Last Week’s Reading: February 12-18


Elizabeth Bishop: A Miracle for Breakfast, by Megan Marshall: Full marks to this illuminating biography of one of the twentieth century’s best poets. You can read my in-depth review here.

Poems, by Elizabeth Bishop: Thanks to Ms. Marshall’s biography, I succumbed to the temptation to update my version of Bishop’s complete poems. This volume contains all her published poetry, several uncollected pieces, translations, and some works in progress—a feast, by any measure.

The Essex Serpent photo copyright Carolyn OliverThe Essex Serpent, by Sarah Perry: From the moment I saw the cover of this novel, I coveted it. Last month I ordered in from the UK, not willing to wait until its summer release here—and goodness, I’m glad I did. The plot: In 1893, Cora Seaborne, a recently widowed amateur natural historian, sets out from London with her son and her friend/nanny/maid to visit Essex, where she hopes to make exciting discoveries and escape the oppressive memories of her marriage. Further up the coast, fear ripples through a small village after a series of unsettling events lead many to believe that the legendary Essex serpent has returned. Cora hopes that the beast turns out to be a living fossil, while William Ransome, the local curate, believes lack of faith is responsible for his parishioners’ panic. When Will and Cora meet, their intelligence and opposing beliefs draw them together like magnets, and the nature of friendship is tested. The supporting characters are finely drawn and the setting is sumptuous—this is a novel you’ll want to devour. Mark your calendars for June 6, U. S. readers.

The Narrative of Sojourner Truth: Had I known more about Sojourner Truth’s life, I probably would have chosen to read Nell Irvin Painter’s biography of the legendary abolitionist and suffragist instead of this primary source (Nell Irvin Painter also wrote the very helpful introduction to this book). Because Sojourner Truth could neither read nor write, her story was necessarily mediated through amanuenses. The Narrative is composed of three parts written or compiled at different times by different figures, and while some of Truth’s speech is set down, it’s hard to tell if it’s an exact transcription (almost all of the work is in the third person, and the first co-writer offers her own opinions freely). Still, I’m glad I read it, since I learned more about Truth’s ordeals as a slave in New York, her years as an itinerant preacher, and her unstinting efforts on behalf of freed persons after the Civil War.

Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal, by G. Willow Wilson, drawn by Adrian Alphona: I loved the concept of this comic, but I think it’s geared for readers younger than I am. Kamala Khan, a sixteen-year-old Muslim girl living in Jersey City with her Pakistani American family, discovers she has shapeshifting abilities. Becoming Ms. Marvel is no easy task, as she needs to learn how to channel her new powers while simultaneously navigating tricky relationships with her friends, family, and classmates. Essentially, this is a more complex and interesting version of the Spider-Man story, and I’d definitely recommend it for teen readers.

Bringing Sexy Back (To Valentine’s Day): 17 Steamy Poems by Esteemed Poets


Valentine’s Day is upon us, friends, and in its original form (featuring fifteen poems), this has been one of the most popular posts over the last few years. For 2017, I’ve added two poems, for seventeen total. Do you have a favorite I should feature next year?

Toss that teddy bear and give your significant person the gift of verse this Valentine’s Day.

That poet everyone reads at weddings is actually much more appropriate for the bedroom:

e. e. cummings, “i like my body when it is with your” 

An unsexy title for a very sexy poem (check out those ellipses!): 

Li-young Lee, “This Room and Everything In It”

The “Oh, snap” kind of sexy:

Edna St. Vincent Millay, “I, being born a woman and distressed”

Wistful sexy:

C. P. Cavafy, “Body, remember”

Bitter sexy:

Thomas Wyatt. “They Flee from Me”

Literate sexy:

Robert Hass, “Etymology” (start watching at 18:42)

Damn sexy:

Audre Lorde, “Recreation

Desire, frustration, and jewelry. Also: socioeconomic tension. (And the first overtly lesbian poem I read as a teenager. Bit of a lightbulb moment, there.)

Carol Ann Duffy, “Warming her Pearls”

Difficult to choose just one Donne poem, but hey, let’s go with the salute to nakedness:

John Donne, “To His Mistress Going to Bed”

Restraint and abandonment, all at once:

Emily Dickinson, “Wild Nights – Wild Nights! (269)”

For the Dear Readers who are also parents: 

Galway Kinnell, “After Making Love We Hear Footsteps”

Maybe this is where they got the title for Blue is the Warmest Color:

May Swenson, “Blue”

I hate birds, but this poem is still amazing: 

Henri Cole, “Loons”

You’ll never look at roses the same way again, I promise:

D.H. Lawrence, “Gloire de Dijon”

And yes, a Neruda poem. But I can’t find it anywhere on the interwebs, so you’ll have to go find a copy of World’s End or Late and Posthumous Poems for yourself. 

