead, he responded by saying, “I love you.”

There was a pause before she spoke again. “I love you, too.”

Now he was annoyed. “Then why won’t you kiss me?”

“Lovers have to kiss? Why?” – he knew this was a rhetorical question, but still he answered. “Everyone else who is in love do.”

“And are we like everyone else?” She asked. “Are we?”

“No.” He said quietly.

“Exactly.” Unlike all of their previous arguments, there wasn’t the usual tone of victory in her voice, nor was there a sense of relief. They waited together in the dark. “But why don’t you want to kiss?”

It was now her time to pause. “I just dislike it as an expression of love.”

“Why?”

“Why do you love me?” She was doing it again. But once again, he answered. “You are a funny and charming person.” He whispered. “And you have the most beautiful voice I’ve ever heard.”

That made her chuckle. “So you are saying that you don’t love me because of my ‘golden complexion?’ Or because of my ‘sweet breath?’”

He protested, but she stopped him. “If you love me for what I say, then listen. You don’t have to kiss me.” She paused. “Now, let’s talk about something a little bit more pleasant, like Owner’s…”

He wasn’t ready to let it go. “That’s not the only reason. I know it isn’t. Tell me.”

Before she could answer, a loud thud came from the bedroom at the end of the hallway. They waited for the sound to pass, before she sighed and said: “You are right. There is another reason. I” – she faltered – “I don’t want to lose myself.”

“What?”

“What did you have for breakfast today?” There she goes again.

“Scrambled eggs.” He said. “What does that have to do with anything?”

“If I were to kiss you,” she ignored the question, “then wouldn’t I taste that scrambled egg?”

That made him chuckle. “Only if we do it for a really long time.”

“Not only would I taste what you ate,” she continued, “I would also taste the cigarettes you smoked behind my back. The mouthwash you used to hide the fact that you smoked. And the beer you drank after we had an argument about you and the cigarettes.

He was confused. “So?”

“Don’t you get it? I will be overwhelmed by all those tastes, all those flavours. The flavours of your life. At the same time, you would be tasting the flavours of my life. Now I love you.” He was at lost for what to do. “I love you so much. But if we kiss all the time, one day my mouth will have the stench of cigarettes, and I don’t know if I’m comfortable with that.”

As she said those words, he could almost detect a hint of a sob or two, but he couldn’t be sure because the room was dark. He wanted to hold her, but he couldn’t.

The next day, a scruffy man and the girl he picked up at the bar last night exited the bedroom.

“Nice living room you’ve got there.” The girl giggled.

“I know right,” The man couldn’t contain his gloating smile as he opened the pantry. “So want do you want for breakfast, Justine?”

“It’s Kate.” The girl walked over to where he and she were looking at each other. “Ooh… cool paintings!” The girl picked her up. “This girl was drawn with such clear lines.”

“You want it?” He was desperate for a second date.

“Sure!” She quickly unhanged the painting from the wall. “I especially love the way her mouth is drawn.”

Peek-a-Boo

It was a bright and sunny day.
I strolled on without a care.
Keeping the debtors at my bay,
was not an easy fare.
I stopped pushing the baby in the carriage
in the crisp and clean air.
She smiled at me. Gently I stooped low, letting
my lush red hair fall to
her thin thistle of golden hair. Lovingly,
Quietly, with my own pair
of scab-filled hands I covered her eyes
and then her nose. Mouthing “peak-a-boo,”
it took me little strength to push down
until she breathed no more. But the rosy complexion of the baby’s cheeks
do remain. I thought that
she looked like an angel.
Nearby a bird squawked within the leaves
but no one could hear.
Alas no one could hear.

