Tales from 1,001 Nights

First off, wow. These stories pulled me in and didn't let go. Sadly, I didn't get the full edition of The Thousand and One Nights (it would probably take me too long), simply the edition that has "the finest and most famous of the 1,001 Nights" taken from "the most ambitious and thorough translation into English of the Arabian Nights." The tales that make up the collection (which are representative of the full novel) are some of the most powerful stories in fiction's history, inspiring writers from the likes of Dickens to Joyce to Rushdie. The frame story of the tales is that Shahrazad has married King Shahryar, who has vowed that he will execute a new bride everyday. For 1,001 nights, she tells her husband a story every night, stopping at dawn with a cliffhanger, forcing the King to keep her alive for another day. A few years back, I received 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, and one of the entries details The Thousand and One Nights. The review of the book is extremely well written:
...the storytelling that Shahrazad invents, in order to stay alive, is a kind of storytelling that is not able to end, that never reaches a climax. Rather, the stories are inhabited by a kind of insatiable desire, an open unfishedness that keeps us reading and panting, eager for more, just as King Shahryar listens and pants...[the tales'] exotic, charged texture, derives from this desirousness, this endless trembling on the point both of climax, and of death.
In my edition, many series of nights were compiled. I'm actually writing this review before finishing all the stories (I only have like three left)- they're all so intricate and detailed that I feel obligated to spend as much time as possible devouring them. For the rest of the summer, as I work on my reading list, I will finish up these tales. So far, I've read most of them; including the frame story at the beginning, some lesser-known ones ("The Fisherman and the 'Ifrit" and "The Porter and the Three Ladies")as well as ones that have permeated popular culture today ("The Story of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves Killed by a Slave Girl," "Sinbad the Sailor," and "The Story of Aladdin, or the Magic Lamp"). They were all resoundingly unique, and some even fall under the fairy tale category, as Robert Irwin (British historian & novelist) writes in the introduction:
"A fairytale...is but a story that relies on the fantastic to induce wonder...[yet] there are also plenty of stories in which the fantastic and the supernatural do not feature - stories about cunning adulterers, learned slave girls, pious hermits, master criminals, benevolent or despotic rulers and so on." There is also insertion of poetry into the stories, with the characters in the tales quoting famous Arab poets to express their emotion, such as the porter who proclaims his trustworthiness by declaring:
Only the trustworthy can keep a secret,
And it is with the good that secrets are concealed.
With me they are kept locked inside a room
Whose keys are lost and whose door has been sealed.
My favorite story was Ali Baba; I had heard of the story of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves was one I had heard of, but I had no idea what it was about. It is actually the story of a brilliant slave girl who saves her master (Ali Baba) from death at the hand of forty thieves (whose lair he accidentally stumbled upon). Stories like this one are why I loved this novel/collection of stories so much, and I highly encourage everyone to read it. Rating: ★★★★★


The House of Mirth / The Age of Innocence

The first book on my Summer Reading List, Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth was a tad difficult to get into. Once I got adjusted to the characters (specifically the novel's tragic hero, Lily Bart, "the beautiful, much-desired [woman]" from New York City's Gilded Age), it became slightly less difficult to read. Alas, I had to read it (my aforementioned goal of completing Modern Library's Choices list) so I forced myself to keep going. It didn't turn out too bad. Definitely not something I would casually pick up to read; but it was definitely an accomplishment once I finished. A look at high class society; "a revolving body which is apt to be judged according to its place in each man’s heaven; and at present it was turning its illuminated face to Lily," the book highlights the struggle to get married and fit in. This novel can be considered under the genere of the novel of manners. As the wikipedia page describes,  this type of novel "deals with aspects of behavior, language, customs and values characteristic of a particular class of people in a specific historical context...[it] often shows a conflict between individual aspirations or desires and the accepted social codes of behaviour." In the House of Mirth, this can be seen in Lily's desire to be married yet continuously messing up when she gets near to the engagement. This takes a tragic turn which I won't spoil for you, but the ending definitely takes you by surprise. This doesn't leap out to recommend to you, but if you have the chance, it's a worthwhile read. Rating: ★★★
Before my summer reading began, I read a few books that I didn't have the chance to review on here. One of those was another Wharton novel: her Pulitzer-Prize winning The Age of Innocence. I enjoyed this much more than The House of Mirth; the story was engaging and enthralling. Similar to The House of Mirth, it was a novel of manners. It focuses on the story of Newland Archer, who gets engaged to May Welland (a "perfect match"). Yet, Newland is drawn to divorcee Countess Ellen Olenska. Newland is torn, stability versus unknown, comfort versus passion: "He did not want May to have that kind of innocence, the innocence that seals the mind against imagination and the heart against experience!" Undoubtedly deserving of its classic renown, I recommend reading this over The House of Mirth if you had to pick one Wharton novel to read this year. Rating: ★★★★


Summer Reading 2013

Summer Reading 2013. As I did last year (Summer Reading 2012), I'm going to share ten books I plan on reading this summer (time permitting). As I read them, I will update this post with links to my reviews. As I've stated in some posts before, I've been working on Modern Library's Classics List (posts tagged with Modern Library's Choices identify those books I've already read and reviewed). I realize this list isn't complete of all the classics, but my grandfather gave it to me (with the one's he'd read) before he passed, so I have a goal of eventually finishing it as a tribute to him. Posts with a (100) represent this list. Anyway, here it is...summer reading! 
  1. House of Mirth by Edith Wharton (100): the tragic story of Lily Bart of New York City's social elite during America's Gilded Age. POST
  2. Tales from 1,001 Nights by Anonymous: to postpone her execution, Shahrazad tells stories of adventure, love, riches, and wonder; these stories have inspired writers across the centuries. POST
  3. The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid: the tale of a young Pakistani-American whose life is changed irrevocably after the September 11 attacks. POST
  4. Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry (100): the tale of an alcoholic British consul in the small Mexican town of Quauhnahuac, on the Day of the Dead, November 2, 1938. (postponed for now)
  5. The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights by John Steinback: A retelling of Malory's beloved Arthurian stories POST
  6. A Passage to India by E. M. Forster (100): tells of the clash of cultures in British India after the turn of the century 
  7. Unbroken by Laura Hillbrand: the story of Lt. Louis Zamperini in WWII whose bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean then is faced with the dangers of a failing raft, the ocean, starvation and the enemy.
  8. Nostromo by Joseph Conrad (100): A tale of capitalist exploitation and rebellion, "set amid the mist-shrouded mountains of a fictional South American republic"   
  9. Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser: a literary portrait of France's most iconic queen
  10. Dispatches by Michael Herr: written on the front lines of Vietnam, an immediate classic of war reporting. 
I tried to cover all the bases, from non-fiction to ancient story collections to classics to contemporary fiction and historical retellings.
Happy Summer!