Pablo Neruda, “Física”/”Physics”

Sexy in translation: 

León Salvatierra (trans. Javier O. Huerta), “Act”

Desire in list form: 

Major Jackson, “Superfluities”


Your turn: what’s the sexiest poem you’ve ever read?

Another Year in Books: Best of 2016


best-of-2016Dear Readers,

Thank you so much for another wonderful year in the world of books. I wish you health and happiness in the new year, and a warm, cheery holiday season, however you celebrate.

Now, for the last Rosemary & Reading Glasses post of the year, the traditional last-minute gift guide. It would tax your patience if I were to talk about every book I’ve read this year (97 as of this writing, probably just over 100 by year’s end), so I’ve listed (with two exceptions) 2016 releases in categories constructed by my arbitrary whims. All these books are recommended.


Ocean Vuong, Night Sky with Exit Wounds

Donika Kelly, Bestiary

W. S. Merwin, Garden Time

Catherine Pierce, The Tornado is the World

Monica Youn, Blackacre

Honorable Mention to Ross Gay’s Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude (2015), which I couldn’t bear to leave off this list.

Short Stories

Ellen Prentiss Campbell, Contents Under Pressure

Helen Oyeyemi, What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours

Junot Díaz (editor) and Heidi Pitlor (series editor), The Best American Short Stories 2016

Clare Beams, We Show What We Have Learned

Short Novels

Kent Haruf, Our Souls at Night

Graham Swift, Mothering Sunday

Elizabeth Strout, My Name Is Lucy Barton

Idra Novey, Ways to Disappear

Longer Novels

Dominic Smith, The Last Painting of Sara de Vos

Alexander Chee, The Queen of the Night

Louise Erdrich, LaRose

Peter Ho Davies, The Fortunes

Lived Up to the Hype

Ann Patchett, Commonwealth

Brit Bennett, The Mothers

Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad

Jeff Zentner, The Serpent King

Books in Translation

Maylis de Kerangal, The Heart (translated by Sam Taylor)

Dulce María Loynaz, Absolute Solitude (translated by James O’Connor)

Juan Gabriel Vásquez, Reputations (translated by Anne McLean)


Claire Harman, Charlotte Brontë: A Fiery Heart

Carlo Rovelli, Seven Brief Lessons on Physics

Margot Lee Shetterly, Hidden Figures

Depressing (and Very Good)

Katy Simpson Smith, Free Men

Jung Yun, Shelter

Garth Greenwell, What Belongs to You

Katie Roiphe, The Violet Hour: Great Writers at the End

Delightful (and Very Good)

Shirley Barrett, Rush Oh! 

Lindsay Faye, Jane Steele

Honorable Mention to Zen Cho’s Sorcerer to the Crown, out in paperback this year

Best for Sleuths

Elliott Chaze, Black Wings Has My Angel

Erica Wright, The Granite Moth

Best for New Parents

Jennifer Stewart Miller, A Fox Appears

Best Shakespeare Adaptation

Margaret Atwood, Hag-Seed

Best Graphic Novel/Comic

Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples, Saga: Volume 6 (Start with Volume 1, though!)

Best Sui Generis

Claire-Louise Bennett, Pond


“Going home / behind the curtain”: Farewell, Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen books photo by Carolyn Oliver

He wants to write a love song
An anthem of forgiving
A manual for living with defeat
from “Going Home”

If you’re a longtime reader of R&RG, you know about my devotion to Leonard Cohen. His death wasn’t public when I wrote the post quoting “Anthem” right after the election last week, but now I realize how strange it was that I used the past tense to talk about him—I almost always use the present when writing about living authors. The news of his death wasn’t shocking  (his last album, You Want It Darker, which is amazing, is also a farewell; and then there was his last letter to Marianne Ihlen, who died this summer), but it was heartbreaking nonetheless.

I can’t muster much more at the moment, except to commend his books to your reading and his albums to your listening; recommendations available upon request.

Rest well, Leonard. Endless love, see you down the road.

Here’s a 2014 review of Leonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen, edited by Jeff Burger.

I’m fairly certain that I would have spent my high school years as perpetually moody and angst-ridden as Molly Ringwald in any given John Hughes movie had it not been for Theatre (capital-T, said in your best Addison DeWitt voice).

