Currently Reading: Tales from the Thousand and One Nights

I’ve decided to begin a weekly (or bi-weekly depending on my reading habits) series called “Currently Reading” (title subject to change), where I will simply write about the book I happen to be reading at the time. For now, this is going to be very informal, but my hope is that it will evolve over time to showcase some quality literary analysis on my part, and work out my brain muscles. I need to more regularly practice analyzing literature, and although the text below is hardly an “analysis,” it is a start, and a start is 100 times better than nothing at all.

I love that feeling I get when I read something and then years later read it all over again and just barely remember it. It’s not like a fading memory. It’s more like deja vu. I’ve been here before. 

I’m currently reading Tales from the Thousand and One Nights, a book I was required to read sections of during a British Literature (I know that seems strange) course I took during one of my first semesters of college. Lately, I’ve decided it might be useful to reread pieces of literature that I was required to read in college, and see how my appreciation of them might change.

In case you’re unfamiliar, Tales from the Thousand and One Nights is comprised of stories from Persian fairy tales, Indian folklore, and edits and additions from various Arabic storytellers and scribes (Introduction). The edition I’m reading, translated by N.J. Dawood, includes many well-known tales such as “Sindbad the Sailor and Sindbad the Porter,” and “Aladdin and the Enchanted Lamp.”

Before I picked up the book this weekend, I tried to recall specific details that had stuck out to me when I first read it in college. All that came to mind was that this was the story of a young woman (Shahrazad) who cunningly told stories of magic and adventure so enthralling that they delayed her death for 1001 nights. And that the collection is considered a frame narrative, a fact that was drilled into my head during ENG 294 or 211 or whatever. I also remembered that I initially found some enjoyment in the book, and that it was one of the first pieces of literature that I freely talked about during class discussion. In other words, it’s not intimidating.

In fact, despite the vulgar language and mentions of sex, many of the stories strike me as quite juvenile. I want to say that the stories are simple, but I must also point out that the framework is quite complex, and it’s sometimes difficult to keep track of who is speaking, of what world the story is currently in, of the fact that this is, at least physically, one cohesive work. Perhaps this is good in some ways. It means I’m getting sucked into the story. Or it might mean I’m bored out of my mind and sidetracked.

I’m just over halfway through the book now, and must say that some stories (Aladdin, for example) truly capture my imagination, while others seem to ramble on and lose me. This seems fitting, considering the slew of different contributors. Remember, this wasn’t written by a single author.

Unfortunately, at the moment, this book is doing little more than entertain me. In some instances, I do feel a twinge of something similar to deja vu, because I get sucked into a story that captured me years ago, and it’s exciting and fresh again. I’m not sure that I’ll ever read it again, but if I do, I’m curious to see how my reactions to the work may evolve. Perhaps I’ll analyze it in the future, which will likely create in me a new found appreciation for the book.

I couldn’t find the copy I’m reading on the publishers website, but here’s a link to it on Amazon (sorry):

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