Monday, August 6, 2012

Egyptian Beach Party

Desperately seeking a change of pace and the feeling of sand between our toes, the family recently fled to the sunny shores of Seaside, Oregon. However, once the weather turned aggressively, oppressively hot on what would be our second day on the beach, I opted to hang back at the condo and nurse my angry, red, sunburned skin, instead of lugging the volleyball out to fry another day. After trying fruitlessly for over an hour to understand the complex code of button-pushing that would operate our rental condo's DVD player, I tossed aside Disney's Tangled, and dug out a book.

However, my beach reads are not equal to everyone else's beach reads.

Instead of installing myself out on the condo patio with a good slathering of aloe and some bit of marshmallow fluff unstuck from the Teen shelves of our semi-local Barnes and Noble, I chose instead to turn to the tops of recent nonfiction lists for a bit of educated reading (the aloe, unfortunately, had been left at home, so none of that either). Most of the selections were a bit of a downer, or too funny for serious reading - and I'm still patiently waiting for my Mom's edition of Rebecca Sloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks to be returned, so I can, in turn, sneak it out from her stacks - so I narrowed my search down to a historical biography (one of my Top 5 fave genres). Fate had previously sent Stacy Schiff's Cleopatra: A Life onto the well-stocked shelves of Target, then into my already over-laden shopping cart back in April, and now, it pushed the hefty Pulitzer-winner into my beach bag as well.

The crowded resort town of Seaside could just as easily have been the bustling ancient city of Alexandria. The crystal blue waters in front of me could have lapped the banks of the river Nile. And that heat definitely could have qualified as borderline Saharan. So, I slid on my sunnies, laid back, and made like the most enduringly enchanting ancient historical female of all time (minus being fanned by palm fronds, unfortunately).

The legacy of Cleopatra is lasting, despite the many inconsistencies in the documentation of her history, and the varied portrayals of the ancient monarch's character.  Whether your opinion of her, is that of an educated and strategic thinker, or some kind of hieroglyphics-writing hussy, or even simply as a pop culture fixture, made icon by the likes of the Egyptian craze of the 1920s or Elizabeth Taylor, then you could definitely do for a read of Schiff's complete and detailed history of the long-gone, never-forgotten pharaoh queen. The format is easy to follow, chapter lengths are just the right size, and the heft of the book itself is not at all daunting. Chock-full of information, yet enrapturing and downright beautiful to read, rightly crowned by the New York Times as a "Best Book of the Year" in 2010, Cleopatra: A Life strips away all of the mythology set in place by the likes of Shakespeare and Shaw, and leaves us with a relatable, remarkable woman, who could really rule, despite the odds stacked against her. Her dealings with the encroaching cultures to the West, or the bad behavior of her ambitious, murderous family, make any of your problems seem downright trivial, and the passion with which she lead her country is inspiring, thereby cementing Cleopatra in the public conscious as an intrepid, educated strategist, and a moving example of a female leader.

Whether or not your typical beach reads consist of quite as much substance as this one, I would firmly recommend checking Cleopatra: A Life out, in order to explore the dramatic, beyond-mythical story of the brave Egyptian queen... or just to impress any cute towel-dwelling bookworms nearby. :)

(Oh, and if you're wondering about the title... it was stolen from one of my favorite episodes of The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius :) Look it up, kids).

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