Circe is Madeline Miller’s second retelling of ancient Greek legend. The novel introduces us to the title character Circe, an underdog nymph and daughter of the sun Titan, Helios. We follow the minor immortal from her creation to final scenes as she is interjected into the lives of some of Greek mythology’s most prominent players. But even when placed in the path of famous beasts like the Minotaur; heroes such as Odysseus; and the proud Olympians Athena and Hermes, Circe carves her place among the illustrious cast.
The legend of Circe is often forgotten outside of Homer’s Odyssey, however Miller paints fresh layers onto one of the lesser characters in the Greek Pantheon. We are given an imaginative retelling that is overflowing with tragedy, magic and destiny. Such a story allows Circe to steal the pages, upstage the most famous characters and cement her place in legend. A must read for anybody with an interest in mythology.
The Graphic Guide series take the complete works of writers or a subject and turns them into a basic introduction. For Lacan, they lead you through his biography and key concepts and demonstrate how they matured over the course of his career. The information is broken down into easily accessible paragraphs, accompanied by visual aids and humour to cement your understanding of his theories. This approach is particularly helpful for English speakers who often receive the psychoanalyst/philosopher’s dense works in translation. ‘Introducing Lacan’ gives clarity to the often muddy and sprawling sentences that form the writer’s original French texts. I’d implore every school, college and university to purchase a complete collection of these graphic guides to coax their students into complex writers and their concepts.
It’s hard to imagine that the islands that cultivated Shakespeare, JRR Tolkein and JK Rowling have a strong tradition of literary censorship. I’m not referring to old restrictions placed by the church or crown to protect their institutions against opposing propaganda. But a whole back log of banned books leading right into the twenty first century. In fact, 2018 marked the fifteenth anniversary of England’s last book ban being lifted. In honour of this I have compiled a reading list of once unlawful texts that you can proudly display on your bookshelf, rather than hide under a loose floorboard.
Last Exit To Brooklyn by Hubert Selby Jr
Published in 1964 Last Exit to Brooklyn is an unconventional novel. The reader is dragged through an uncompromising set of stories that describes the lives of those residing in the New York districts. In 1967 Last Exit to Brooklyn was trialed for obscenity by a UK court for its graphic content and depictions of cruelty. The jury consisted solely of men because Selby Jr’s narration of prostitution, homosexuality, violence and drug taking was deemed potentially embarrassing to women. After deliberating on the novel’s content the trial concluded it unfit for public consumption and prohibited sale and publication. Fortunately, this verdict was reconsidered, only to be overturned the following year.
Spycatcher by Peter Wright
Originally published in Australia Spycatcher is the candid autobiography of a British Intelligence Officer. A large portion of the book’s content covers work of MI5 agents during the cold war. Given the sensitive content it became immediately controversial leading the British government to prohibit the publication of the book as well as implement press gag orders in order to restrain reporting on the autobiography.
Unusually, Spycatcher managed to stay publishable in Scotland an copies began to trickle down over the border. Given the ineffective banning of the book the ruling was eventually overturned. After all, national security secrets are not worth safeguarding if the rest of the world has access to the text.
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Lolita is probably the most famous and infamous book on this list. The novel depicts the criminal relationship between a literature professor and a twelve year old girl. Given the dark subject matter it’s not surprising that censorship was the initial response to Nabokov’s work. Britain first declared Lolita an obscene text in 1955 and publication of the book remained criminal for four more years. Following the lead of France and the USA the novel became accessible to the public, however the initial English publisher Nigel Nicolson was forced to resign from his role as a Tory MP.
During a recent visit to Dublin I had one must see site: Oscar Wilde’s statue. Since college Wilde’s work and life have remained one of my biggest influences. His history and legacy embody art and style, leaving a richer world behind him. Now I am back home Wilde’s words have started to creep around my cranium again and I thought I would share my favourites with you.
“Prayer must never be answered: if it is, it ceases to be prayer and becomes correspondence.”
“You forget a thing is not necessarily true because a man dies for it.”
“I have made an important discovery…that alcohol, taken in sufficient quantities, produces all the effects of intoxication.”
“I am so clever that sometimes I don’t understand a single word of what I am saying.”
“With an evening coat and a white tie, anybody, even a stock broker, can gain a reputation for being civilized. “
“To live in happiness , you must know some unhappiness in life.”
“Missionaries, my dear! Don’t you realise that missionaries are the divinely provided food for destitute cannibals? Whenever they are on the brink of starvation, Heaven in its infinite mercy sends them a nice plump missionary.”
