Friday, January 31, 2020

Experiences in the Past

(TESOL Worksheets--Projects, Past SimplePresent Perfect)
Google: docs, pub

With your group, think of 10 experiences in the past that you have all shared.
It could be experiences that you have had in this classroom. (For example: “We have all studied English World 6”)  Or it could be experiences that you have had outside of the classroom that you all have in common. (For example: “We have all been to Vung Tau.”) 

Remember to use past simple if the exact time is mentioned. (For example: “We all went to Hanoi last summer.”)
Use present perfect if the exact time is unimportant. (For example: “We have all been to Thailand.”)

Experience 1

Experience 2

Experience 3

Experience 4

Experience 5

Experience 6

Experience 7

Experience 8

Experience 9

Experience 10

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Abandoned: The Complete Stories of Oz by L. Frank Baum

Sort of.  I'm not abandoning it completely, but I am going to re-structure how I'm reading and reviewing it.

I started this book ages ago, long before my "starting and finishing" blog project.
I mentioned this book on my April 2018 Vlog: The Books I'm Currently Reading.  (Although even by that time, it was largely neglected on my self.)

This book is a massive doorstopper: 1486 pages, containing all of the 14 Oz novels by L. Frank Baum.
I actually made good progress on this book for the first few months I was reading it: I got through the first 5 books;
The Wonderful World of Oz,
The Marvellous Land of Oz,  (This one was actually a re-read, because I had read it as a child.)
Ozma of Oz,
Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz,
and The Road to Oz.

I then got stalled out on book 6, The Emerald City to Oz.  Which I attribute to the fact that these books were fun at first, but after a while got to feel pretty repetitive, and I started to lose interest.

I am, however, not abandoning it completely.  I'm just planning on reading and reviewing each book individually, rather than trying to read the whole thing at once and keep it all in memory for some massive review.
This will involve going back and re-reading the first 5 books.  (In the case of The Marvellous Land of Oz, this will mean re-re-reading.)

I might try to clear out some of the other deadwood in my Currently Reading list before I come back to this one, but I'll announce each book as a new Starting entry when I get back to this.
Abandoned: Vietnamese Stories for Language Learners by Tri C. Tran and Tram Le

Started: July 18, 2018

And while I'm clearing out my "Currently Reading" list, it's time to admit I'm not going to get around to this book anytime soon.
It was too advanced for me to begin with.  (I'm still at a beginner's level.)  I bought it from the bookstore as an impulse buy, because I'm attracted to the idea of using fairy tales for language learning.  (Something I've been trying to incorporate in my own materials.)  But I wasn't ready to plunge into this book just yet.
The book came accompanied by an audio CD, which for several months I would play in our apartment every morning, in the hopes that some of it might sink in.  But none of it did.
(We were at a park once, and we saw murals depicting a Vietnamese folk story.  My wife asked me if I recognized the story.  I said I did not.  She said, "It's the same story you listen to every morning in our apartment.")

But, eventually, I stopped playing the CD as well.  (It's so boring to listen to the same thing over and over again, especially when you don't understand it.  I'm trying to use my listening time more for informative podcasts these days.)
So, time to admit that this book as well is now abandoned.
Abandoned: Wheelock's Latin by Frederic M. Wheelock

Started: April 4, 2018

It's also time to admit that I've abandoned Wheelock's Latin.  Like the previous book, this is one I've actually abandoned long ago, but am just getting around to acknowledging now.  And it's for the same reason as the previous book I'd abandoned.  I had envisioned studying this book on quizlet, and once the hand cramps came back, it was time to back off of quizlet.
Siddhartha by Herman Hesse: Book Review (Scripted)

Video version of an old post (as I explained about HERE)
For the original post, see:

Abandoned: Giết Con Chim Nhại bởi Harper Lee (HUỲNH KIM OANH & PHẠM VIÊM PHƯƠNG dịch)

Started: November 27, 2017

I don't think I ever stated this explicitly before, but when I committed to tracking which books I was starting and which books I was finishing, implicit in that was also a commitment to talk about which books I was abandoning.

I seldom make a conscious decision to abandon a book.  Rather, I realize that I haven't read a particular book for several months, and then consciously acknowledge that I long ago abandoned it.

So it was for this book.  I haven't been studying it for I don't know how many months.  And then I realized one day that my copy is no longer even on my bookshelf.  (My wife thinks she may have loaned it out to one of her friends, but it's been so long she can't even remember.)  And I've decided that rather than going through the trouble of tracking down another copy, I'm just going to admit to myself that I've abandoned this book.

The study plan I had devised around this book was always questionable,  It was a terribly inefficient way to learn Vietnamese.  But I might have persisted with it regardless.  I mean, it was kind of fun, I was learning a few interesting words. 
Except, I was spending too much time on quizlet again, and the hand cramps were beginning to come back. So when I decided to ease up, this was the first thing to go.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

The Golden Fleece by Robert Graves

(Book Review)
Also published as: Hercules, My Shipmate

Started: December 24, 2019
Finished: January 19, 2020

Why I Read This Book / Background Information

This is a re-telling of  the quest for the Golden Fleece (an  ancient Greek myth) written by famous classicist Robert Graves.  It was originally published in 1944.  It was then re-published in 1945 as Hercules, My Shipmate.  It has been (I believe) out of print for several years, but it was recently re-published by Seven Stories Press as part of their Robert Graves Project.  Which is how I happened to stumble upon it in the bookstore last month.

