Agincourt: England’s Epic Triumph

 

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.                                                                                 – William Shakespeare; Henry V

 

This is my favorite part of my favorite speech from my favorite Shakespeare play. As I have mentioned before I am a huge Shakespeare fan. When I teach Shakespeare to my 8th graders they always seem a little scared of my enthusiasm, but it is something I cannot help. During one of my weekly pilgrimages to Bookman’s I was casually walking the isles of books when the title Agincourt caught my eye. I literally did a double take and didn’t even read the summary before I bought the book. I was not disappointed.

The battle of Agincourt is one of the most famous in British history. I first heard about it while watching a young Henry VIII repeatedly mention it on The Tudors. I heard about it again when I watched The Hollow Crown series (which is amazing! you should all check it out. BTW Benedict Cumberbatch is going to be in season 2). I immediately fell in love with Henry V, partially because Tom Hiddleston was playing Henry and partially because the Saint Crispin’s Day speech is one of the most incredible things I’ve ever read. The speech was written as Henry’s last attempt to inspire his tired, hungry and miserable army of 11,000 men to face off against 20,000 French. Needless to say France had the advantage. Yet somehow 6,000 Frenchmen died while only 400 Englishmen perished. England’s miraculous victory has fascinated people ever since.

Agincourt was written by the man that gave the world the Sharpe Novels, and Bernard Cornwall’s rendition of this famous invasion of France is dark, gritty and even a little nauseating at times. It follows a young archer named Nick Hook who slowly works his way up in the ranks of Henry’s army after he is outlawed for hitting a rapist priest. The scenes revolving this particular priest are some of the most difficult to get through but he also describes how the campaign began as an exciting chance for glory only to become an exhausting and quite disgusting chore for the soldiers.

Cornwall sets the tone of the novel early and keeps the reader captivated by Hook’s quest for redemption after he fails to save a young girl from the priest. You watch his struggle with religion and morality as he learns what it means to be a soldier. I thoroughly enjoyed watching him fall in love with a French girl, though I also questioned his sanity as he repeatedly hears the voice of Saint Crispin in his head.

My only issue with this book is that the chapters are extremely long, like over 40 pages long. Most of the time I keep reading when I encounter a chapter break, but I still prefer them to be fairly frequent. A chapter break is a time for me to pause and ask myself important questions: Do I need to go to the bathroom? Should I probably go to sleep considering the fact that it’s midnight? I am also a person that hates stopping in the middle of a chapter and the longer the chapters the more impatient I get. I need those brief pauses in order to stay interesting in a book, and while reading this one I repeatedly found myself pointing out possible places for a chapter break instead of solely focusing on the story. However this is just my own, slightly strange opinion, and overall I loved the book. I will definitely be reading more from Cornwall.

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Just look at Tom as Henry V. So handsome!

Cornwell, Bernard. Agincourt. New York: Harper, 2009. Print

Henry V. Dir. Thea Sharrock. Perf. Tom Hiddleston. Universal, 2012.

Shakespeare, William, and Gary Taylor. Henry V. Oxford: Clarendon, 1982. Print.

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“We don’t need a list of rights and wrongs, tables of do’s and don’ts: we need books, time, and silence. Thou shalt not is soon forgotten, but Once upon a time lasts forever”

-Philip Pullman

Philip Pullman

 

I Want to Visit The Night Circus!

SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO BADLY! I picked up a copy of Erin Morgenstern’s novel The Night Circus a few years ago because it was on sale and because the cover is pretty damn fabulous. I finally read it last week. When I first started reading I was confused as Morgenstern shifts between characters that appear to have nothing to do with each other. However, the more I read the more dedicated I became to the story.

The basic premise is that two magicians are doing battle within a fabulous circus that is only open at night. Believe me the rules of this battle are much more complicated than hurling spells at one another, and that is what makes the book so wonderful. In each chapter Morgenstern follows different character and expertly uses time jumps to keep the reader enticed. You truly don’t find out what pulls the chapters together until the very end and the ending is complete perfection. It’s like a puzzle for the reader as you try to figure out how all the pieces fit together and how the magicians battle is going to end.

This book is The Prestige meets Romeo and Juliet. I am a huge Shakespeare nerd finding small references to The Bard brought me particular amount of joy. Watching a love story blossom between the two competing magicians was entrancing. As they gradually figure out the rules to their challenge they start to create their own rules and fight the system that has pitted them against each other. The descriptions of the magical night circus are stunning and I want nothing more than to visit this place myself though I know that it will never exist. Please read this book!

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Morgenstern, Erin. The Night Circus: A Novel. New York: Doubleday, 2011. Print.

I Love Women in Comedy

I very much love to laugh. A friend once described my laughter as contagious. Most of the time what I’m laughing at isn’t all that funny to most people, but the sounds I make and the way I look make everyone in the room loose it because it is that ridiculous. Between Jenny Lawson and Mindy Kaling (who’s book, Is Everyone Hanging out without Me?, I finished last night) I have this new found adoration for female comedy writers. Which means that I have looked hella ridiculous these last few days.

I have always been a fiction kind of person. I never had much interest in reading nonfiction but I decided to take a chance by picking up Furiously Happy and Is Everyone Hanging out without Me?. I now relate to Mindy Kaling on a spiritual level. I laughed from start to finish at her wonderful stories. She is curvy and a little out there but so am I. I am beyond jealous of her gradual but fantastic rise to fame by simply pursuing exactly what she wants from life. She takes chances and stands up for herself, and often that doesn’t work out, but she shows that you just need to take the right chance and things can change drastically.