To the Shaker Heights High School Theatre Arts Program (yes, it’s really called that) I owe a debt of gratitude: for leading me to my two best friends in high school, one of whom I met when she was tasked with teasing my nearly waist-length hair so that it would stand straight out from my head; for playwriting class; for teaching me the world “décolletage”; for the knowledge that I should never, ever wear flesh-tone spandex; for the chance to eat lunches with friends in Room 129; for the ability to recite, in perfect tandem with any other alum, “Shaker Theater events are non-smoking, non-drinking, non-drug-using, safe-driving, recycling events”; and for Leonard Cohen.

The department chair, Mr. Thornton, had a fondness for the Canadian singer-songwriter, and from the moment I heard that smoky voice singing “The Window,” I was hooked. I used my babysitting money to buy his albums, talked so much about him that my parents knew to get me Ten New Songs for my birthday, and hoped Leonard Cohen would tour someday so that I could see him live. One of the stupidest things I’ve ever done is not begging, borrowing, or stealing enough money to see him in concert in Boston in 2012.

photo 3 (5)Before he became famous, relatively late (he was in his thirties) as a singer-songwriter, Leonard Cohen was a poet and novelist whose work earned him comparisons with James Joyce, even if it didn’t pay the bills. Music did, and more than forty-five years after the release of Songs of Leonard Cohen, the dapper and impeccably polite poet is a musical legend.

photo 2 (14)I was so entranced by his music that it wasn’t until college that I went looking for Mr. Cohen’s published poetry and fiction.  Let Us Compare Mythologies (1956) which I recently re-read, is raw and energetic, the work of a young idealist who’s afraid the world is already lost. Book of Mercy (my favorite of the collections) is often called a modern book of psalms, although in an interview Mr. Cohen characterized them as “more conversations with the absolute” (148). The prose-poems — fifty of them — are prayers of great sadness and great longing. Here’s part of my favorite (19): “O beloved speaking, O comfort whispering in the terror, unspeakable explanation of the smoke and cruelty, undo the self-conspiracy, let me dare the boldness of joy.” It’s the same voice — almost mystic, worldly, sad — from “The Window”:

Oh tangle of matter and ghost
Oh darling of angels, demons and saints
And the whole broken-hearted host
Gentle this soul

Like his poetry, Leonard Cohen’s songs are about the difficulties of love, of living, of dying; he sings about a world that’s broken and the people trying and often failing to keep the pieces together. He writes songs about betrayal, sex, faith, politics. A reviewer once famously said that it was “music to slit your wrists to,” but I’ve never found it anything but comforting, occasionally funny (see “Tower of Song”), and very, very beautiful. I’m not the only one.

photo 1 (17)Leonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen: Interviews and Encounters*, edited by Jeff Burger and recently published by Chicago Review Press, is a book meant for fans of the man who wrote not only “Suzanne” and “First We Take Manhattan” and yes, the ubiquitous “Hallelujah” (for the record, I like Leonard’s version best, followed by Jeff Buckley’s, followed by John Cale’s, then k d lang’s), but also Book of Mercy and Beautiful Losers and The Spice-Box of Earth. Judiciously selected interviews from Mr. Cohen’s four decades in the music industry trace the evolution of his public persona even as they illuminate aspects of his personal life and career that aren’t widely talked about. (Did you know he once made a signature drink for his band? I do now, and I’ll be mixing up a few batches this summer.)

What comes across in these interviews — which the interviewers themselves note in their interviews with Mr. Burger — is Leonard Cohen’s graciousness, his sense of humor, and his modesty. He unflappably fields predictable questions about his lack of commercial success in the U.S., speaks well of every woman he’s been romantically linked with, and pokes fun of himself (he riffs on his early albums’ bland (“neutral”) titles by joking that he’ll call the next one Songs in English [163].) He’s completely open about the grueling process of songwriting (he’ll write dozens and dozens of stanzas for one song, rejecting all but a few; songs often take years to complete), his difficulties with romantic relationships, and, in the later interviews, about his struggles with depression. Most longtime Leonard Cohen fans know that he spent years in relative isolation at a Zen center outside Los Angeles, but these interviews offer a fuller view of what those years were like, which I found particularly fascinating.