The Original Myth
 The original myth is a classic archetypal epic journey story in which Jason and his crew of Argonauts sail across the Greek world to recover the magical Golden Fleece. (*1) (*2)

When I was in middle school, I was obsessed with Greek mythology (*3).
As far as I can remember, I never read any books that were specifically about Jason and the Argonauts, but I encountered the story many times in general collections of Greek myths.
Most of the re-tellings I encountered focused not on the epic voyage of the Argo, but on the twisted drama between Jason and Medea (*4).  But as twisted and bizarre as the story of Medea was, what always used to fascinate me the most was the collection of Greek heroes assembled for the voyage.  It was the first crossover story ever written.  And quite possibly the greatest (*5) (*6).  I mean, just look at all the heroes who accompanied Jason on his quest: Hercules, Theseus, Atlanta, Orpheus, Castor and Pollux, Nestor, Peleus, and Telamon.  (*7)(*8)
If you know who all of these heroes are, then give yourself one nerd point.  If you don't know, you can follow the links above to their Wikipedia pages.  Or you can just trust me that each of these heroes is famous in Greek mythology for their own separate stories, before they appeared as supporting characters in "The Golden Fleece."
How cool is that?  Comparisons between modern comic book superheros and Greek mythology can sometimes be overdone (*9), but it does seem that the desire to cram all of your favorite heroes into one story (the same desire that made Avengers: Infinity War so marketable) existed in the ancient world just as much as the modern world.
For example: Hercules.  He's the most famous hero in Greek mythology, and he usually takes center stage in whatever story he's in.  But here, he's just playing a supporting role as one of many crew-members on the voyage.  I always used to find that fascinating as a kid. (*10)

Robert Graves
Robert Graves was a prolific author and classicist writing in the mid-20th century. He was famous back in his own day for a number of different reasons (Wikipedia page HERE), but he is remembered nowadays for his historical fiction: I, Claudius and Claudius the God, which were turned into a famous BBC miniseries in the 1970s.
I read Claudius the God last year and reviewed it on this blog. While researching Robert Graves, at the time, I discovered he had written a book on Jason and the Golden Fleece.  I thought to myself, "I love the myth of the Golden Fleece. I love Robert Graves.  How cool would it be to combine them both."
Of course I didn't have much luck tracking down the book in Vietnam, but when I was back in America, I stumbled across it while browsing through a bookstore, and snatched it up.
I'm not 100% sure, but I believe this book has been out of print for several years, and is only now just being revived by a new publisher: Seven Stories Press. (*11)

The Review
Right, so there is a lot to unpack in this novel.  I'll try to put in headings above topics to keep this review organized.  Let's start with:

The Faithfulness to the Original Myth
The first thing to point out is that Robert Graves has (largely) demythologized the original myth. Gods, goddesses, and magical creatures are constantly referenced in this book, but never actually appear.  Instead, natural explanations are used to explain away the super-natural parts of the myth.

To give some examples:
Centaurs appear in this book, but they're not actually half-man, half-horse.  Instead they are ordinary men who are enrolled in a religious fraternity that takes the horse as its sacred animal.
Instead of flying away on a magical golden ram, Phrixus and Helle escape on a boat.  The golden fleece is merely a sacred object stolen from a shrine.
The harpies are also in this book, but they are not actually half-woman, half bird.  Instead they are normal vultures, and old blind king Phineus was simply lied to and told they were half-women.
There is no sleepless dragon guarding the fleece, only a sacred snake in the temple.

Et cetera, et cetera, etc.  All through the book.  Whenever there was some magical creature in the original myth, it is changed to some ordinary creature in Robert Graves' version.

This was not immediately apparent from page one of the book, but it gradually became apparent within the first 50 pages or so.
I was incredibly disappointed once I realized what Graves was doing.  Call me a philistine if you will, but I like my fantasy stories to be fantastical.  What fun is the story of the Golden Fleece stripped of all the strange and magical creatures?  Who would want to read that?

Exactly what Graves was up to, someone more knowledgeable than me will have to comment.  But I believe that there was a phase in academia when it was fashionable to try to tease out the historical origins behind the myths.
In the early 19th century, Greek myths were treated as simply campfire stories with no historical value whatsoever.  Then after Schliemann discovered Troy (W), the pendulum swung in the other direction, and for a while the fashion became to assume that every myth had an origin in a historical event. Possibly this was still the trend in the 1940s, and Graves is trying to tease out what might have been the original history behind the myth?

