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I've recently become enamoured with The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer. I never thought I'd be able to deal very well with writing so old—Shakespeare gives me trouble, sometimes; I've read Hamlet, Macbeth, and Othello (which I very much enjoyed), and made an attempt at The Winter's Tale (which I just couldn't get into), but what I read I read with great difficulty. Surely, then, Chaucer must be more difficult—the Bard is a relatively modern writer, after all, having written his works in the neighbourhood of the year 1600, a good two centuries after Chaucer?

To my surprise, I found Chaucer more accessible—maybe because his writing is somehow more vital. Maybe it's simply that Shakespeare, after all, wrote plays, and plays don't read the same as stories meant to be read … I did very much enjoy what I saw (and it was the better part, though I missed a few minutes at the beginning) of Kenneth Branagh's unabridged screen edition of Hamlet. But Chaucer needs no such things; his writing is alive.

And who would have expected him to be so funny? I didn't think a man in fourteenth-century England would be likely to write biting satire aimed square at corrupt church officials, but still we have gems like (in introducing the Friar)
He was an easy man to give penance,
There as he wist to have a good pittance:
For unto a poor order for to give
Is signe that a man is well y-shrive.
For if he gave, he durste make avant,
He wiste that the man was repentant.
For many a man so hard is of his heart,
He may not weep although him sore smart.
Therefore instead of weeping and prayeres,
Men must give silver to the poore freres.

It took me some time to track it down, though. There's a beautiful edition available right here, courtesy of Project Gutenberg, but I much prefer reading a physical, paper book; I haunted quite a few used book stores, but what editions I found were either much abridged or translated into modern English. If I want to read a book in modern English, I'll pick up a modern book in English—a classic like this loses its flavour. Happily, I eventually did find a copy both of a good edition and in good shape, and so now I am working my way, slowly but delightedly, through the book.

Highly recommended. Read it on the beach, on the bus, or on the john.
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All of you who suffer from depression should read The Noonday Demon. All of you who do not suffer from depression, but know someone who does (and if you're reading this, odds are excellent that you do), should read it anyway, to understand.

Note: I do not claim to suffer (or have suffered) at the magnitude that the author describes. Dysthymic disorder is a much less intense (though sometimes more persistent) version of the same malady.
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I just spent close to four hours at Second Cup reading Dan Brown's Digital Fortress (from cover to cover). It struck me as rather funny to realise that it's terribly bad writing that I still tremendously enjoy reading. Guilty pleasure, perhaps ...?


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Petter Häggholm

January 2018

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