Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Tuesday Book Group Takes on Mythology

The Tuesday Book Group met this week to discuss Margaret Atwood’s Penelopiad, the second half of a classic/contemporary pairing that began with the ancient Greek epic, The Odyssey.

At just under 200 sparsely-printed pages, The Penelopiad is a walk in the park compared to the other tomes we’ve been reading (like The Odyssey and The Story of Edgar Sawtelle). We agreed that Atwood’s retelling of the Odyssey from Penelope’s point of view makes for light, fun reading. We found that, while this book may not change your life, it will make you think about how some stories get repeated and others suppressed, it will show you that marriage in mythic times could be just as fraught as it is today, it will dance around the ambiguity of human motivations, and it will make hysterical fun of Helen (of Troy) and her pathetic vanity

The group also touched on such touchy issues as teenage violence and violence against women. If you recall, one of the most gruesome climactic events in the Odyssey is the murder of twelve of Penelope’s maids by Telemachus (Odysseus and Penelope’s teenaged son). We never felt that Atwood settled this unsettling issue, but she does give the maids a voice in the book: they appear in between chapters and perform burlesque song and dance numbers, raging against their plight and powerlessness.

The Penelopiad also had us thinking about contemporary culture quite a bit, and there were several interesting segues into topics such as reality TV, morality, and the history of gender roles. You never know where you’ll end up when you talk with good people about good books.

The Tuesday Book Group reads classic books alongside modern works inspired by them. Kindred readers are welcome to join us the second Tuesday of the month at 1:00pm. On April 14th, we'll tackle Dostoevsky’s classic Crime and Punishment. All are welcome to join. Contact the Reference Desk at for more information. LO



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