Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Taking a Break from The Decameron

Part of me really wants to scream right now that I can't take it anymore. The Decameron is so dense and the medieval viewpoint of women is committing a full frontal assault on my modern sensibilities. So in order to stay sane, I'm going to take a week's break from the Decameron and use the time to read Arthur C. Clarke's Sands of Mars. I'll do my best not to drop the Decameron totally, but to be honest I don't know if I'll return to it.

But in light of not having a post chock full of information about Medieval Italy,  I thought I would finally produce the list of the books that my Great Grandfather owned. This list may be updated in the future, if I ever make it out to my grandparents house, but as of now it contains a full list of the books my mother owns and an almost complete list of the books owned by my Uncle Jimmy.

Obviously I'm a History student because anyone with knowledge of citations will see that I have completed the list using Turabians Chicago Style.(A style drilled into our skulls in history classes in college.) The meanings of the notations beside each item are listed below.

*A World of Great Stories. New York: Crown Publishers, 1947.
*Alfred Hitchcock Presents:  A Month of Mystery
.  New York: Random House, 1969.
*Alfred Hitchcock Presents:  My Favorites in Suspense
.  New York: Random House, 1959.
*Alfred Hitchcock Presents:  Stories That Scared Even Me
.  New York: Random House, 1967.
*Allen, Hervey. Israfel: The Life and Times of Edgar Allen Poe. New York: Farrar and Rinehart, Inc., 1934.
Bailey, Alice A. Problems of Humanity. New York: Lucis Publishing Co., 1947.
°Baird, A.T. One-Hundred Cases for Survival after Death. New York: Bernard Ackerman, 1944.
*Balzac, Honoré De. Droll Stories. New York: Garden City Books, 1946.
°Beecroft, John, ed. Kipling: A Selection of his Stories and Poems. 2 vols. Garden City: Doubleday and Co., 1956.
°____ and Howard Haycraft, eds. Ten Great Mysteries. New York: Doubleday and Co., 1959.

°Boccaccio, Giovanni. The Decameron of Boccaccio. Universal Classics.

-Bridges, William. Wild Animals of the World. Garden City: Publishing Inc., 1944.
°Burton, Richard F. trans. The Arabian Nights. New York: Blue Ribbon Books, 1941.
*Busch, Niven. The Hate Merchant. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1953.
*Cain, James M. The Postman Always Rings Twice. New York: Triangle Books, 1938.
°Cervantes, Miguel. Don Quixote. Edited by Richard Emery Roberts. Translated by P.A. Molluex and Charles Jarvis. New York: Book League of America, 1946.

°Clarke, Arthur C. Sands of Mars. Gnome Press, Inc., 1952.

°The Complete Works of Shakespeare.
Illustrated by Rockwell Kent. New York: Doubleday and Co., 1936.
*Darwin, Charles. The Origin of Species and the Descent of Man. New York: The Modern Library.
-Davies, C.T. The Horse: And How to Care For Him. Philadelphia: Pennsylvania Publishing Company, 1911.
Dostoyevsky, Fyodor. Crime and Punishment. Translated by Constance Garnett. Illinois: Illustrated Modern Library, 1944.
_____. The Idiot. Vol. 2. Translated by Constance Garnett. Macmillian, 1916.
°_____. The Brothers Karamazov. Translated by Constance Garnett. Modern Library, 1929.
*Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan. The Complete Sherlock Holmes. New York: Garden City Books, 1930.
-Ellison, Charles. The Fundamentals of Window Display. International Textbook Company, 1931.
*Forbes, Esther. Paul Revere and the World he Lived in. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1942.
George, W.L. Her Unwelcome Husband. Harper and Brothers, 1922.
Goodwin, Ernest. The Duchess of Siona. Illustrated by W.T. Benda. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1918.

°Grey, Zane. Code of the West. New York: P.F. Collier and Son, 1934.

*Gunther, John. Inside Africa. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1955.