Hipster Hercules’ Hunt for the Hydra

What Hercules noticed at first on his way to slay the Hydra was the stone statues that littered on his way there. They were mostly of shoppers, which made sense, since he was inside a shopping mall right now. Some of the shoppers that were walking beside him possessed handbags. Some of them possessed screaming dogs and cats and babies on leashes. And some of them had a facial expression that told Hercules that they had unfortunately urinated just before their petrification. Hercules even saw a statue of a bodybuilder that had a similar physique as him and was flexing. As he stood near the statue to admire the body, he suddenly heard a hiss behind him.

“Stop staring at him. Just because he was an ex-boyfriend doesn’t mean that I don’t have any feelings for him.”

Hercules turned around and then immediately began to scream. The person now standing in front of him continued. “I just had to get out, you know? He was getting too heavy on me, you know? Every time I wanted to do something adventurous, he just kept on crushing my dreams.” She – it was a female – walked over to the biceps of the bodybuilder. “Well, I guess he’s much heavier now, considering that his body is now composed of stone. What a shame. He was so keen on being fit.”

Hercules was still screaming. The other shoppers looked at him briefly, before quickly resuming to their shopping lists and their plastic-filled purses and their screaming dogs/cats/babies. The woman who was speaking to him was wearing a pair of extremely tacky sunglasses: the round rimmed ones with the tinted shades. In fact, all her clothes made her look like that she just came back from the seventies. She also had snakes on her head where normal people had hair.

Hercules paused his screaming for a little bit to catch his breathe. Just as he was ready to resume his screaming, the woman yelled at him. “Excuse me! These sunglasses belonged to Prince at the height of his fame. You have no right to laugh at me. Look at what you’re wearing. The Hipster look is hardly any better.”

Hercules suddenly became very self-conscious about his cigarette pants and his thick-rimmed glasses. He stopped tapping the floor with his Oxfords, and he crossed his arms to hide the V-neck slope of his shirt. He tried to hide his iPhone 5 and pull the earplugs out of his ears. But Medusa was quick to catch him.

“And what were you listening to? Arcade Fire? Really now? Their songs are shit.” The snakes on her head hissed in agreement.

Hercules nervously looked around him. The shoppers walking around him still paid no attention to him. They also didn’t pay attention to the snake-haired woman. Instead, their minds seemed to be focusing on the stores with their flashy displays and their too impeccably dressed mannequins. Hercules gulped in fear as two middle-aged women carried around their flabby wrists bags and bags of Abercrombie and Fitch (with the half-naked male models) clothes towards him. A young boy, no older than ten, walked behind them. He had a Justin Bieber haircut, and in his hands he held an ice cream cone with sprinkles on top. As he walked past Hercules, he looked at his V-neck T-shirt and snickered.

Almost like karma, the ice cream flied out of the boy`s hands and landed on Medusa’s jewel-embedded platform shoes. Hercules immediately covered his eyes as Medusa removed her sunglasses. When he opened his eyes again, he saw the boy standing there. Only that he was a statue. Hercules quickly scrambled for the sword app on his iPhone, but Medusa impatiently waved him down.

“This is the wrong myth – you’re here to kill the Hydra, right? It’s over there at the food court.” She scanned Hercules contemptuously for one last time before turning around. “It’s also naked – showing that it has a better sense of fashion than you. Farewell.”

The sound her platform shoes made with the floor echoed in the shopping mall for a second, and then disappeared as she dissolved in the crowd. It took Hercules quite some time before he could find the food court; the signs confused him. When he arrived there however, nobody was there. The lights were all off. The chairs were tumbled over, and there is a trail of oil leading into the McDonald’s kitchen. Hercules took out his iPhone, and pressed play for “Party Rock Anthem.”

Perfectly on cue, the Hydra came running outside the kitchen, with its reptilian body and all its nine heads. But Hercules was ready. He immediately pressed the sword app. A light saber extended out of the tip of the iPhone. He quickly cut off one of the Hydra’s heads. But as soon as it fell, a new head grew out.

