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review 2018-03-28 15:47
A fine biography of a frustrated man
Jonathan Swift, A Hypocrite Reversed: A Critical Biography - David Nokes

Though remembered today mainly as the author of Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift was known to his contemporaries for much more than that.  In this biography, David Nokes details the span of Swift’s eventful life, from his childhood in Dublin to his time as a propagandist and disappointed placeseeker in England, through to his later years as an author and Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin.  The Swift that emerges from these pages is a frustrated man, filled with disappointment at receiving less than his perceived due.  Yet such disappointment provided the acidic edge to the satirical writings that made him famous from his day to ours.


Nokes’s biography is an admirable study of Swift’s life and times, one that attempts to penetrate the mystery that surrounded much of his life.  He does not hesitate in hypothesizing about the many decisions he made and speculating on such persistent questions as his possible marriage to Esther Johnson.  Though Nokes does not address every work that Swift produced, he does analyze his subject’s major writings for the insights they possess into Swift’s personality and views.  He supports his arguments with frequent quotes from his subject’s many writings, though reading the book alongside a collection such as the Oxford World Classics edition of his writings as a supplement helps to understand Swift better still, as well as providing exposure to some unjustly neglected classics from this great author.  For anyone seeking a perceptive study of Swift’s life that is more digestible than Irvin Ehrenpreis’s monumental three-volume study, this is the book to read.

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review 2017-04-12 12:44
Gulliver's Travels - Jonathan Swift,Robert DeMaria Jr.

This book was definitely weird.

While I understand it is written as a satire, most of it went over my head since it is so specific to the time period in which it was written. The notes on the text helped so I got a basic understanding, but still did not get the majority of what Swift was saying.

However, it was still a very creative and entertaining book. There was a lot of adventure, although very slow at times. I really enjoyed the world building of the various places that Gulliver found himself in. I also have to admit that there is something very satisfying in reading about bodily functions in such an elegant and formal writing style. The book was very humorous at times.

One drawback was the inconsistency of Gulliver's character. Sometimes he seems to be the personification of satire, demonstrating his ignorance, while other times he is the one to point out the satirized elements. This was a little confusing at times since sometimes Gulliver seems to be speaking as Swift while other times Swift is using Gulliver to make fun of something.

Overall a good, yet slow read. Very creative and entertaining.

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review 2016-11-20 08:00
A Modest Proposal
A Modest Proposal - Jonathan Swift

I first came in contact with Swift's Modest Proposal in school where we read certain passages. I was immediately smitten with the nice way in which he wrote his satire. It is so businesslike that it is almost hard at first glance not to agree with his arguments and business strategy. That is, of course, only until you stop for a moment to consider what he has just proposed.

This collection shows it nicely, I would certainly recommend reading it.

Little Black Classics #8

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review 2016-03-13 06:58
Battle of the Books
The Battle of the Books and other short pieces - Jonathan Swift,Henry Morley

I'm going to claim "read" on this one even though I haven't strictly read everything inside the covers.  I got through most of it, but after a rather arduous 30+ page rhyming poem, I couldn't make it much further though the rest (which was largely more poetry).


The book is cute, if anything over 140 years old can be said to be cute.  I bought it because I was charmed by the cover and the title and the old advertisements in the front and back cover ("To Mothers! Woodward's "Gripe Water' or Infants Preservative...") and really no bibliophile worth their salt could pass a story called "Battle of the Books".


Battle of the Books was, once I got past the archaic writing, clever and pretty epic for a short story.  It was written to be satiric, as a representation of the critical movement against the "Ancient Books" by literary critics of the age.  The battle is pitched at St. James' Library (I'm assuming once the library has closed for a good long weekend), with various deities finding it too irresistible not to choose sides, get involved, and make a mess.  


I won't tell you who won; that would be a spoiler.  I'd imagine that had I been a contemporary of Swift's (or just much better educated in literary criticism) the ending would have a deeper meaning that as it is, I can only guess at.  Still I enjoyed it - it was epic and fun even without all the insider's knowledge.


The next couple of stories are aimed squarely at almanac editors.  These were so acidly satiric they ceased to be 'funny' although the audacious claims remained amusing.  From there on, it's almost all poetry and most of it written as odes to the love of Swift's life, Stella.  Of them, the poem Baucis and Philemon firmly my favourite.

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text 2015-11-27 02:39
School reads...
Macbeth - William Shakespeare
The Canterbury Tales - Geoffrey Chaucer
Paradise Lost - John Leonard,John Milton
Gulliver's Travels - Jonathan Swift,Robert DeMaria Jr.

I haven't had much time for leisurely reading (although my stack is seriously tempting me), but at least my school assignments have been fairly interesting, if at times somewhat tedious. 


I re-read Macbeth for an English paper, but I just kept wishing that I was back in high school English joking with my friends about Ian McKellen as Macbeth yelling at the ghost of Banquo. 

I also read The Wife of Bath's Tale a while back which, surprisingly, was actually pretty cool. I made a note that if and when I ever teach it, I would compare the Wife of Bath to Samantha Jones from Sex and the City. It was awesome to read a character like that in something like Chaucer- it made the language feel a lot less tedious.

Currently, I'm working my way through Paradise Lost, but it's slow going. Still, it feels like I'm accomplishing something as I read it. I think I'm enjoying it more because I just think of Supernatural as I'm reading. Also, it's in my giant English textbook, which I like to plop on a table and mark with washi tape tabs.

Alongside the first few books of Paradise Lost, my English teacher assigned a couple of chapters out of Gulliver's Travels. I just started reading the part where he's marooned on an island of intelligent horses and 'Yahoos', hairy animal-like savages who somewhat resemble humans. I've only read a few pages of it but it reminds me a bit of The Time Machine. I can't decide if I'm going to read the whole book yet.


I still read In Search of Respect here and there, but it's tough to read about the lives of people who really never even had a sliver of a chance at a good life. There are a lot of things that you don't really think about when considering why people can't escape extreme poverty. In one example I read, a neighbor of Philip's "subjects" (for lack of a better word) gets a good job at an office- a rare accomplishment and her first decent-paying job. She buys a new outfit for work- a bright yellow, tight jumpsuit. Her friends and boyfriend think she looks gorgeous and wish her good luck at her job- they don't even realize that the outfit alone will be enough to get her into trouble, and maybe even let go. They have no access to what "dressing nice" means in that situation. It's mind-boggling, but it's understandable- they're stuck in the bubble of their neighborhood's street culture, where "dressing nice" means something very different. 


I'm still keeping up with my readings in Freedom On My Mind for African American History class. Currently we're learning about the Underground Railroad... well, everyone else is learning about it. I already knew pretty much all that we've covered so far- I've had an interest in it since my dad taught me about it when I was very young. Harriet Tubman was ridiculously badass and if you haven't read much about her, you really should. 


It's been great reading epic works of literature and learning so much, but damn I can't wait to be done with this semester and get started on all my fun books! 

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