The Irresistible Lure of Russian Literature

Recently, a curious thing happened in the Library’s beloved Peak Picks collection (still very much available at a curbside location near you, by the way); we featured a not unscholarly explication 19th Century Russian literature. Admittedly, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, in which four Russians give a master class on writing, reading, and life is by the hugely popular, iconoclastic American author George Saunders. Still…

I couldn’t be more thrilled. My own love affair with Russian literature goes back over thirty years, when a bored teen somehow managed to draw inferences about his banal suburban angst from the inky depths of Dostoyevsky’s Underground Man. From that sub-basement up to the peaks of War and Peace and The Brothers Karamazov, summited alone or read aloud with my wife, the great Russian authors have remained for me a source of awe, inspiration and rewarding perplexity. Clearly I’m not alone, to judge from the wealth of excellent books inspired by the varied and enigmatic genius of these writers.

My own favorite book on this topic – and probably the funniest – is The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them, in which Elif Batuman depicts the colorful ranks of besotted Russophile readers with an antic drollery worthy of Gogol himself. A great follow up to this is Sarah Wheeler’s Mud and Stars: Travels in Russia With Pushkin, Tolstoy, and Other Geniuses of the Golden Age, a vivid, lighthearted travelogue in quest of the Russian soul in its natural habitat, amidst the worst depredations of Russian life. Continue reading “The Irresistible Lure of Russian Literature”

Question of the Month – an irregular series

bnr_askaquestionThe reference librarians at Seattle Public Library are pretty darn amazing. They don’t know everything, instead they know where to find everything. As part of an irregular series of posts we salute the talented and dedicated reference staff at your local library. Names and other identifying information have been removed from the questions we showcase. Got a stumper? Click on Ask a Librarian. It’s what we do.

I’m looking for an excerpt from Homer’s Odyessy that isolates the Penelope story, and/or some literary criticism that addresses Penelope. What would you recommend?

Hello and thank you for your question about Penelope. To begin, here is a link to the main Penelope chapters from the Odyssey in a public domain online version:

The website above also contains summaries of the chapters.

In regard to literary criticism, a general internet search brings up many student essays, some for sale. However, limiting the search to sites from educational institutions (.edu), produces some links that looked promising:

The library has several print sources you wish to investigate. The best on hand appear to include these:

Homer's the Illiad and the Odyssey by Alberto ManguelAlbert Manguel is the author of a 2007 book called Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey, which contains a short chapter on Penelope. An older book is George E. Dimock’s The Unity of the Odyssey, which also has commentary on Penelope. Finally, Harold Bloom edited a book in the Modern Critical views series called Homer, which has a chapter called the Disguised Guest that discusses Penelope. Please feel free to place a hold on any of these.

If your question is ongoing and you would consider requesting a book through Interlibrary Loan, there is a 2005 title called Taking her seriously : Penelope & the plot of Homer’s Odyssey by Richard Heitman, published by the University of Michigan Press. The Seattle Public Library does not own this book, but it looks available from other libraries. Just to let you know, a typical turnaround time for this time of loan is about three weeks. Here is some information about how to order it: Items not currently owned by The Seattle Public Library might be available through Interlibrary Loan (ILL) from another library system. At the bottom of every page in the library catalog there is a link for Interlibrary Loan, providing more information and the forms.

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

Also, of possible related interest, the novelist Margaret Atwood retold the story from the point of view of Penelope in The Penelopiad: The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus. Seattle Public Library owns this book and it is available for reserve requests. Here is an article from the Literary Review of Canada about the book. Penelope’s story is also at the foreground of Jane Rawlings’ verse novel Penelopeia, and Clemence McLaren’s young adult novel Waiting for Odysseus.

We hope you find this information useful.