I loved every second of reading about how she turned a small two women show into an incredible career as a television writer. After reading the introduction to her book I immediately started watching The Mindy Project and I am in love! I idolize her and can only hope that I have as successful a life as her. Her quick wit is evident both in her book and on her TV show, but she also discusses some very real issues that women face. These include body image, and bullying. Her stories from her childhood are extremely relate-able  and hearing her humility as she discusses working with Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Kristen Wiig is very refreshing. She never sounds cocky or overly confident. She is honest and real in a way that makes me want to be her friend. I adore her and definitely plan on reading more books written by fabulous women in comedy.

Kaling, Mindy. Is Everyone Hanging out without Me? (and Other Concerns). New York: Crown Archetype, 2011. Print.

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Eleanor & Park

I have been hearing about Rainbow Rowell for a long time. Her books are everywhere and I have heard nothing but rave reviews of Fangirl and Eleanor & Park, so at the beginning of the school year I finally picked up a copy of E&P (I’m going to abbreviate because for some reason it takes me about five tries to spell Eleanor). When I took it to the register at Bookman’s the girl behind the counter immediately started fangirling and telling me how much she loved this book. A few weeks later I saw one of my 8th graders reading it and when I asked her what she thought she told me that she loved it and that I should read it next. So several months later I finally read it.

I liked it. I liked it a lot but it didn’t captivate me the way Memoirs of a Geisha or Furiously Happy did. I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover but when I look at Rainbow Rowell’s most popular books all I see are pastels and cute sketches of high school students that look like they were drawn with Crayola colored pencils. So what I expected to find in the plot was something similar to cotton candy: a frothy and sweet teenage love story. Therefor I was shocked when I found an F-bomb dropped on the very first page, and scattered pretty regularly throughout the rest of the book.

I was actually a little happy to be taken by surprise like this and I can definitely see why Rowell is so popular. She takes a genre that I expected to be like cotton candy and made it a lot more gritty and realistic. It covers several important issues that face teenagers today and can help young adults gain an understanding of other people’s struggles. Issues like race, bullying, and domestic violence are all displayed in the plot and these are all issues that young adult need to be educated about. The cute love story that blossoms between the nerdy half-Korean Park and the curvy awkward Eleanor is interesting to watch, because there was no love at first sight. They actually didn’t like each other at all but they quickly learn that if you are true to yourself others can learn to love you for it.

I found it to be a very easy read which is probably why I wasn’t as dedicated to it as I was to other books, but I did enjoy the story and it continually surprised me. I was very happy to find a plot that was far from predictable. I think that as long as you aren’t offended by an excessive use of the F-word, you may enjoy this book. I think that high school students would love this book and would learn some valuable lessons from it. I will definitely read more from Rainbow Rowell.

Rowell, Rainbow. Eleanor & Park. New York: St. Martin’s, 2013. Print.

rainbow rowell

 

Memoirs of a Geisha

The 2005 film adaptation of Memoirs of a Geisha is probably one of my favorite movies of all time. Visually the film is vibrant and colorful and the story offers a glimpse into a culture that I find completely fascinating. Just look at these screen shots:

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Film Title: Memorias de una Geisha.

The film is absolutely gorgeous and I could definitely watch this movie once a week (not that I went through a phase where I did just this). What I was pleased to find is that the novel is just as vibrant as the film and offers an even deeper look at a little girl who is sold into an okiya and is destined to become a geisha in order to make a living.

The novel is structured like a classic bildungsroman like Jane Eyre, and follows young Chiyo as she transforms from a fisherman’s daughter to a maid to a well-known and very successful geisha. This transformation is extremely detailed and expertly displays Chiyo’s character development as she struggles with constant change in her life. One of the most clear and symbolic moments of Chiyo’s development is when she finally becomes a geisha and she changes her name to Sayuri and puts on her clean white makeup for the first time. The novel takes place over a vast timeline and shows working as a geisha both before and after World War II, and displays the extreme changes that took place in Japan as a result.

The reader is drawn into the book from the first page. I was completely devoted to Sayuri and felt like I was transported to Japan through the clear and precise descriptions of Kyoto’s geisha district. There are several scenes that can be difficult to get through but are essential to the story. One such scene occurs early in Sayuri’s career when she finds out that she has been entertaining men for the purpose of auctioning off her virginity to the highest bidder. There is vulnerability in her character that is very important and which separates her from other geisha in the novel like the cruel Hatsumomo. Sayuri shows that a real geisha is more than a prostitute; she is an artist, an entertainer, an academic and the picture of poise and grace. It is utterly captivating to watch Sayuri struggle to reconcile her heart with her duty when she is caught between two men and her need to survive in prewar Japan.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in Japanese culture and history.

Golden, Arthur. Memoirs of a Geisha: A Novel. New York: Vintage Contemporaries, 2005. Print.

Memoirs of a Geisha. Dir. Rob Marshall. Prod. Lucy Fisher, Douglas Wick, and Steven Spielberg. By Robin Swicord and Shizuko Hoshi. Perf. Ziyi Zhang, Ken Watanabe, and Michelle Yeoh. Sony Pictures Entertainment, 2005.