The Last Man

Review by Paige Ambroziak

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has long been a favorite of mine and every time I read it, I experience a thrill at the sublime, the weighty prose that makes white caps and glaciers stand full-size in my mind. Shelley’s ability to embody the male voice and lay it out with unabashed sentimentality, perhaps a feature of her romantic spirit, is enviable. She is a poet who writes her verse in prose, while indulging in a story that keeps her reader riveted.

I did not expect any less from The Last Man, though I was surprised at its wandering and staid narrative. It is an apocalyptic novel unlike those written today, for Mary Shelley does not envision a hellish doom brought about by zombies or artificial intelligence or totalitarian regimes or climatic revelations. The end of humanity is frightening enough, especially if a single person is left all alone. Shelley quietly and ever so slowly lures her reader down a road that follows her hero from love and abundance to a forlorn state of social destitution and emptiness. Continue reading

East of Eden

Review by Paige Ambroziak

This is a story about the endurance of the human soul, about choosing to be who you would like to be rather than believing you were cut with a mold that can’t be broken. But also it’s a story about forgiveness, the freedom of choice and the long road one must walk between one’s beginning and one’s end, and all the causes and effects in-between. Steinbeck’s masterpiece, for to call it anything less is impossible, has left me with a sense of loss. When I came to the end of this epic tale of family and humanity, I felt abandoned simply because I ran out of words to read. I wanted to carry on in his characters’ lives, spying on their darkness, watching them evolve and bloom and outrun the forces haunting them. No book has made me feel quite so much sadness and excitement at once. Perhaps because I’m a writer, I relished the painterliness of Steinbeck’s prose. I turned every single one of its six-hundred and one pages at a furious pace, and yet I indulged and languished and roamed the landscape he had painted for me, and me alone.

The story is so personal, a reader might feel it is written for her. It is a story we must hear, a story we know, a story with which we can connect, as we do with all the ones passed down from civilization to civilization. We commune with great stories, religious accounts, epic tales, because we see ourselves most readily in them, and as Lee (one of Eden’s finest characters) says, that’s why we keep telling, and retelling, them from one generation to the next. Steinbeck draws on the Old Testament, turning over the story of Cain and Abel and making it his, for us anew. And because we see ourselves in it—our good and evil—we devour his retelling as though it were medicine to save our soul, the cure for all our ails. But perhaps I exaggerate, indulging in the power of the writer a little too much. Or maybe I do feel my soul a little shaken by my experience, swept up in the writer’s magic. Either way, I am satisfied to credit Steinbeck for my joy at venturing into his Eden. Continue reading

Young Shakespeare’s Young Hamlet: Print, Piracy, and Performance

review by Paige Ambroziak

Not too long ago I came across “Shakespeare’s Badass Quarto” in the Chronicle of Higher Education, which details the latest controversy about the first edition of Hamlet. Though I have worked on Hamlet and am inclined to linger over its narrative aspects, debates about the historicity of the text are riveting, nonetheless. For anyone who doesn’t know, there are three printed versions of the tragedy, the First Quarto (1603), the Second Quarto (1604), and the First Folio edition of 1623. The First Quarto has always been suspect and a bit of a bastard child, if it is even considered the master’s offspring. I happen to love that edition best. It is shorter, tighter, and less about a hesitant and incapable prince than a young heir facing a suspect stepfather. The differences between the editions have been widely examined and discussed, as well as prove viable as evidence for both sides, which brings me to my point. After reading Ron Rosenbaum’s article in the Chronicle, I picked up Terri Bourus’s Young Shakespeare’s Young Hamlet, which he had discussed in depth since it convincingly heralds a much needed change to our perception of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedy. Bourus claims the 1603 Hamlet is the playwright’s original version, first performed on the Elizabethan stage in 1589. Continue reading

Love Hurts: A Speculative Fiction Anthology

Review by Paige Ambroziak

Though I’m not a linguist, I love words and their wizardly talent for surviving transmogrification, as their earliest meaning clings to their roots like a bur to bristles. Consider anthology’s Greek origin: antho, meaning “a blossom” or “flower,” as in chrysanthemum (gold flower), and logy, from the verb “to gather,” as in a collection. Eventually Latinized, anthology became known as a collection of poems, and thus is how we get our use of the term, a collection of literary works that complement one another in some way. But the Greek word, a collection of flowers, speaks most readily to Love Hurts.

Yes, the works in this anthology have a common theme, but because they are works of speculative fiction, the similarities are more or less irrelevant. Speculative fiction, in my opinion, is often ripe with wordplay and filled with rich prose working to disorient the reader, making her squirm and fumble in intellectual darkness. Good speculative fiction asks its reader to rummage up meaning, rather than serves it up on a platter. Bewildered and confused are positive adjectives in this case, which is not to say that a reader is less satisfied when she finishes a story that leaves her mildly heartbroken and incapable of moving on to the next read. With an anthology such as this, the push to move forward from one narrative to the next heightens the reading experience, as we are forced to leave pieces of ourselves behind in the process. This sounds dramatic, I know, but I experienced a kind of literary mournfulness as I read this compilation, traveling through its worlds from one story to the next. Continue reading

The Pocket Instructor: Literature: 101 Exercises for the College Classroom

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a new college instructor with a doctorate in Literature, must be in want of teaching techniques.”

Review by Paige Ambroziak

I have been teaching literature to college students for about two years and as much as I love the material I teach, I struggle with communicating the most important aspect of why we teach literature to all kinds of majors: critical thinking is not reserved for quantifiable subject matter alone. What I mean by this is that if a student can assess a work of literature, derive meaning from it, understand it on more than one level, tear it apart and put it back together again, he or she can productively contribute to any manner of occupation, and society in general.

This is where The Pocket Instructor comes in. This book is filled with tried-and-tested exercises for the college classroom that help an instructor connect with the active learner, and offer ideas to enhance student-centered pedagogy. As expressed in the introduction, “These days the work environment is frequently an extension of the learning environment. Continue reading