Hercules smiled. He had known about this since last night, when he went on Wikipedia to research on the Hydra. Yahoo! Answers also showed him what he was about to do next. He dashed inside the McDonald’s kitchen, following his nose. Sure enough, he saw what he needed. There was still an ample amount of oil inside the deep fryer. He quickly grabbed a coke cup – the supersize one – and filled it with the golden liquid. He rushed outside. The Hydra came running at him. Hercules again sliced one of the heads off. As it was about to regenerate, he poured the oil on it. The Hydra emitted a terrible scream, and its long slender neck remained a stub.

All of a sudden, the lights were turned on. A squad of people soon pushed Hercules down and handcuffed him. “Hercules, you are under arrest for poaching an endangered species,” a man dressed in leather said to him. As Hercules looked up, he saw the Hydra being tended to by a group of veterinarians. “We really need to thank that snake-haired woman for calling us here.” He heard the police officer say. “Skinning a poor, innocent animal for fashion? Disgusting.” He glanced at Hercules. “And what the fuck are you wearing?”

Benedick and The Book of the Courtier

Il Cortegiano – or The Book of the Courtier – was a book written by Baldassare Castiglione in the sixteenth century, and it consists of fictional conversations between various characters within the court of Duke Urbino regarding the qualities a perfect courtier – and the lady of his affection – must possess. The qualities discussed came to define the code of chivalry for its time, (Burke), and Collington and Scott both identified many similarities between characters from The Courtier and characters from Much Ado: Elisabetta Gonzagza and Hero; Emilia Pia and Beatrice; Duke Guidobaldo and Leonato. Scott also points out that the bantering between Lady Emilia and Lord Gaspare “is strongly suggestive of Benedick and Beatrice.” The character Benedick would eventually attain the status of the courtier, as can be seen through his defence of Hero after her slander, especially in the chivalric way he treats Hero and the way he stands up to Don Pedro.

The “chief conditions and qualities in a courtier” (Castiglione) consist of traits in “fields as distant or different as arms, letters, arts, music, conversation, sports, dancing, and telling jokes.” (Saccone) But the two most important qualities that a courtier must possess are concepts known as sprezzatura and grazia. Sprezzatura refers to the act of “conceal[ing] all art and make whatever is done or said appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it.” (Castiglione) Castiglione also wrote that “the Courtier ought to accompany all his doings, gestures, demeanors, finally all his motions with a grace.” This grace, or grazia, “consists of, or rather is obtained through, sprezzatura.” (Saccone) Despite the messenger’s proclamation that he is a man “stuffed with / all honourable virtues,” (1.1.52-53) it can be seen that initially Benedick is neither skilled in the art of sprezzatura, nor does he possess grazia. His aversion and misogynistic attitudes toward women are not at all “gentle, sober, meek, lowly, modest, serviceable, comely, merry, not biting or laundering with jests.” (Castiglione) He “hath every month / a new sworn brother,” (1.1.66-67) and he “hang upon him like a disease.” (1.1.79) One of the characters from The Courtier comments “that a man must in his protestation and counterfeiting take heed that he be not like commune jesters and parasites, and such as with fond matters move men to laugh.” When he first enters the play, he jokes of Leonato being a cuckold, directly disobeying one of Castiglione’s principles, to “not to be overseen in speaking words otherwhile that may offend where he meant it not,” leading Beatrice to say to him, “nobody marks you.” (1.1.109) As Beatrice observes, he “always end with a jade’s trick.” (1.1.136) after she insults him. At the dance, she further describes him as “the Prince’s jester, a very dull fool,” (2.1.123) and that other men “laugh at him and beat him.” (2.1.127­) Later on, Benedick’s rant to Don Pedro about her and the fact that he cannot come up with a comeback implies that there is some truth to what she has said. Much later on in the play, the way Claudio and Don Pedro treats Benedick’s challenge supports what Beatrice has said: Cladio says that he will accept Benedick’s challenge so that “he may have good cheer,” while Don Pedro cries “what, a feast, a feast?” (5.1.147-148)