°Haley, Alex. Roots. Garden City: Doubleday, 1976.
*Haggard, Henry Rider. She. New York: Books Inc., 1886.

-Harrison, E.S. A Beginner Spanish Reader. Ginn and Co., 1917.
-_____. An Intermediate Spanish Reader. Ginn and Co., 1917.
*Hart, Frances Noyes. The Bellamy Trial. New York: Doubleday, Page and Company, 1927.
-Harte, Bret. Bret Harte’s Writings: Tales of the Argonauts and Other Sketches. Boston: Houghton Mifflin,1903.
-Hawks, Ellison. Bees Shown to the Child. New York: Platt and Peck Co.
*Hemingway, Ernest. Death in the Afternoon. New York: P.F. Collier and Son, 1938.
*____. For Whom the Bell Tolls.
*____. The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1953.
*Hersey, John. The War Lover. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1959.
Herzberg, Max J. Myths and their Meanings. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1931.
*Hewlett, Maurice. The Forest Lovers. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1898.

-The Home Mechanic’s Handbook
. New York: D. Van Nostrand Company Inc., 1945.
How and Why Wonder Book of Reptiles and Amphibians
. Wonder Books Inc., 1960.
Hugo, Victor. The Hunchback of Notre Dame. 1914.
_____. Les Miserables. Translated by Lacelles Wraxall.
_____. Toilers of the Sea. New York: Hurst and Co., 1922.
°Jackson, Helen Hunt. Ramona. New York: Grossett and Dunlap, 1912.
*Joyce, James. Ulysses.
Lawrence, D.H. Sons and Lovers. Viking Press, 1963.
°Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird.
*London, Jack. The Cruise of the Snark.  New York: The Review of Reviews Company, 1917.
Lytton, Sir Edward Bulwer. The Last Days of Pompeii. Spencer Press, 1936.
Mailer, Norman. Barbary Shore. Rhinehart and Co., Inc., 1951.

Masterpieces of British Literature
. Riverside Press, 1895.
Maugham, W. Somerset, ed. Tellers of Tales. New York: Doubleday, Doran, and Co., 1939.
*Maughan, A. W. Harry of Monmouth. New York: William Sloane Associates, 1956.
°Melville, Herman. Moby Dick. Spencer Press, 1936.
*Pasternak, Boris. Doctor Zhivago. New York: Pantheon Books, Inc., 1958.*Poe, Edgar Allen. Tales of Mystery and Imagination. Spencer Press, 1936.
-Queen, Ellery. Challenge to the Reader: An Anthology. New York: Blue Ribbon Books, 1940.
Shirer, William L. Berlin Diary. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1941.
°Sienkiewicz, Henryk. Quo Vadis. Translated by Jeremiah Curtain. Book League of America, 1925.
°Stevenson, Robert. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde/Kidnapped. Popular Classics Inc.,
*Susann, Jacqueline. Valley of the Dolls. New York: Bernard Geis Associates, 1966.
Tolstoy, Leo. War and Peace. Translated by Constance Garnett. New York: Illustrated Modern Library.
Verne, Jules. From the Earth to the Moon. New York: Lovell Brothers and Co.,
*____. The Lighthouse at the End of the World. New York: G. Howard Watt, 1924.
°_____. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. New York: E. P. Dutton and Co., 1911.
*Waltari, Mika. The Wanderer. Translated by Naomi Walford. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1951.
-Webling, W. Hastings. Fore!: The Call of the Links. H.M. Caldwell Co., 1909.*Wells, H.G. 7 Science Fiction Novels of H.G. Wells. New York: Dover Publications, 1950.
*____.  28 Science Fiction Stories of H.G. Wells. New York: Dover Publications, 1952.

°_____. Mr. Blettsworthy on Rampole Island. Illustrated by George Picken. Garden City: Doubleday, Doran and Co., 1928.