If you tell somebody you read poetry you’re likely to get a funny look. Their eyebrows automatically lift a little too high and the pupils glaze over slightly as they internally pass judgement. Most likely this stems from a misconception that poetry is flowery and difficult to understand. In truth a lot of it is, especially the stuff force fed to teenagers at school and it’s hard to shake the impression instilled in the formative years. But I’d encourage everybody to give it another go.
The best way to enjoy poetry is first thing in the morning. When you wake up and sit for your morning coffee take the time to read a poem. Start simple with writers from your century. If you don’t understand every line even better. What was confusing at 6am will slowly churn around your head and be unraveled at lunch time. Everybody deserves a little Eureka moment whilst doing the dishes or sat in a meeting. Even if you never crack the lyric code the puzzle is enough to keep the mind churning.
Just like exercise to maintain a healthy body, poetry should be used to encourage a peaceful mind. A little time spent every day to discuss a shard of the human experience with someone you have never met can only be beneficial. We encourage the disciplines of yoga and meditation but neglect the need to enjoy creation. Poetry should be treated as a daily vitamin supplement for the soul. Just like apples, one poem a day will keep mind rot at bay.
Some days life can knock you down and sending your hiding under the duvet. On these occasions I find myself before the bookshelf. The pages contain past wisdom, with the power to perk me up and send me back into the struggle. From Camus I learned to keep pushing the eternal boulder with a smile like Sisyphus. Whilst the Stoics and Buddha teach how to accept the inevitable. When times seem especially tough I turn back to one of my favourite teachers: Maya Angelou. It is simply Dr Angelou’s positivity that picks me up again, preparing my return to the wider world. I’d like to share some of her most enriching expressions. Hopefully, I don’t infringe too many copyright laws along the way.
This is a simple lesson and it’s probably one you’re already aware of, “if you love something, sometimes you have to let it go.” Even though concept is common knowledge it’s hard to exercise. Like most things Love liberates is easier said than done. After all, complex emotions and bonds are easily muddled by every day existence. Our intentions can be perfectly pure in wanting the upmost for another but how we express these intentions can be binding. If you are blessed enough be loved and have people that you love then it’s worth loving a little like Dr Angelou.
Homo Sum Humani Nihil a me Alienum Puto
If you’re anything like me then your Latin language skills are none existent. Thankfully there are a number of slightly different translations of the sentence. Angelou offers, “I am a human being. Nothing human can be alien to me.” Although she was multifaceted person Angelou wasn’t a time traveler from Ancient Rome. The phrase originates from the playwright Terence. A slave who penned himself to freedom during the heights of the Roman Empire.
Dr Angelou emphasised the importance of these words and internalising their lesson. Doing so allows you enjoy the great achievements of our species. All the components for ingenuity, compassion and creation rest within you. Conversely, any destructive act a human can commit is within capabilities. This makes you empathise and stops you from imparting a moral judgement on another.
Homo Sum Humani Nihil a me Alienum Puto is a hard lesson to live. I must fail about a hundred times a day. But it’s always worth trying again. Offering understanding to yourself and others can only bring people closer.
And Still I Rise
There’s only so long you can lounge in your melancholy. If I need something to kick me into the shower and out into the sunshine then I remember And Still I Rise. When I hear the poem I am reminded of the effort that came before this day: A thousand hunter gatherers who scrapped through harsh winters for our survival; the immeasurable love and support that pushed me to this point in time; every drop of rain water and every rotation of the earth has projected me here. The lesson I learn from Dr Angelou’s poem is that the battle of life must be loved. It’s going to knock you down but eventually you will stand up again.
After the indulgence of the Christmas period and the unfortunately rapid return to work I found myself exhausted. To cure my January Blues I retired from the reawakening world and I spent my Saturday night (and majority of Sunday) curled up with Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology and the last of the season’s chocolates. I hadn’t intended to indulge both days in the stories but after the first few pages the outcome was inevitable.
If you ever attempted to explore the world of the Old Norse Gods then you’re confronted with a lack of modern interpretations. Most likely you’ll be offered the Poetic and Prose Eddas, quickly followed by Marvel’s dissimilar Comic Book hero. Last year I attempted the poetic Edda and enjoyed the lyrical stories. However, it’s not an easily accessible book and not recommended for young readers. Gaiman’s contribution is a perfect solution to this problem.
Norse Mythology presents the usual cast of Odin, Thor, Loki and others in an easily understandable way. The deeds and downfalls of the old Scandinavian Gods are depicted in a light and engaging manner. Gaiman’s re-imagining has the unique quality of appealing to both adults and younger readers, which all myths should do. His style makes for easy reading and this simplicity allows the quality of the original stories to shine. In his introduction Gaiman writes that he chose the tales because of his childhood fondness. Hopefully, he was also interested in the myths of other lands too. A whole series of the world’s ancient stories in this style is worthy of any bookshelf.