So, I was beginning to resign myself to the idea that this would be a joyless slog through a plausibly historically accurate account of prehistoric Greece.  But what saves this book (and makes it a fun reading experience) is that once the heroes assemble, they are every bit as colorful and quirky as they were in the original myth.  Hercules, for example, is still portrayed as an incredible strong man with an unpredictable violent temper.  Atlanta is still portrayed as the beautiful but imposing virgin huntress.  Et cetera.
And despite being demythologized, they are all still portrayed as larger than life.  Hercules is still incredibly strong, Atlanta is still an incredibly fast runner, Orpheus still creates spellbinding music, et cetera.
All the rivalries, personality conflicts and ironic tragic twists of fate from the original myth are recreated here as well.

I'm glad Graves included all this.  It's much more fun to read about than any story about ordinary people.  But it does make you wonder what he's trying to do.  Any story with characters this outlandish can't possibly be taken as a serious attempt to recreate a plausible history.  But if we're not going with a plausible recreation, then what are we doing? Why did we get rid of all the mythical creatures?

Indeed, what Graves is trying to do here is not at all clear to me.  And to complicate it more, there are hints of spirits and mysticism all the way through the story.  While all of the overt appearances of monsters and gods have been removed, there are definitely hints that the supernatural is operating behind the scenes.
It's hard to pin down exactly what the philosophy of this book is.  All of the characters themselves are incredibly religious, and are constantly referencing the will of the gods.  The gods themselves never appear, but various outcomes and coincidences are attributed to them.  The characters are also obsessed with ghosts, and believe that certain ghosts are responsible for certain events.  The narrator tells everything from the perspective of the characters, but the reader is left to wonder how many events attributed to the gods and ghosts have naturalistic explanations, and how many are truly supernatural in origin.
For many of the events attributed to the gods, it is obvious that a naturalistic explanation is more likely.  For example, a character will often have a dream in which they are visited by a god.  The god will tell the character what to do, but, coincidentally, this is usually what the character would have been predisposed to do anyway.  Thus the divine revelation quickly becomes a convenient justification for a course of action that was likely predetermined.

But, just as often, there are coincidence and occurrences in this book that are very difficult to explain away by naturalistic explanations.  Are there gods and goddesses silently working behind the scenes in this story?
If they are not, then how to explain a number of the amazing coincidences that happen throughout this story?
But if there are, then why did Robert Graves ditch the other mythical parts of this story?  (Why have a story that is only partly demythologized?  I mean, are we doing this thing or not?  Let's pick a philosophy and stick to it.) (*12)

I don't know.  I guess the ambiguity throughout the book is all part of the fun of it.  Or part of the frustration of it.  Depending on how you look at it. (*13)

Anyway, once you get past the fact that the various parts of this story are re-arranged to de-emphasize the presence of the supernatural, the actual beats of the story are pretty faithful to the original myth.
There were a few times when I thought Robert Graves was deviating from the original story, but then I looked it up on Wikipedia, and most of those times it turned out that there were various versions of the story. (*14)

Readability / Tone
A lot of patience is required with this book.  It starts out really slow.  We're at about 150 pages in before the Argo even launches.
Once the heroes assemble, and the Argo launches, then the pace of the book does pick up somewhat.  But throughout the book, there are a lot of digressions, and a lot of descriptions.  Robert Graves is intent on not only re-telling the myth, but he also wants to recreate a picture of all the different peoples and civilizations that populated prehistoric Greece. (*15)

The writing style is different than the previous Robert Graves' books I've read.  I, Claudius was written in a modern style, but this book is deliberately written in a style reminiscent of ancient stories. Robert Graves uses modern English vocabulary, but characters talk in stilted formal speeches rather than having real conversations. (Think, maybe, of the NIV translation of the Bible, and you have a fairly good idea of the general narration style and dialogue.)
But at the same time, the narration is subversive.  There's a slightly mocking tone running all the way through the narrator's commentary.  He's making fun of the story at the same time that he is telling it.

As for the heroes, they are not always sympathetic.  And so that prevents the reader from fully identifying with them.  But then, that's the point.
The heroes of this story have a code of ethics that is entirely different than our own.  I suppose that by their own lights, they can not be called immoral.  They have a code of religious observance that they are obsessed with.  (SO much of this book is taken up with discussion of what the correct religious rituals are.)  But they also have a callous disregard for the life of anyone who is not in their in-group.  (Most of this is inherited directly from the original source material of the myth.) It makes it very hard to sympathize with the heroes. But then, I don't believe we're supposed to sympathize with them.  The narration style is deliberately keeping us at arms length.  We're supposed to study this culture, but not identify with it.

It is also notable that most of the places these heroes go, they end up causing more trouble then they solve.  (This is another way in which the narration style is subtlety mocking them.  There is a contrast between the self-righteous speeches that the heroes give, and the callousness of their actions.)