*____. The Croquet Player. New York:  The Viking Press, 1937.
*____. The Holy Terror. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1939.
_ ___. The Outline of History. 4 vols. Macmillion, 1920.
*____. Tono-Bungay. New York:  The Modern Library, 1935.
*____. Twelve Stories and a Dream. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1924.
White, E.B. and K.S. White. A Sub-Treasury of American Humor. New York: Coward-Mclann Inc., 1941.
°Wilde, Oscar. The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde.
Williams, H. P. Our Moon. Frederich Muller LTD, 1954.
Wren, Percival C. Beau Ideal. New York: Grossett and Dunlap, 1929.
_____. Beau Sabreur. New York: Grossett and Dunlap, 1929.
_____. Good Gestes. New York: Grossett and Dunlap, 1929.

*Indicates books owned by my Uncle. 
-Indicates books I believe I cannot find or will not read. 
°Indicates books I own already, have purchased, or can borrow from the library.  
Indicates books I've read

I didn't know, when I asked my Uncle about what books he had, that there would be so many H.G. Wells! But I'm excited because clearly a love of H.G. Wells runs in my family. 

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Decameron of Boccaccio

This is the book that made me realize I come from a long line of Catholics.

Having no knowledge of this book, I decided that I would start reading The Decameron with a little investigation of the book first. There is a fantastic page from  Brown University's Italian Studies Department that actually tells a lot about the history of the book. Between them and Wikipedia I set myself up with some good knowledge that I will now share with you. (Yes I know that Wikipedia is a disreputable source but I backed it up with academic knowledge so bleh!)

The Decameron was written by Giovanni Boccaccio from 1348-1351. The book is a collection of stories told by 10 individuals who escape the black plague together by fleeing to a country house owned by one of them. They entertain each other with stories to pass the time during the 10 days that they are together. Sound familiar? Well this is probably because there is a good chance that Chaucer took the format of his Canterbury tales from The Decameron. In fact, it is believed that Chaucer's Knight's Tale is pretty much lifted out of The Decameron. The book is a historical goldmine of 14th century Italian conceptions of Chivalry, Sex, Religion, and life in general. I am only a third of the way through it, mostly because it is somewhat boring, but so far I've read a few humorous stories.

Now when I found out all of this information I was not exactly thrilled that this was the next book on my list. But I really had no choice because I managed to check it out from my library. Unfortunately its not the same translation as the one my great grandparents owned, but its mainly the same book. I am so glad its not the same translation because theirs looked like it was slightly more difficult to comprehend. It's definitely better than the translation available from the Gutenberg Project. Their version was so flowery and filled with thees and thous that I couldn't get two sentences in without wanting to break the computer screen. My mom pointed out that the GP one is probably from the 1600s which would explain the language. This book is from the 1930s and fairly close to the age I believe my great grandparent's version is - there is no publishing date in it. It is translated by Richard Aldington and although I have no knowledge of medieval Italian, I think its a good translation.

Now onto what my tagline means. As I was reading this book I noted that it has a lot of religious connotation to it. Several stories are all about behaving properly in the eyes of God and the greatness of God and so on and so forth. I'm just gonna state, I'm an Atheist, and although I know that the Medieval period was religious and although I know that historically this is what it was like. I hated it. The constant He referred to in the stories was starting to get my temper chomping. And then I wrote myself a historical question about the rotten clergy - there was a lot of it - and why were they still religious despite the horrible plague and horrible clergy. That's when it clicked in my mind, all of these stories deal with Catholics. 'Cause well, Medieval Italy. Then my neurons chewed on that information and spit out some random answer to a question I was working on in the back of my mind. Why on Earth did any of my ancestors read this book? Was it just because it was a classic? (One I'd never heard of.) Or were they interested in medieval literature (only book on the shelf.) And then my neurons responded, oh wait. Catholics. My great grandfather's family was Catholic. They could have been reading the book because they enjoyed religious medieval stories. Or maybe it was done on a bet. A library initiative? Curiosity's sake? Or not even read at all. I don't really know and I have no way of finding out. But suddenly the religious stuff didn't bug me so much because I had a personal history with it. Now the book can mention He as much as it wants because I feel some stronger connection to my ancestors when I read it.