In his defense of Hero’s honour, however, Benedick rises. The first aspect of his reaction to Hero’s slander that shows him to be a courtier is his chivalric response to Hero’s suffering. Upon Claudio and Don Pedro’s accusations that Hero is “but the sign and semblance of her honour,” (4.1.31) Benedick was the only man that employs reason and questions Beatrice regarding Hero’s whereabouts at nights. The usage of reason in a man’s treatment of women is approved by Castiglione, as he writes that a courtier’s love towards women should “not to be sensual or fleshly, but honest and godly, and more ruled with reason, than appetite.” He is also willing to abandon his former friends in favour of challenging Claudio to a duel. The “I jest not” (5.1.142) in the opening line of his aside to Claudio marks a turning point for his transformation from “the Prince’s jester” to a courtier. After Claudio and Don Pedro mock Hero during the wedding, Benedick admonishes and castigates them for their behaviour during his challenge: “I will leave you now to your gossip-like humour; you break jests as braggarts do their blades.” (5.1.178-180) As Collington writes, his “willingness to defend a wronged lady’s honor, even to the point of defying his prince, distinguishes him as having achieved the highest level of service outlined in The Courtier.”

Another aspect of Benedick’s response to Hero’s fall is his open defiance to Don Pedro, his prince. This is in contrast to Claudio, who asks for Don Pedro’s permission at every turn, and would only pursue Hero after Don Pedro describes her as “very well worthy.” (1.1.205) Castiglione asks all courtiers “to become an Instructor and Teacher of his Prince or Lord, inclining him to virtuous practises: and to be frank and free with him.” Furthermore, when he knows that his prince is making a mistake, the courtier has a duty “to be bold to stand with him in it, and to take courage after an honest sort at the favour which he hath gotten him through his good qualities, to dissuade him from every ill purpose, and to set him in the way of virtue.” Benedick fulfills this obligation by challenging Claudio, whose decision to scorn Hero was supported by Don Pedro. His advising towards Don Pedro extends beyond what happened to Hero, as he advises Don Pedro to “get thee a wife, get thee a wife.” (5.4.120) Through the events that have transpired in the play, Benedick is transformed from a jester to a courtier.

By abandoning the world of men in favour of upholding Hero’s innocence, Benedick manages to stand higher than Claudio and Don Pedro. Through his chivalric defence of Hero’s honour and his ability to oppose Don Pedro when he has made an error, Benedick is able to become the courtier as described by Castigione in The Courtier – and become the primary hero of the play.

Works Cited

Burke, Peter. The Fortunes of the Courtier: The European Reception of Castiglione’s Cortegiano. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania University Press, 1996. Print.

Castiglione, Baldassare. The Book of the Courtier. London: University of Oregon Press, 1900. Print.

Collington, Philip. “‘Stuffed with All Honourable Virtues’: Much Ado about Nothing and The Book of the Courtier.” Studies in Philology. 103.3 (2006): 281-312. Print.

Saccone, Eduardo. “The Portrait of the Courtier in Castiglione.” Italica. 64.1 (1987): 1-18. Print.

Scott, Mary. “The Book of the Courtyer: A Possible Source of Benedick and Beatrice.” PMLA. 16.4 (1901): 475-502. Print.

Chicken Feet

Sure I remember.
I remember the smog, the grey sky,
and the soulless eyes.
The loudspeaker, the propaganda,
the fat men eating chicken feet atop the pagoda.
The finger prints on the bill as it was presented
as a bribe.
The heat and pressure that covered and baked and steamed cities only to produce lumps of 小笼包
with decayed meat and dirty shell.
So I don’t understand
why you all seem to love that hell.
You love it; you praise it.
Even when it was scratching you till you bleed;
Even when it was bleeding you dry;
Even when the destitute poor cry
and all the elite –
the “diligent” hard workers that “earned” all they had
it atop the pagodas eating chicken feet.