With more than five hundred pages of interviews (several never before translated into English, some transcribed from the raw footage of television interviews), it’s not surprising that some material is repetitive. Interviewers ask questions asked many times before, and sometimes Mr. Cohen’s answers retread ground already broken. Still, the book is a treasure trove, and worth reading just for the interviewers with specialized backgrounds who share long, knowledgable conversations with Mr. Cohen on songwriting and his Jewish background, among other subjects. Rarely did four or five pages pass without me turning down a corner to come back to an idea or a phrase; choosing favorite passages and quotes for this review proved an impossible task. But here’s a snippet from a conversation the editor had with interviewer Thom Jurek, who spoke with Leonard Cohen in 1993:

Jurek recalled asking Cohen why it had taken so long after the release of The Future for him to tour. “He explained that it was because backing vocalist Julie Christensen had borne a child; it was important to hold off on the tour to give the new family time to bond.” What about finding another singer? Cohen said he hadn’t even considered that. “The reason, he said– and I am pretty sure I remember this by heart–was: ‘She shouldn’t be punished for bringing life into the world.’

This from a man who says, “We cannot forestall the apocalypse. The bomb has already gone off. We are now living in the midst of its aftermath. The question is: how can we live with this knowledge with grace and kindness?” (507).

There is a risk in books of this kind — as in meeting a favorite author — that the subject will be demystified in some way, will appear all too human, which is not, after all, how we prefer our idols. This isn’t the case with Leonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen. For all his foibles and favored anecdotes, the man is consistently human in the best sense of the word: compassionate, invested in the welfare of others, deeply concerned with ideas. I came away admiring him, and loving his work, even more.


An Interview with Jeff Burger, Editor of Leonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen.

“Going Home”

Review of So Long, Marianne

New Yorker profile of Leonard Cohen (October 2016)

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes, which did not affect the content of this review.

Recommended Reading: Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett


Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth* is like an unfamiliar lake on a ninety-degree day that you can’t  wait to sink into; even if you don’t know how deep it goes, you won’t want to come up for air.

img_1022It starts in Los Angeles, with a bottle of gin and orange trees heavy with fruit. Bert Cousins walks into the christening party for Beverly and Fix Keating’s new daughter Franny with a completely inappropriate gift (the gin), which when mixed with fresh-squeezed juice from the backyard oranges leads to revelry not usually associated with christening parties.

Then Bert kisses Beverly, leading to the unraveling of two families and the imperfect attempt to knit together a new blended family. Beverly and Bert move to Virginia with Franny and her older sister Caroline; Bert’s four children—Cal, Holly, Jeanette, and Albie—visit during the summers, leaving their mother Teresa behind in L.A. Bert and Beverly are “careless people” in many respects; the children are often unsupervised, and they find their (dangerous) freedom exhilarating: “It was like that every summer the six of them were together. Not that the days were always fun, most of them weren’t, but they did things, real things, and they never got caught.”

The kiss is the first of three turning points in this excellent novel. The second involves a terrible accident; the third is when Franny, adrift in her twenties, meets the acclaimed novelist Leo Posen and tells him her family’s story.

Commonwealth follows eleven major characters over fifty years—and manages to deliver full portraits of their lives in less than 350 pages. Each chapter is as exquisitely paced and revealing as a short story (indeed, several of the chapters could stand alone as stories), and yet the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Ms. Patchett’s storytelling makes the ordinary gripping; for instance, when Franny is treated like a cook and maid by Leo’s publishing friends in the summer house they’ve rented together, I started biting my nails, wondering if she would snap. I practically cheered when, earlier in the book, Teresa puts her four kids on the plane to their father (who had pushed for full summer custody) without suitcases but with a list of all the appointments they need (dentist, doctor, etc): “Beverly Cousins wanted her family? Have at it.”

I started off thinking that Commonwealth would be a book about divorce; and it is, of course, but it’s more about family, bad decisions and living with the consequences of those decisions, loyalty, and friendship. My copy of the book is studded with notes marking favorite passages and lines (“Franny’s skin was so translucent it acted more as a window than a shade.”); I’m willing to bet that if you pick it up (it’s out today), your copy will be too. Commonwealth is highly recommended.

Have you read Commonwealth or any of Ann Patchett’s other books?

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes, which did not affect the content of my review.

** Confession: Though I own Bel Canto and State of Wonder (the former acquired at a delightful book swap birthday party in January 2009, the latter at Target, which maybe tells you something about my collecting habits), Commonwealth is the first of Ann Patchett’s books that I’ve read. I admire her work on behalf of independent bookstores, and you can be sure that if I ever visit Nashville, Parnassus Books would be the first stop on my itinerary.