The final chapter is entitled "What Became of the Argonauts" and serves as an epilogue, giving the final fates of all of the heroes of the Argo.  It is, as far as I can tell, mostly true to the original Greek mythology.  It's very noticeable that many of them end up getting killed by their former shipmates because of some petty quarrel.  The understated way in which the narrator reports all of this is another example of the irony running all the way through this book.  Throughout the whole book, the Argonauts repeatedly swear loyalty and friendship to each other, but then as soon as the voyage is over, they go right back to their petty quarrels.  You'd expect this to be a big deal, but the narrator just reports it matter-of-factly. (*16)

As characters:
The Argonauts themselves are interesting collectively as a motley crew of quirky heroes.  But taken individually, they are mostly one note characters.  Each of them has one talent, and maybe one personality quirk, and they don't get much characterization beyond that.  Euphemus is a gifted swimmer, Echion is a clever orator, et cetera.  I believe is also a limitation inherited from the original source material.
And yet, it works well enough.  I didn't really have a problem with the fact that the Argonauts were underdeveloped.  The story was still interesting. (*17)

The Matriarchy/ The Triple Goddess
Oh, right, so here I am, some 2,000 words into this review, and I haven't even gotten to the major theme of this book.  That's the problem with reviewing anything by Robert Graves.  There is always so much to talk about.
This is a book that is juggling a lot of themes, but the Triple Goddess (W) and the matriarchy is undoubtedly the main preoccupation.  In fact, the first 70 pages of this novel are about nothing but the Triple Goddess and the matriarchy.
For readers like me, who were primarily interested in the Argonauts, the good news is that if you can stick through the first 70 pages, the more traditional story of Jason and the Argonauts does finally start on page 71.  But even after this, Graves keeps coming back to the theme of the Triple Goddess throughout the book.
None of this was part of the original story (*18), but Graves was really interested in it, and so he makes it part of the story.
Robert Graves believes that in prehistoric Greece, before the Dorian invasion (W), the inhabitants worshiped The Triple Goddess and lived in a matriarchal society.  Then, when the invading tribes came in from the north (who Graves calls Ionians and Achaeans), there was a clash between the ancient Triple Goddess and the patriarchal gods of the invaders.  Eventually, this clash worked itself into a compromise, which is how we got the Olympian pantheon with 6 gods and 6 goddesses.
Exactly what Robert Graves is basing this on, I'm not sure (*12)(*19), but Robert Graves is a guy who really knew his stuff, so I'm assuming he had pretty good evidence. Although the publisher's introduction says that the evidence for a prehistoric matriarchal Greece society goes back and forth, and that there are many scholars today who would disagree with Graves.
This book was, nonetheless, an interesting exploration of the logic behind matriarchal societies.  Before reading this book, I had thought, "Of course it makes sense that all ancient societies would be patriarchies.  After all, men are the strongest, and in the ancient world, strength was most important."
After reading this book, I can now think, "Of course it makes sense that the ancient world would venerate women.  After all, the women were the source of all new life."  And "Of course it makes sense for the ancient societies to trace their ancestry through their mother's line.  After all, there can always be doubt about paternity, but there's never any doubt about who a baby's mother is."

Complaining About the Publisher's Introduction 
I know I shouldn't waste too much time on the Publisher's introduction, because that will vary from edition to edition.
But, this got under my skin so I'm going to complain about it.  Plus, I've read a number of similarly themed essays on the classics and Greek myths, so I'm going to take this as an example of a general trend.

The publisher's introduction opens with the words:
Do we really need Greek myths? In 2018, we need justice more than anything else: racial justice, gender justice, economic justice....
And then it continues in this vein.
The writer (Dan-el Padilla Peralata) is of course setting up a rhetorical question for the purposes of answering in the affirmative. Yes, Greek myths can show us a path to racial, gender and economic justice, and are therefore valuable for the modern reader.  But the framing of the question still bugged me.
Look, I'm as interested in progressive politics as the next guy. (As regular readers of this blog no doubt know-- I've read and blogged about Karl Marx, Mikhail Bakunin, Noam Chomsky, and the Paris Commune.)  But the most miserably boring people you'll ever meet are people who can't talk about anything in life except through a political lens.  Not everything has to be about justice.  Sometimes a story is just fun for its own sake.  Sometimes an ancient myth can just be interesting just for a glimpse into a different civilization.

Secondly, notice how it's only ever Greek myths that have to justify their existence in this way.  No one ever says, "Do we really need Star Wars in 2018? What can Star Wars tell us about economic justice?"

Thirdly, that "in 2018" bit is a cheap trick.  The present always seems more visceral to us because we're experiencing it.  But every age has its own crises. (*20)
In the 1930s there was the Spanish Civil War, the rise of Fascism, and the great depression.
In the 1940s there was a world war, the holocaust, and Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
In the 1950s there was a nuclear arms race, Emmet Till, and McCarthyism.
In the 1960s there was the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement.
In the 1970s there was Kent State and Watergate.
Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
You see, if you're going to play this game, then there's never a good time to read anything for purely for pleasure.  Even in the ancient Greek world itself, they were constantly going from crisis to crisis.  The Persian invasion, Peloponnesian War, Alexander the Great, etc.

(*1) You know, a month ago, I would have assumed that the myth of The Golden Fleece was just common cultural knowledge.  But as I was walking around with this book the past month, various friends and co-workers would ask me what I was reading, and I discovered that most people had no idea what The Golden Fleece even was.  I guess the lesson is: never assume the rest of the world is interested in the same stuff you are.
If you've never heard of The Golden Fleece before, don't feel bad, you're in good company.
If you are already familiar with The Golden Fleece, it may surprise you just how many people out there have never heard of it.

