Thursday, April 02, 2009

The Gates of Rome by Conn Iggulden

The Gates of Rome (Volume 1 in the Emperor Series) by Conn Iggulden is an ambitious attempt to give an early history to the well known history of Julius Caesar. As imagined by Iggulden, who is very well-versed in early Roman history and the details of daily living before the Roman Empire came into full flower; it is an interesting childhood and early youth full of bullying, gladiatorial training, and more. As the blurb on the front cover says, “If you liked Gladiator you’ll love The Emperor.” Too bad I didn’t like Gladiator. Too bad I also read a far superior imagining of the early Roman emperors when I was a teenager. Iggulden’s novel is a good book but not the “brilliant” that some reviewer at the Los Angeles Times seems to claim it to be. It’s a beach book, a summer read. Interesting without necessarily being provocative or even challenging. And if you’re very familiar with the historical period, you won’t walk away with any new knowledge. As I alluded to before, I read a better book—I, Claudius by Robert Graves—when I was a teenager and loved it. I rushed to read the sequel, Claudius, the God, as soon as I had finished the first novel. I highly doubt I will read the sequel to Iggulden’s book. However, I recognize that most people would not have the patience to read Graves’ superior novels so there is a place for this series. Unfortunately, I feel my time would have been better spent finally reading Caesar and Christ by Will Durant. In the end, this novel is not a huge disappointment but a bit of a letdown.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

March in Summary

I started March quite sick with first the flu and then a virus. Not the way to start a month. As a result my exercise routine was completely thrown off course. As have my writing goals for March. I simply didn’t have the focus to do more than try to heal and take care of the housework. It wasn’t until the end of the month that I could pull it together to even look at the To the Virgin chapbooks. Nevertheless, I took some online courses to help hone my skills. One was on business communications which was pretty basic. Ironically, I found several (many even) grammar and spelling errors. Too bad I can’t get the people who created these online courses to hire me to fix those bloody comma splices and teach them how to spell. In any event, I figure more skills can’t hurt. Books Read Peaks and Valleys by Spencer Johnson The Ten Golden Rules by Soupios and Mourdoukoutas 3 Willows: The Sisterhood Grows by Anne Bashares Crown of Swords by Robert Jordan (book 7 in the Wheel of Time collection) Haiku Mind by Patricia Donegan Vanessa and Virginia by Susan Sellers Movies Seen (for the first time) Amistad Don’t Say a Word The King and I (animated version) The Banger Sisters I avoided seeing Amistad for all the unsurprising reasons. I knew the subject would be heavy and that the movie would likely leave me feeling worn out and rung out. When it was on network television I thought that perhaps it would be less harrowing. I was utterly mistaken. A good movie. Not necessarily genius but a story worth knowing. I definitely found myself wanting to read an historical book about it, to give me more of the political leanings and climate of the time, something that is mentioned in the film, naturally, but can only gloss over in a perfunctory manner. (I also found myself wanting to read biographies about our American presidents, beginning with President George Washington and working my way up to President Obama. Unfortunately, I don’t know what biographies are considered the best and whenever I am faced with the long list of choices, I end up making none.) The animated version of The King and I is more culturally intriguing than relevant. It is a means to introduce a younger and more frivolous audience to the musical as originally written by Rodgers and Hammerstein. By removing the meatier and heavier themes of the story, what the animated version offers is a milquetoast version of a great musical. The only redeeming feature of this nonsense is the lovely voice of Christiane Noll. (And the too recently deceased Natasha Richardson provided the non-singing voice for the same character.) The other movies are a big flat blah although I did laugh out loud one time during The Banger Sisters. One time for a comedy? Not a strong recommendation. I am choosing to set Wit apart because it is so brilliant that it deserves a superior position. Based on the Pulitzer Prize winning play, the movie stars Emma Thompson as a woman who is undergoing a radical treatment for her cancer. The description of the plot summarized on the back of the dvd box is dreadful. It makes this amazing movie sound schmaltzy and uninteresting. The performances, Thompson’s especially, are wonderful. There are darkly humorous moments but ultimately this dramatic movie lives up to Aristotle’s belief that drama should result in catharsis. I like it so very much that I immediately recommended it to everyone, called my mother to ask her about her experience seeing it performed on Broadway, and set the dvd aside to share with my children. I cannot praise this movie enough. And television . . . I said last month that I was finding Dollhouse to be a bit of a disappointment. I’m happy to say that episodes 4 and 5 really turned the show around for me. Albeit, Eliza Dushku was still in peril each episode but there was a layer to her performance, where she was allowed to show her acting chops to full effect. I’m hoping that the complexity of the plots will develop further. The subplot, which almost came a little too little too late, is intriguing and may be what keeps the show alive for me. Well, that and Dushku’s ability to be both empowered and vulnerable.