5 Reasons to Read: Leviathan Wakes, by James S.A. Corey

5 Reasons to Read Leviathan Wakes

Leviathan Wakes, the first in James S.A. Corey’s Expanse series (set to be at least nine novels now, and also the basis for a new show that’s apparently pretty good) was published in 2012. I bought it in 2013, and read it . . . last week. Such is the fate of books in my house.

IMG_7416The book follows James Holden, the executive officer on an ice hauler working the rings of Saturn, and Detective Miller of the Ceres security service, who’s handed a missing persons case that looks ugly. Both men are drawn into a web of intrigue that extends throughout the solar system. This is space opera, after all.

Leviathan Wakes is a sci-fi mystery, and it’s a great read. I’m definitely going to pick up Caliban’s War, the second book in the series, probably next summer—this kind of novel is a treat, like a yearly walk down to beachside clam shack.

If you’re  on the fence, here are five reasons to give Leviathan Wakes a try:

  1. It’s a doorstop at 561 pages, but it reads fast: I stayed up late and then woke up early to finish it, and I love sleep. Each chapter is chock-full of tension, and the action almost never lets up.
  2. The setting is way cool: Leviathan Wakes is set in a middle future—earlier than Star Trek, later than The Martian. Humanity has colonized the solar system, but hasn’t reached the stars or other species yet. Corey (the pen name of two writers) does a great job exploring what it would take to get us to that point, and what the costs would be.
  3. It’s smart but not inaccessible: This isn’t a Michael Bay summer blockbuster kind of book, but it’s not as cerebral as Ancillary Justice (which I loved). There’s a nice balance of action with consideration of how race and class—and war—might look in our future.
  4. It’ll remind you of classic sci-fi movies and TV: Are you a fan of Alien, Blade Runner, The Abyss, or Firefly? Then Leviathan Wakes is going to ring your bell. It’s got the gritty noir of Blade Runner, the misfit crew of Firefly, the atmosphere and tension of The Abyss, and some serious callbacks to Alien and Aliens.
  5. It stands alone: I like a good series as much as the next person, but I dislike cliffhangers that try to force me to pick up the next book. Leviathan Wakes has a satisfying ending that whets the appetite for the next book. Just right.

Have you read any good sci-fi lately?

“All glam-glow, all twinkle and gold”: Tracy K. Smith’s “Don’t You Wonder, Sometimes?” (RIP David Bowie)

Tracy K. Smith-Bowie

Since David Bowie has left us for what I’m guessing must be some sort of starsplitting transcendent plane, it’s only appropriate this week to feature Tracy K. Smith’s gorgeous and evocative “Don’t You Wonder, Sometimes?” from her appropriately titled collection Life on Mars

The poem has been making the rounds this week—justifiably so—because it hones in on the multi-persona man as a way to consider the big questions about time, space, death, and belief. In the poem, Bowie is both an otherworldly immortal figure and one of us—just immeasurably cooler (literally, in part two of the poem). I pretty much want to quote the whole poem right now, so please read it. 

Bowie was an avid reader, and if you’re craving more bookish Bowie goodness, head over to BookRiot to check out their list (from summer 2015) of all things books and Bowie.

Turns out I can’t resist quoting the poem:


And how many lives

Before take-off, before we find ourselves

Beyond ourselves, all glam-glow, all twinkle and gold?


Safe travels, Starman.


Writer to Watch: Nuala O’Connor

IMG_4252Nuala O’Connor’s Miss Emily* is an upstairs/downstairs novel about Emily Dickinson and an imagined Irish maid-of-all-work. While it is Ms. O’Connor’s first novel published in the United States, she has published two novels, short stories, and poetry in the U.K. and Ireland, where she often writes under the name Nuala Ní Chonchúir.

Miss Emily takes place over the course of a year or so, when 18-year-old Ada Concannon leaves Ireland for America, where she finds work in Amherst with the odd but locally esteemed Dickinson family. Chapters alternate between Ada’s voice and that of Emily Dickinson, who in her mid-30s is headed toward the seclusion she’s well known for. Despite the gaps in age, class, education, and origins, Ada and Emily form a friendship, trading recipes and observations about goings-on in the natural world.

The novel’s strongest aspects include its descriptions, particularly Ada’s recollections of Dublin and her grandmother’s cottage, and Ms. O’Connor’s rendering of Emily’s facility with language and adept way with peculiar images. Readers fond of realistic renderings of everyday life in historical fiction will find much to please them here.