(*2) The Golden Fleece was also the basis for the Uncle Scrooge comic book: The Golden Fleecing by Carl Barks.

(*3) Although I'd guess you'd never know it from reading this blog.   Previous to this book, in my 14 years of book reviewing, I've only reviewed 2 books that were at all related to Greek mythology (namely: Ilium and Olympus), and no books that were solely about Greek mythology.  But this has largely been because I already knew all the Greek myths by the time I had reached adulthood, and so felt no need to re-read them.
Although, now that I'm no longer a child, maybe it's time to tackle some of the original ancient sources for these myths. New reading project?

(*4) A trend that, according to the publishers' introduction, started with the ancients in the Greek tragedy Medea (W).

(*5) And in fact, I've mentioned it before in my "My Greatest Crossovers Ever" post.

(*6) The only other great crossover event I can think of in Greek mythology was the Calydonian Boar Hunt (W), which also assembled a great collection of mythical heroes.
And those are the only two huge crossover events I can think of in Greek mythology.  Someone let me know in the comments if I'm missing something.  I know there were plenty of other individual crossovers in Greek mythology (Hercules meeting Theseus, et cetera), but that's not quite on the same scale as the huge roster of Argonauts or The Calydonian Boar hunt.  And I know the Trojan War also assembled a huge collection of heroes, but I tend not to count that as a crossover event because in this case the Trojan War was the main story, not a crossover event.
...actually speaking of the Calydonian Boar Hunt, does anyone out there know when it was supposed to have taken place in the original mythology?  Was it before or after the quest for the Golden Fleece?  In Robert Graves' book, the Calydonian Boar Hunt is frequently referenced by the heroes as an event in the past.  But then at the end of the story, Great Anceaus is killed by a wild boar.  Robert Graves doesn't identify the boar, but according to Wikipedia, this was the Calydonian Boar (W).  Also according to Wikipedia, Little Anceaus, another Argonnaut, was also killed in the Calydonian Boar Hunt (W).  So I'm guessing in the original mythology, the Calydonian Boar Hunt must have come after the voyage of the Argo.

(*7) Wikipedia has a complete list of all the Argonauts HERE.  I've only listed the ones that seemed notable to me because these were the ones I specifically recognized from other stories.  Depending on which Greek myths you're most familiar with, your mileage on which of the Argonauts are most notable may vary.

(*8) Also according to Wikipedia, the list of Argonauts varies from source to source.  Not all of these heroes were on the Argonaut in every iteration of the story.  And in fact, in Robert Graves's version, much to my disappointment, some of the heroes I was expecting to see on this quest like TheseusNestor, and Telamon were absent.  (Theseus and Telamon were in the book, but not part of the quest.)
According to Wikipedia, there's some controversy over whether Theseus being on this quest fits with the rest of his legend:
Apollonius claims that Theseus and Pirithous were trapped in underworld by Hades at the time and could not join.[11] Theseus being on the list is inconsistent with accounts of his life usually including him encountering Medea at an early stage of his adventures, yet many years after the Argonauts completed their adventure (Medea, by that time, was not only abandoned by Jason, but also bore a child from Aegeus).[12]
(*9) If you spend any time in geek culture, you've already heard ad nauseam the argument that modern super hero comic books are our culture's version of Greek mythology.  Whole books have been written about this comparison.  And while I'm obviously playing with that comparison by using anachronistic language like "crossover event", I'm not going to get fully into that argument today.  Another subject for another post.

(*10) And obviously it's exactly that absurdity that the publishers are playing off of with the alternate title for this book: Hercules, My Shipmate.
Although I prefer The Golden Fleece.  To call this book Hercules, My Shipmate is to bring too much attention to Hercules' role.  And by bringing too much attention to it, you spoil the conceit. The whole point is that Hercules is supposed to be just a supporting character, and this is mainly Jason's story.
That, plus in this book (as in the original ancient myth) Hercules is only on the Argo for the first part of the voyage.  So it really doesn't make any sense to name the book after him.
According to Wikipedia (W), this book was first published as The Golden Fleece in 1944, and then re-published in 1945 as Hercules, My Shipmate.  It's not clear from Wikipedia whose decision this was, but I'm guessing this title was chosen by the publishers, and not Robert Graves.  Fortunately, for the edition I have (2018, Seven Stories Press), the publishers have gone back to the original title: The Golden Fleece.

(*11) I didn't know anything about Seven Stories Press, but from their own blurb on the back pages (About Seven Stories Press), it's clear that they are highlighting the fact that they emphasize publishing progressive political voices.  Robert Graves seems to meet their criteria because of his depiction of matriarchal societies in prehistoric Greece.  (It's not entirely clear if this is the only reason that Seven Stories Press chose to reprint him, but this is definitely what they wanted to emphasize in their 2018 publisher's introduction.)

