Tuesday, 10 July 2018

52 Reading Challenge Week 27 - A book with a character with your first name

Finding a book with a character who shares your first name may be as easy as pie - or it may be one of the hardest challenges we've seen so far. It really all depends on what your name is.

We managed to rustle up a few name-sharers, but it did require some creativity and a bit of lateral thinking.


Nathan Miller read The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper.

Written in the 1800s about events in 1757, this classic novel is probably one of those formative creative works for me. The most recent movie based on the novel had just been released in 1992, when I was in high school. I was already a fan of historical adventure novels and movies by authors Rosemary Sutcliff, Wilbur Smith and Robert Louis Stevenson, and any western, pirate, or sword-and-sandal film. I had also inherited a classic collection of novels as a primary school kid (Robinson Crusoe, Treasure Island, Kidnapped, King Solomon’s Mine, Robin Hood).

I never finished reading many of these originals as a child; the writing was just to dry and complicated.  However Daniel Day Lewis playing Nathaniel a.k.a “Natty or Hawkweye” Poe (called Bumppo in the book) really impressed me. Oh and Nathaniel was not a common name in the 1970s and 1980s.

The novel is of its time, language-wise and attitude, but I thoroughly enjoyed it as an adult. The classic adventure trope of semi-civilized woodsman and trusty natives clashing against naïve colonialist upper classes and evil savages whilst they compete for a fair maiden (this is also all made more ironic by my own Indigenous Australian and European ancestors and rural upbringing of pioneer stories and Aboriginal survival, and a liberal arts degree).

You can see the archetypes in this book repeated in everything from Raymond Fiest fantasy novels, to Wilbur Smith African period pieces, even science Fiction TV shows and movies, Tarzan or the Lone Ranger. Although the modern reader might flinch from the wordy language and the archaic racial and gender stereotypes, it does still flow well and offer an insight in to the thinking of European Americans of that period about the Native Americans and their own national development.


Brenda Carter read The Pirate, by Sir Walter Scott.

From the Norse, meaning sword or firebrand, the name Brenda was originally used only in the Shetland Isles of Scotland, but spread to other parts of the English-speaking world after Brenda appeared as a heroine in Sir Walter Scott's 1822 novel, The Pirate (820 SCO(W) 1C PIR/MAC).

The Pirate’s plot reads a little like a Gilbert and Sullivan libretto. It was loosely based on the experiences of real-life pirate John Gow, and contains a detailed account of life in the Shetland islands at the end of the 17th century.  The rollicking story is full of mistaken identities, misunderstandings, romance (involving the beautiful Brenda and her sister), piratical shenanigans and eventual moral restitution.

Sir Walter Scott pioneered the historical novel and wrote a phenomenal 21 novels in 18 years, including classics like Rob Roy and Ivanhoe, as well as poetry, plays, short stories and non-fiction. You can find many of his novels available as ebooks in the library catalogue.


Sharon Bryan didn't read The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck.

Look, my name is "Sharon", okay? It's not Jane, or Elizabeth, or Sarah, or Rachael, or Rebecca, or Daphne or any of the names authors actually choose for prominent characters. It's "Sharon". "Sharon" is the kind of name writers give to a waitress who says "I'll be right back", and then you never see her again - so no one bothers including her in any list of characters.

There are books out there with characters called "Sharon" in them, but they're not in our collection. Do you know what is in our collection? The Grapes of Wrath, which has a character called "Rose of Sharon" - which is close enough. Only it's The Grapes of Wrath.

The Grapes of Wrath.

The Grapes of Wrath is a work of mid-20th century American Literature (capital "L"). Literature (capital "L") is a genre of writing that often encourages people who like that sort of thing to say: "Ooh, ahh, look at the Writing (capital "W")! What a masterful turn of phrase! What skill and craftsmanship! Hasn't the author captured the character/moment/situation adeptly! How deep and meaningful!" and so forth and so on.

Personally, I read Literature (capital "L") and think it's depressing. It's usually about depressing characters going through a depressing time during their generally depressing lives. By the end of the book, they may have gone through a transformative experience and now they are somewhere new (physically or metaphorically), but they're still depressing. Or they haven't moved on at all, and are in exactly the same place they were when they started (physically or metaphorically)... and they're still depressing. 

The Grapes of Wrath is a work of American Literature (capital "L") set during the depression. And it's 619 pages long. And every second chapter isn't even about the plot, it's just about the world the characters live in. In the depression.

So I got about 160 pages into the 619 pages of the book, and then decided that I had better things to do with my life right this minute and I'll get back to it later, when I'm ready for it. If I'm ever ready for it. Having said that, Steinbeck does show very skilful craftsmanship with his writing, and he captures characters and situations with adept turns of phrase. You might like that sort of thing.

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