Just a note though, my Great Grandfather became a content Atheist later in his life.

That's all for today, next time I'll share some information with you about what a Sirocco wind is and which King Charles are they all talking about.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mr. Blettsworthy on Rampole Island

Boy did Wells throw me for a loop with this one.

But before I get into that, let me start at the beginning. Yesterday, I finished Mr. Blettsworthy on Rampole Island while at work and thoroughly enjoyed the book. To the person who said that this book was a rewrite of The Island of Doctor Moreau I doubly say, liar!

But before I get into all of that, let me summarize this book for you. The book starts with the biography of Arnold Blettsworthy and traces him to Oxford. From there he gets in a fight with his friend and business partner Lyulph Graves over the betrayal of his Fiance. After falling into a deep depression over this betrayal, Arnold is told to go have an adventure at sea so he can rediscover himself and mature a little. While at sea, the steamship he's on breaks in the middle of a violent storm. He, an unwelcome passenger, is abandoned by the crew and almost murdered when the captain of the boat locks him into a cabin. After several days of sea, floating far away from land, Blettsworthy is picked up by the savages of Rampole Island. There he is deemed the Sacred Lunatic and is safe from the dreaded Reproof. He is forced to eat the Gift of Friends with the other islanders and is followed around by Chit who is the only man who can interpret the omens that come out of his crazed ramblings. For five years, Blettsworthy lives on the island, trying to avoid the machinations of Ardam - the warrior - and the hairless old men who try to pit him against Chit. War breaks out with another tribe further up the gorge and Blettsworthy rescues a woman who is escaping from Ardam. They make their escape in a canoe from the island and in the next second Blettsworthy is lying in bed in a flat in New York, being spoon fed by a woman named Ramona. Blettsworthy is informed then that, for five years, he has been insanely rambling about Rampole island, unable to see the real world about him. He was rescued by a science boat that came upon him. He's suffered from a strange case of split personality where a lesser personality has been living his life, while his dominant personality has been gallivanting around Rampole Island. Even better, Blettsworthy wakes just in time to go fight in World War I. He marries Ramona, who he did actually save from drowning, and they travel back to England. Blettsworthy voluntarily joins the war and within his first engagement is hit in the legs. One of his legs is amputated and he returns to England to recuperate. There he finds himself in the same ward as his good old friend Lyulph Graves, who he feels no animosity towards anymore. (What are friends over a foolish girl, right?) The last section of the book is dedicated to detailing Blettsworthy's settling down at home and his renewed relationship with Graves.

It took me three days, not consecutively, to finish this book and what a fantastic book it was. Wells did such a good job transitioning the reader, with Blettsworthy, from Rampole Island to New York that the reader experienced the same mental confusion. I actually had to stop reading at that point and look up and make sure of where I was. The language was beautiful and I will be jotting down several quotes from the latter half of the book that I simply loved. The descriptions made the whole world seem very realistic and I kept wanting to stop and look up places. Also there were quite a few twists in there that surprised me, something a book hasn't been able to do in a long time. Point in blank, I don't know who read it out of my ancestors but I hope they loved it as much as I did.

Having finished the book, I feel that I am right in believing that this was partially a response to World War I. The underlying question asked in the book is, What is the purpose of Civilization? Are the Civilized truly civilized or are they cannibalistic savages? Now, perhaps like IoDM, there is another underlying question about morality throughout this book as well. But even more prevalent is the concept of Identity. Throughout the book, Blettsworthy reminds himself that he is a Blettsworthy, specifically that he is Arnold Blettsworthy. During his time on Rampole Island, Blettsworthy is constantly struggling against the elders' desire for him to marry into the tribe - and thus become an islander and no longer Blettsworthy. Even his very parentage leads him to question his identity - is he like his Portuguese mix mother or like his English father? Identity plays a huge role in this novel.