(*12) There may be an author's afterward or historical appendix that was originally attached to this book that would have explained some of this stuff, but it was not included in the edition I have.  I'm not 100% sure, but in my google searches, I've come across a couple reviews of earlier additions that reference the author's afterward.  And the publisher's introduction to the edition I have also references a historical appendix. (Quote: "Scholars of the Greek Late Bronze and Early Iron Age would gleefully take an ax to some of the arguments that Graves references in his historical appendix..." (p.8) ).  But then they don't include any historical appendix in my addition.

(*13) There are also some indications that the gods exist in this book, but that their form, personalities and power are shaped directly by the imagination of  their worshipers.  In other words, there's a symbiotic relationship between the gods and their worshipers that mirrors the world of the Neil Gaiman's American Gods.  Makes you wonder if Neil Gaiman ever read this book.

(*14) As far as I can tell by cross-referencing Wikipedia, I think Graves is mostly following Argonautica by Apollonius Rhodius.

(*15) I've never actually read Herodotus, but people often say of Herodotus that the most frustrating thing about him, and also the most interesting thing about him, is how he takes so many digressions away from his main story to talk about the customs and habits of different cultures.  People often say of Herodotus that you either have to learn to appreciate the digressions into anthropology, or just give up on him altogether.  Probably the same thing is true of The Golden Fleece.

(*16) And for us mythology nerds, it's fun to see how interconnected all of their stories are.  Most of these characters have their own adventure stories aside from The Golden Fleece.  But they almost always involve other heroes crossing in and out of their stories.  (I cross-referenced a lot of this on Wikipedia, and most of what Graves' wrote seems to check out.)  For example, you can't possibly tell the story of Idas without getting into the story of Lynceus and Castor and Pollux and others.  What a fascinating tapestry of interconnected stories Greek mythology is!

(*17) Actually it's not just a problem with Greek mythology, is it?  A lot of the characters in a lot of our favorite stories aren't really fully developed.  I've got this theory that we don't mind one-dimensional portrayals so much because we as readers naturally assume that there's a three-dimensional character in there somewhere, even though we're just getting a small glimpse of them.  And so we fill in the rest of the gaps subconsciously, and imagine a three-dimensional character.

(*18) Caveat: As far as I know.  But keep in mind, Robert Graves knows a lot more than I do.

(*19) According to the publisher's introduction, Robert Graves was influenced by The Golden Bough by James Frazer (W), and in fact the very title The Golden Fleece is meant to evoke The Golden Bough.  Robert Graves would go on to publish more about the Triple Goddess in a subsequent book The White Goddess (W) published in 1948.  This apparently also continued to be a big theme in Robert Graves' 1955 The Greek Myths (W).

(*20) What's unique about our present age, of course, is the seriousness of the ecological disaster we are currently facing.  And that may well be unprecedented in history.  So maybe if Dan-el Padilla Peralata had gone that route, I might have cut him some slack.  But he is only talking about racial justice, gender justice, and economic justice.  And those are certainly problems not unique to 2018.

Video Review
Video review HERE and embedded below:

Link of the Day
US terrorism by Noam Chomsky
The Martian Tales Trilogy by Edgar Rice Burroughs: Book Review (Scripted)

Video version of an old post (as I explained about HERE)
For the original post, see:

Becoming Madame Mao by Anchee Min: Book Review (Scripted)

Video version of an old post (as I explained about HERE)
For the original post, see:

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

If you've not been following the great Steve Donoghue on Youtube lately, you've been missing out.  He's been doing a bookshelf tour of his Penguin classics, and it's been quite an education for me.  (Steve actually knows what he's talking about with these books, so he's not just gushing pointlessly about these books.  He's giving out a lot of useful information.)

Today he published his take on Appian.  Which was of particular interest for me because I had read and reviewed Appian on my blog a couple years ago.  (If I could have watched Steve's video before I had written my review, it would read a lot differently.  Steve answers a lot of the questions I had when I wrote up my review.)

Anyway, my review of Appian HERE.  Steve's review of Appian HERE and embedded below. 

Crash by J.G. Ballard: Book Review (Scripted)

Video version of an old post (as I explained about HERE)
For the original post, see:

Monday, January 20, 2020

Imperium by Robert Harris: Book Review (Scripted)

Video version of an old post (as I explained about HERE)
For the original post, see:

The Chinese Zodiac and the Cat--Interesting Random Facts
Something I've realized since living in Asia is that the "Chinese Zodiac" is actually the zodiac for most Asian countries.
This zodiac consists of 12 animals: the mouse, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, pig.

...but oddly enough, no cat.
Actually there's this whole story about why the cat doesn't have his own year. Quoth Wikipedia:

Legends relating to the order of the Chinese zodiac often include stories as to why the cat was not included among the twelve. Because the Rat tricked the cat into missing the banquet with the Jade Emperor, the cat was not included and was not aware that the banquet was going on and was not given a year, thus began the antipathy between cats and Rats.

(Note: The words for "rat" and "mouse" are interchangeable in China and many other Asian countries.)
I once saw a school play depicting this very legend when I was teaching in Japan.
So after having absorbed all the legends about why the cat has no zodiac year, I was surprised when I moved to Vietnam to learn that in Vietnam, there actually is a year of the cat.
In Vietnam, the year of the cat replaces the year of the rabbit.  (The rest of the Chinese zodiac remains the same.)

