Flash Reviews [Book]: Sel Takes on the Classics! Part 1

Life Updates: the odds and ends of this at times extraordinary, at times off-kilter month of October

Happy Halloween, dear friends! 🎃✨ I can’t believe October is coming to an end — this month I sat for my first college midterm (Anthropology), submitted my first graded college paper (on Oedipus Rex), had my story workshopped for the first time in my life, met two of my literary idols in class (poet Susan Howe & Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist cum novelist Lorraine Adams!), went on a historical tour of Boston led by superstar history professor Jill Lepore (❤️), finally shopped to my heart’s content at Newbury Street (shopping is cathartic), experienced Freshman Family Weekend without my parents by my side… It seems strange to boil down a month to a couple of sentences, but I’ve tried. It is in monumentally busy periods that time has the swiftest wings — I have barely settled into my skin as a college freshman and now, I am almost at the end of an eighth of this whole college journey. 43 more days and I’ll be on a plane back to Singapore! It seems like only last week when I penned I’m Leaving on a Jet Plane on the eve of my departure; soon I’ll be Returning on a Jet Plane. Wow.

I’ve been reading a lot for class. There’s a category of books that I’ve been pretty unfamiliar with before coming to Harvard. So I’m dedicating my first series of flash reviews to them: the classics. Oh, Dawn with her rose-red fingers! (I finally cracked a Homer joke.)

img_3677

My dorm room bookshelf 🙂 2.5 months into college & the top shelf is already filled!

The Odyssey, by Homer

So very very long, it’s like swimming across the Aegean Sea, and yet — this epic is reminiscent of a lyrical Percy Jackson installment. It has a ginormous cast of who’s who in Greek mythology, with everyone from Helen to gods who run amok to man-eating cyclops making an appearance. Odysseus, our hero, is Robin Hood and Don Quixote wrapped up all in one muscled bundle. He’s worldly and wily, manipulative and charming (even goddess Athena isn’t immune), but he is also incredibly fallible. His embracing of mortality and yearning for Ithaca is what makes this homecoming tale thrum with humanity. At last, when the covers close, this vanishing world of supernatural happenings and mythical beginnings leaves behind a strange ache in us; we ache for what is recognizably tender in the tragedies, for the hero’s resilience, for our own sea-borne adventure, and for the kind of greatness Odysseus has that defies oblivion and reverberates through the centuries.

Readability: 🌓 🌔 🌕 🌖 🌗

Symposium, by Plato

Just from this book’s title, it seems like it very well could be about old wise philosophers who are embroiled in polemics on matters of pressing concern, maybe in a merry circle around the Pnyx. That’s somewhat accurate. Symposium in the ancient Greek sense of the word means a drinking party, not a fancy forum. The men in attendance (alas, no female perspective) devote themselves to the grand task of giving speeches, hurrah. Is it about a meaningful life? About beauty? About wisdom? Sort of. It’s about love, which ties all these loose threads together. The traditional Greek erotic relationship in question is one that is odd and objectionable even by today’s standards — a homosexual love between an older, educated man (the lover) and a younger, uninitiated boy (the beloved). Pause here and play this (MY REACTION WHEN I WAS READING). Even though it all seems strange and convoluted, read for interesting soul mate arguments, fantastical origin stories, distortions of love into philosophy, and glimpses of Socrates through Plato’s eyes.

Readability:  🌓 🌔 🌕

Fragments of Sappho, by Sappho

Sappho is basically the Taylor Swift of the ancient Greeks. You’ve got to give her credit for making angsty, raw love poems — brimming over with desire, physical agony, irrationality — trendy. Her poems survive in fragments, with empty spaces galore; for me, their incompleteness allows me to write my own experience (not that I’ve any, but) and opens up a huge abyss of love that accommodates various luminous possibilities. Personally, these fragments are way more powerful in expressing love than Symposium. Torn, burnt, lost, Sappho’s fragments have survived and continue to move us, just like how we — though “burned”, “shook”, or “broken” by love we may be — let out a soft sigh and succumb to the drumming of our hearts. Padam Padam.