Miss Emily moves very fast, thanks to its short chapters that change perspective, but I would have preferred a longer version with more expansion on the Dickinson family’s relationships and those within Ada’s family. Readers conversant with Emily Dickinson’s biography will pick up on the family dynamics, but those who don’t know much about the poet may find themselves lost at times.

Without giving too much away, I’d also add that I found the novel’s ending disappointing, shifting agency away from the main characters we’ve spent so much time with in favor of male characters who aren’t as fully drawn. In the last quarter of the novel, Emily and Ada react to events, rather than choosing their own paths, which is unfortunate and not in keeping with the tone of the novel’s first half.

Despite these issues, I’d still recommend Miss Emily for a quick summer read, and I’d be happy to read more of Ms. O’Connor’s writing, particularly her poetry. And I suspect that after you read this book, you’ll be curious to see, as I am, the Homestead, the Dickinson family home. I’ve lived about two hours from it for years, and I’m sorry to say I haven’t been to see it—but I hope to get out to Amherst later this summer, Emily Dickinson’s own words in hand.

You can read more about Nuala O’Connor here. And if you’re interested in visiting the Emily Dickinson Museum, you can read more about it here. 

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration, which did not affect the content of my review.


Recommended Reading: Music for Wartime, by Rebecca Makkai

photo (54)Last year I read and loved Rebecca Makkai’s novel The Hundred-year House (Ms. Makkai was kind enough to agree to an interview, too), and so I was delighted to read that a collection of her short stories would appear this summer.

Music for Wartime is that collection, and it’s excellent. In well over a dozen stories spanning more than a decade of her writing career, Ms. Makkai traverses a wide landscape of emotion, space, and time, drawing from her family’s history (some of the strongest pieces in the collection are very short family legends) and her own power of invention.

In one story, an elephant dies mid-act in a small town during the 1940s, ushering in some very strange weather and serious questions for the local pastor. In another, a reality-TV producer steers contestants into producing perfect soundbites—and maybe toward falling in love. In “Painted Ocean, Painted Ship,” a professor accidentally shoots an albatross, and the hefty fine is just the beginning of her bad luck.

Often funny, often sad, and always graceful, these stories are linked by themes of art and war, or at least violence, as you might suspect from the title. You’ll find painters, sculptors, violinists, circus performers, and even Bach within these pages. It’s a tribute to Ms. Makkai’s virtuosity that it’s very difficult, often impossible, to tell which stories are earlier efforts and which are more recent. I was only disappointed when I turned the last page.

Boston Readers: You just missed Rebecca Makkai at Newtonville Books and Harvard Bookstore—sorry about that—but if you’re trekking up to Vermont this summer, you can hear her read in Burlington at Phoenix Books on July 28th at 7p.m.

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes, which did not affect the content of my review.

How to Tell If You’re In a Renaissance Revenge Tragedy

In the spirit of The Toast’s “How to Tell If You’re in a _____________ Novel” series, I present:

How to Tell If You’re in a Renaissance Revenge Tragedy

Your name, when translated, actually means “revenge.”

A ghost wants you to do him a favor.

You have had sex with someone totally wrong for you—like your husband or your stepmother.

You have a personal relationship with a skull.

No one around you has decent night vision or the ability to see through disguises.

You have caused a string of accidental casualties this week.

You haven’t realized that there is always someone behind the tapestry.

You are a woman who is either a mother, or old enough to be somebody’s mother. Therefore you are an unprincipled wanton.

You are in an Italian city-state. Or Denmark. Or Spain. But definitely not England. Nope. Nothing English about this place.

You are eating or drinking something. It is poisoned.

You find yourself at a court where incest is pretty much de rigueur.

Your wildest fantasies involve an orgy of violence. And possibly cannibalism.

Your brother believes he is a wolf.

You are busy setting up a play or masque that will prove your nemesis is evil. You already know he is evil, and no one will understand the implications of your play, except your stoic best friend and/or brother.

Your hobbies include reading and feigning madness.

You are a woman. One of your male relatives is spying on you, obsessed with the condition of your hymen and/or womb. You will end up mad or dead or both.

Whenever someone writes a letter, someone else dies.

You are a woman. You marry the man you love. You find that this is a mistake.

If you are likeable, you prefer to kill people by stabbing them or poisoning them, in that order. If you are unlikeable, reverse the order.

You are in a room with everyone you hate (who isn’t already dead) and everyone you love (who isn’t already dead). You are all going to die, with one exception.

You are not the exception.