Nobody knows quite why this is.  The reasons appear to be lost to antiquity.  Wikipedia says:

There have been various explanations of why the Vietnamese, unlike all other countries who follow the Sino lunar calendar, have the cat instead of the Rabbit as a zodiac animal. The most common explanation is that the ancient word for Rabbit (Mao) sounds like cat (Meo). [3]

As to why China never had a cat zodiac, this website here conjectures:

12 animals for the Chinese zodiac must have been developed in the early stage of Chinese civilization for hundreds of year until it become the current edition; and it’s very hard to investigate the real origin.  As to the absence of Cat, most historians agree that Chinese zodiac 12 animal were formed before cats were introduced to China from India with Buddhism.  So the answer is clear: There is no cat on the list because Chinese people never knew a cat at  that time.
So, I wonder, perhaps by the time the zodiac made its way down to Vietnam, cats had been domesticated, and that could also account for the difference.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

The October Horse by Colleen McCullough: Book Review (Scripted)

Video version of an old post (as I explained about HERE)
For the original post, see:

The Rutles: Movie Review (Thoughts after Re-Watching)

By the way, the original Rutles movie is now on the official Monty Python Youtube channel.  So you can watch it legally and totally guilt free on Youtube.

This is part of my "Thoughts after Re-Watching" movie review project, as explained about HERE.

Playlist HERE :

Finished: The Golden Fleece by Robert Graves... I hope to write up my review soon, but as always it's dependent on life.

Update: Video Review HERE, written review still coming.

Movie Reviews: Thoughts after Re-Watching

* The Devil's Whore (TV Miniseries)
* The Godfather
Rosa Luxemburg
* The Rutles

So, ever since 2007, I've been diligently reviewing every movie I've watched on this blog.  Every one.  If I've watched it since 2007, there's a review of it up on this blog.

But so far, I've only applied this rule to movies I was seeing for the first time.  If I was re-watching a movie I'd already seen before, I didn't review it.
The primary reason for this was just to give myself a break.  I was already having trouble keeping up with my reviews of the new movies I was seeing, I couldn't possibly start adding reviews of movies I was re-watching.  (Exception--HERE).

Although many is the time that I've been tempted...
Often when I re-watch a movie on TV one night, I'm filled with thoughts and opinions.  Often nostalgic reminiscences of what this movie meant to me as a child or adolescent.  Or thoughts on how much the movie has aged since I first saw it.  Or thoughts on all the things I notice now that I never noticed before.  Et cetera, etc., etc.

Many times I thought to myself that I would like to start reviewing movies I've re-watched.  In fact it often seemed to me I'd have more intelligent commentary to say about movies I was re-watching than movies I was watching for the first time.  But therein also lies the danger.  (The more things I have to say, the more time I waste writing these blog posts.)

But since I've started video reviewing, it occurs to me I could actually do a video review quickly and painlessly.  (That 20 minutes I spend talking to the camera? Nothing compared to the hours it used to take me to write out a full review.  Especially back in the days when I was still doing long reviews.)

So, going forward, the new system is like this: if I see a movie for the first time, I'll give it my regular written review with a supplementary video review addendum.  If I happen to re-watch a movie I've already seen, I'll do a video review only.

Last year I started a "My Favorite Movies of All Time" video review project, and I've decided that that project will be a subset of my more general "Thoughts on Re-Watching" project.

I'll keep the "thoughts on re-watching" movies indexed at the top of this post, and will also integrate them into my normal movie review index.  

The playlist for this project is HERE

Saturday, January 18, 2020

The Revolutionary by Hans Koningsberger Book Review (Scripted)

Video version of an old post (as I explained about HERE)
For the original post, see:

I accidentally left out one of the key points of the review: " But that being said, this book is not as bad as it sounds. A good writer can draw the reader into even a non-existent world, and I think Koningsberger does a good job of making “A.” seem like a real person."

Friday, January 17, 2020

Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis: Book Review (Scripted)

Video version of an old post (as I explained about HERE)
For the original post, see:

Using Songs to Illustrate Grammar Points

(TESOL Worksheets--Any Grammar Point)

2nd Conditionals
If I Were a Boy by Beyonce 
If 6 Was 9 by Jimi Hendrix 
3rd Conditional
If It Hadn't Been for Love by Adele
Wishing and Hoping by Dusty Springfield
Modal Verbs:
* I Should be Proud by Martha and the Vandellas
Negative Verbs
You Don't Own Me by Leslie Gore
*The Banks are Made of Marble by Pete Seeger 
Present Perfect
I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For by U2   
Reported Speech
The Letter by The Box Tops
*Then He Kissed Me by The Crystals
Used to
It’s All Over Now by The Rolling Stones
Will for Future Predictions
Que Sera Sera by Doris Day 
Sometimes I Wish I Were a Boy by Leslie Gore 
Would + base form (for repeated past actions)
Son of a Preacher Man by Dusty Springfield

Note: A version of this index appeared in my TESOL Songsheets index, but I wanted to also post it on its own so it is easier to find and use.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy: Book Review (Scripted)

Video version of an old post (as I explained about HERE)
For the original post, see:

Son of a Preacher Man by Dusty Springfield--Use for "would + base form"

(TESOL Worksheets)

This is recycled from my TESOL Songsheets, but I'm re-posting it here because I've used it to teach "would+base form" for repeated actions in the past.  (I help students to notice that the contracted form ('d) is also an example of the target language.)