Readability:  🌓 🌔 🌕 🌖

***

What do you think? If you had to pick one book from the classics, which would be your favorite?

Part 2 will be coming soon 🙂

Lots of love,

Screen Shot 2017-04-08 at 11.16.46 PM

Things I Love

photo-1

Yesterday at Kirkland House (where Mark Zuckerberg stayed!!) after a FIP lunch.

1. Sundays on hammocks in hot Singaporean-like Cambridge weather. Hurrah!

2. Learning. The room is warm. My pulse is throbbing at an almost manic pace. In a hitched breath’s moment of unconscious cerebration, it occurs to me that I am surrounded by knowledge coming to life — in eager minds, raw stories, bustling thoughts, and this palpable sense of convivencia and of shared humanity that emerges from within all of us when we discuss vanished worlds in ancient texts (Odyssey, Oedipus Rex, Poetics, Symposium…). Unbelievable, but somehow it is happening, in this time and place, in this infinite now. (I am really loving my Humanities seminar under Professor David Carrasco — here’s a link to his Wikipedia page! Every time I walk out of class, some ineffable change washes over me; I’m not sure what it is, but I feel just a bit more comfortable with uncertainty and a little bit more certain about what gives me meaning.)

3. Making stone tools in archaeology section (Anthro 1010). This satisfies Math?! Blessed.

Trying to refit the fragments of a stone.

4. Yesterday, I went to church for Sunday Mass for the first time in a long while. Some of my close friends may know about my uncertainty and burning questions with regards to religion’s answers to ‘Why am I here?’ and ‘How should we live our lives?’ As a kid, I encountered God in the Catholic tradition due to my parents and upbringing, but in recent years, I have leaned towards labeling myself as spiritual instead of Catholic. But, in a strange turn of events, I found myself seeing this age-old faith with new eyes after many years of estrangement. Thank you to each of you who are giving me a hand in this self-exploration 🙂

5. Drowning in books (is there anything happier than drowning in books?). There are a few which I’d like to spotlight because, without college, I would possibly never touch them:

  • Sappho’s If Not, Winter (for Humanities 10): basically the Taylor Swift of ancient Greeks (102: sweet mother I cannot work the loom/I am broken with longing for a boy by slender Aphrodite)
  • Anne Carson’s Nox (for my Translation seminar): a handmade book in a box, an artifact, a translation, an accordion, an epitaph for an estranged and deceased brother, a raw and almost manipulative scrapbook of his life… It defies categorization, bursts with torn photographs, yellowed notes, and an overwhelming, fatigued sense of loss that echoes in Latin poem Catullus 101 (which Carson translates).

    nox

    Look at this gorgeous work of art.

  • David Macaulay’s Motel of the Mysteries (for my Archaeology class): it’s honestly hilarious. In the year 4022, a random dude chances upon a hotel from the 2000s and thinks it’s a tomb. He treats the toilet seat as a sacred urn and all kinds of nonsensical, nutty misinterpretations of the past ensue. But, maybe, if ancient civilizations read about our current account of the past, they would be laughing in their graves.
  • For my fiction writing workshop, our lovely professor Claire Messud was on a book tour last week in London so she couldn’t come to class, but her husband did and he is James Wood!! He has been called the best literary critic of his generation and he writes book reviews for The New Yorker. The fact that I get to be taught by such incredible people sometimes blows my mind.

6. Roommates who squeal with me on Saturday nights about the WEIRDEST things. 😇

At slinky silent disco (???)

7. A weekend that included a wondrous burger at Harvard Square (Alden & Harlow), going to Chinatown in Boston for xiaolongbao and authentic bubble tea, singing karaoke, rewatching The Social Network, a lot of ice-cream, and good catch-ups with friends that have been swallowed by the monster called Harvard Life.

8. Facetiming/Skyping/Video-calling people I love, such as my parents ❤ ❤ ❤ If you are my good friend and we’ve not Facetimed, TEXT ME NOW.

photo-2

Until next week!

To all my dear friends across the globe: how have you guys been? I miss you and I love you.

xoxo,

Screen Shot 2017-04-08 at 11.16.46 PM