After reading this book, I feel I have a slightly firmer grasp on the fall out of World War I. I wonder, when my Great Grandparents were born in the 1920s, did their parents believe that WWI had been the war to end all wars like Graves? Or did they feel, like Blettsworthy, that the world was Rampole Island? Unfortunately, I'll have no way of knowing.

I highly suggest that anyone, who can get their hands on it, should pick this book up and read it. The next book in my list will be the Decameron of Boccaccio, a medieval text written in the 1300s. My ancestors sure had some varied tastes.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Megatherium Americanum

When I first decided on this project there was a fantastic sale going on at Better World Books' site and I was able to find at least four of the books on my list. This included The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde - unfortunately not the same copy or a repro but I did go through and mark which pieces were in both; Volume 1 of a selection of Kipling's work; Arthur C. Clarke's The Sands of Mars, and a little known H.G. Wells piece Mr. Blettsworthy on Rampole Island.

I was able to get an exact copy of the Wells book which was first published in 1928, a later Wells piece. Excited, because I love Wells and had never heard of this novel, I decided to start my project with this book. First, before reading, I thought I would do a little research on the book. I turned up practically nothing. This is definitely an H.G. Wells and it is definitely not well-known. On Good Reads there was a review that likened it to a rewrite of the Island of Dr. Moreau. Since I haven't seen the movie or read the Island of Dr. Moreau I naturally asked my boyfriend if he knew what it was about. And, being the fantastic reader of classics and sci-fi that he is, he knew what the book was about. Apparently, the Island of Dr. Moreau is about a man who is shipwrecked on an island that is home to the humanistic animals created by Dr. Moreau. Well, after hearing that I decided that the Good Reads reviewer had no idea what she was talking about. In Mr. Blettsworthy on Rampole Island, Arnold Blettsworthy shipwrecks on Rampole Island, home to cannibals and Megatherium Americanum (the Giant Sloth.) I can totally see why the reviewer thought that he was basically rewriting The Island of Dr. Moreau, however, the two books read very differently. In fact, although I'm only on page 194, I believe that - historically - Mr. Blettsworthy's tale is actually more a response to World War I than "an exercise in youthful blasphemy." (Quote from Wikipedia)

In fact, according to Wikipedia, the Island of Dr. Moreau deals with the topics of pain, cruelty, moral responsibility, human identity, and interference with nature. Well, several of these themes are addressed in Mr. Blettsworthy on Rampole Island, particularly human identity, moral responsibility, and cruelty. However, Wells is looking more at the concept of Civilization - a concept that definitely merited reviewing after the horrors of WWI - and the responsibilities it entailed. I can see the argument that it is a rewriting of IoDM but I think its more that Wells revisited certain subjects in MBoRI than he attempted to re-do an entire novel. I really wish I could find more on it. Ah, but since I did not mean to continue on this subject for so long let me move on.

I am currently on page 194 out of 347. The beginning of the book which details Mr. Blettsworthy's life was very slow. But once his Fiance cheated on him with his partner it picked up considerably. First off, let me point out that I love the language in this book. There is just something about books written in the 1920s. They have this particular way of talking to a reader that is very enjoyable. (My other examples of this are Saki and P.G. Wodehouse's Love Among the Chickens.) I think I'll save my next post, which I plan to write at the end of the novel, for a summary of the book. For now let me move on to the other main point of this post!

At some point in the novel, Mr. Blettsworthy lands on Rampole Island and encounters the Megatherium Americanum. At page 194, after several references to this giant sloth, I wondered if this was an actual creature. I put the book down and immediately typed Giant Sloth into Google and came up with a lot of results! So here is what I have learned from this book, so far.