Google: drivedocspub

Son of a Preacher Man by Dusty Springfield
along, easy, eyes, eyes, grown, knowing, me, mine, remember, sly, son, surprise, talking, time, tonight, try, walking, walking

Billy-Ray was a preacher's ________
And when his daddy would visit he'd come ________
When they gathered round and started ________
That's when Billy would take me ________
A-through the backyard we'd go ________

Then he'd look into my ________
Lord knows to my ________

The only one who could ever reach me
Was the son of a preacher man
The only boy who could ever teach me
Was the son of a preacher man
Yes he was, he was
Ooh, yes he was

Being good isn't always ________
No matter how hard I ________

When he started sweet-talking to ________
He'd come and tell me everything is all right
He'd kiss and tell me everything is all right
Can I get away again ________?

The only one who could ever reach me
Was the son of a preacher man
The only boy who could ever teach me
Was the son of a preacher man
Yes he was, he was
(Ooh...) Lord knows he was
Yes he was

How well I ________
The look that was in his ________
Stealing kisses from me on the ________
Taking time to make ________
Telling me that he's all ________
Learning from each other's ________
Looking to see how much we've ________

And the only one who could ever reach me
Was the son of a preacher man
The only boy who could ever teach me
Was the son of a preacher man
Yes he was, he was
Ooh, yes he was

The only one who could ever reach me
He was the sweet-talking son of a preacher man
The only boy who could ever teach me
I kissed the son of a preacher man
The only one who could ever move me
The sweet-loving son of a preacher man
The only one who could ever groove me
Ahh, ooh, ahh....

Billy-Ray was a preacher's sonAnd when his daddy would visit he'd come along
When they gathered round and started 
That's when Billy would take me 
A-through the backyard we'd go 
walkingThen he'd look into my eyes
Lord knows to my 

The only one who could ever reach me
Was the son of a preacher man
The only boy who could ever teach me
Was the son of a preacher man
Yes he was, he was
Ooh, yes he was

Being good isn't always 
No matter how hard I 
tryWhen he started sweet-talking to me
He'd come and tell me everything is all right
He'd kiss and tell me everything is all right
Can I get away again 

The only one who could ever reach me
Was the son of a preacher man
The only boy who could ever teach me
Was the son of a preacher man
Yes he was, he was
(Ooh...) Lord knows he was
Yes he was

How well I 
The look that was in his 
Stealing kisses from me on the 
Taking time to make 
Telling me that he's all 
Learning from each other's 
Looking to see how much we've 

And the only one who could ever reach me
Was the son of a preacher man
The only boy who could ever teach me
Was the son of a preacher man
Yes he was, he was
Ooh, yes he was

The only one who could ever reach me
He was the sweet-talking son of a preacher man
The only boy who could ever teach me
I kissed the son of a preacher man
The only one who could ever move me
The sweet-loving son of a preacher man
The only one who could ever groove me
Ahh, ooh, ahh....

Monday, January 13, 2020

My Lai, Quang Ngai, Vietnam


These are photos I took in April, 2017.  At the time, I posted them on Facebook, and not on this blog.  But I've decided to go rescue them from my Facebook archives, and post them on this blog as well.
This is something I explicitly said that I wouldn't do, but I'm breaking my own rules once again.  The reason is that I think My Lai is historically significant enough that it might be worthwhile to share these pictures with a wider audience.
I'm going to make a few brief comments to put these pictures in some context, but I'm going off of memory here, so take what I say with a grain of salt (i.e. it's possible I could be remembering something wrong, or, more likely, not remembering something of potential interest.)

My Lai was in the middle of nowhere in 1968, and it continues to be out in the middle of nowhere today.  Even though Vietnam is filled with backpackers and tourists nowadays, hardly anyone visits My Lai.  I myself would never have visited it if it weren't for the fact that my wife's hometown was in Quang Ngai. 
The place is also known as Son My in Vietnamese, and driving out to the area, many of the signs refer to "Son My".

Only the most thorough of tour buses bother to stop at My Lai, but there is a small parking lot for these few buses.

There's a small museum at the My Lai site.  Mostly the museum consists of pictures. and some artifacts from the massacred villagers.
I didn't include it in my pictures, but the museum also includes a brief tribute to the American soldier Hugh Thompson Jr. (W) who tried to stop the massacre

Then, outside the museum, you can tour what is left of the village.  The foundations of the houses that were destroyed are still left as a monument.  (In my mind, I had always imagined the My Lai villagers living in grass huts, but there were apparently proper houses with foundations.)

"Tuoi" means "age" in Vietnamese.

 When we first arrived, a small tour bus had been parked in front of the map.  So I got pictures of the map just as we were leaving My Lai.