The Giant Sloth existed in the Pleistocene Era. It had giant claws that it used to pull down leaves or possibly stab the stomach of Giant Armadillos - apparently there is some debate on if it turned into a carnivore because it has an arm length that could allow it to strike quickly. The sloth spent a good portion of its time on its hind legs, weighed about as much as an elephant, and served the same grazing purpose as that animal. The first fossils were discovered in the late 1700s in South America. In fact, Megatherium Americanum is thought to have ranged from Argentina to Alaska. It died out sometime around the appearance of the first humans in the Americas.

The website for the National History Museum in London had a lot of very useful information on the creature. Now, admittedly, I did not learn this information directly from the book - I looked it up. But the book inspired me to look it up. Now armed with knowledge of the previous existence of the Giant Sloth, and eager to write a story featuring the creature, I am ready to continue on Mr. Blettsworthy's disastrous adventures. 

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Project!!!


I realize nobody is reading this, and possibly nobody ever will but I thought I would have some fun doing a little history project while I'm out of school for the summer. To start, I will tell you a little about the project and then a little about myself.

The Project: 
How to explain this? Well I came up with this project when I was dusting one day in the front room of my mother's house. We were going to be picking up a player piano that weekend and needed to get the room clean. There are two bookshelves in the front room (and yes there is now a player piano in-between them, although its not working) and I worked on one while my mother dusted the other. Being thorough, for once in my life, I decided to lift each book off, dust it lightly and put it back after dusting where it had sat. My mother made sure to remind me to be careful because some of the books on the shelf were my Great Grandfather's. Which I knew, because I'd help my mother unload them from the car when he'd died two years ago. As I dusted off my Great Grandfather's books, I read the titles and was pleased to see that he owned several classics. As I continued handling the books, I began to notice just how well-read these books were. Although still in very good shape, the spines were creased and the edges a little worn. I started thinking, what did my Great Grandfather or Great Grandmother think when they were reading these? My Great Grandparents were so well read that my Great Grandfather made sure to return his library books before he died. Could I, by reading these books, understand life the same way that my Great Grandparents did? By reading the things they read, could I understand their lives better?

Well, that's exactly what I'm setting out to answer. I plan to read almost every single book that we received from my Great Grandfather's stash. Because these books are old, I'm going to buy my own copies - as close to the original as possible - because I don't want to damage my Great Grandfather's books if I can help it. Many of his books are books that he inherited from his side of the family because he was an only child, so that means I'll be reading books from family members I've probably never even heard about.

A Little About My Ancestors: 
 My Grandmother
with her parents

Dot and Joe Gonsalves
My name is Kayleigh Last and I am a true product of American immigration. The books in question belonged to my Great Grandfather Joseph Gonsalves and my Great Grandmother Dorothy Zimpelman-Gonsalves. Both Dot and Joe, as they were known, were born in New York in the 1920s. Joe was born in 1924 to Carmen and Joseph Gonsalves, Portuguese who had immigrated to the United States in 1923 from British Guiana. (We know that this line immigrated from Portugal to British Guiana sometime in the 1800s.) Dot was born a year later in 1925 to Margaret Timko, a second generation Hungarian immigrant, and Frederick Zimpelman an American of German heritage. In my family history, these two great grandparents are my grandmother's parents on my mother's side.

A Little About the Books: 
The books are mainly from the Gonsalves line although there are sure to be a few that were Dot's. There are several classics, partially because of what my mother picked out but also because my Great Grandparents believed that reading was important. There are several other books that my mother picked out because they were interesting. Eventually, in the next few posts of so, I hope to have a complete list of all of the books we own on here. For right now, I was able to find four books that I bought which are either the version Joe and Dot owned or are reprints of them. There are some books I will never be able to find reproductions of and will most likely not read them for this project - though that doesn't mean I won't peek in them later. For example, there is a fantastic guide to The Art of Window Display from either the 20s or the 30s, I cannot recollect. There are several books of Russian literature because Joe was quite the fan of it.

I hope to not only understand the mindset of my Great Grandparents and ancestors, but I also hope to broaden my own mind by reading these books. Because, like Dot and Joe, I believe that reading is important not only for education but also for self growth.