Tuesday, October 21, 2014

WWReadathon, Day 5

I ran around a bit today, didn't get all that much reading done, but here goes:

I finished Mysteries!  Yes indeed.  That is one weird novel.

The obligatory couple of chapters of Morte D'Arthur--I'd better tackle that more seriously tomorrow.

And I started Supernatural Enhancements, which I put on hold at the library because I saw the fantastic cover.  I am hoping the story will live up to the cover, but I'm not sure anything could.  I got about 70 pages in, but it's probably over 400.  It sticks to tradition--it's a found "collection of documents" in proper Gothic style.

The Time of the Ghost and Ocean at the End of the Lane

The Time of the Ghost, by Diana Wynne Jones, and The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman

These two were both re-reads, but I specifically wanted to read them together and compare.  I had only read Ocean once, so it was really nice to go back and notice a lot of details that had become fuzzy or that I maybe hadn't noticed the first time around.  I know Time of the Ghost very well.  I have talked about both of them here before--here is my review of Ocean, and here is Time of the Ghost--so I don't want to re-state those thoughts.

When I first read Ocean, I thought it was probably Gaiman's sort-of tribute to DWJ, whom he famously thought a lot of.  Jenny thought so too, and then she actually met Gaiman and he SAID SO and that he thought it was most like Time of the Ghost.  I would like to know much more about his thoughts on that!  Thus this pairing of reading and this post.

I'm not a dedicated Gaiman fan--I always read his books, but I don't follow him online or anything, although I am always so impressed by his speeches on libraries and books and freedom that I really ought to because he says a lot that I think too, only he says it much better--(deep breath, that sentence kind of got away from me there) so maybe he has said something about his thoughts on this and I just don't know it.  (If you know of something, send me a link!)  Honestly if I met him IRL I would probably want to talk about DWJ and her amazingness, and ask him about that.  So.

Elements in Ocean that I see echoing Time of the Ghost include--well, most obviously, an old (ancient) female monster something from another...plane? that wants to suck the life out of people and anything else she can get.  This was a thing with DWJ, hungry mothers and variations thereupon, and I don't remember Gaiman doing it much before. He softens the idea with the Hempstocks, who are at least as ancient, but benevolent.  Also, a preoccupation with the local landscape and the particular homes of people, very detailed.  Anybody notice anything else?  Some images, I think--waving fabric, perhaps, and worms.

It's a good experience, reading them together, so I do recommend it as an interesting exercise.

One last thing--Gaiman opens Ocean with a quotation from a New Yorker article that was a conversation between Maurice Sendak and Art Spiegelman, published in 1993.  I remember that article!  A friend of mine was given it by his sister and I remember the dialog and the drawings on the page vividly. Here is a good copy of it.

The Victorian Chaise-Longue

The Victorian Chaise-Longue, by Marghanita Laski

This short novel sounded so interesting when someone else read it, and I finally ILLed it so I could read it too.  It is short; about 100 pages long or so and I suppose really a novella.

It's 1952, and Melanie is a pretty, rather fluffy young wife and mother under treatment for tuberculosis.  She spent nearly all of her pregnancy confined to bed, and now she is finally allowed downstairs, to lie on the large Victorian chaise-longue that was her last purchase before her diagnosis.  She happily falls asleep...and wakes up in 1864, in the body of another person.

It's an unusual and frightening story.  It reads like a domestic novel, not a time-travel fantasy or science fiction, but it's really scary as well.  It's very good.  I'm glad Persephone reprinted it so that I could get to hear of it.

Monday, October 20, 2014

WWReadathon, Day 4

Today I decided to take a little break from King Arthur, and focus on War and Peace and a fun book.

I read about 60 pages of War and Peace, and finished Book 2 of Volume III. 

A little bit of Mysteries and also a little of Morte D'Arthur, just not much.

But what I mostly did was start Little Brother...and read it all day, and finish before dinner.  It's a YA novel that mixes a bit of dystopia and a lot of hacker into a near-future possible scenario.  Great stuff, probably everyone should read it for the education it gives in online security issues (some of it is information disguised as fiction), plus Doctorow is clearly a Pinkwater fan like me and I would like to ask him about that.  More when I get to the blog post about it.

Really, I will write an actual post about a book soon.  I've got a pile here again...

Sunday, October 19, 2014

WWReadathon, Day 3

Whew!  I gave my talk today, and I survived, and I feel much better now.  I got to do quite a bit of reading in the afternoon, too.

I finished Book VII of Le Morte D'Arthur, which was the Tale of Sir Gareth, aka Beaumains.

Just one chapter of Mysteries, but quite a long one.

And over 60 pages of War and Peace (they are very large pages!), so I feel quite accomplished about that.  It's all preparations for Napoleon arriving near Moscow.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

WWReadathon, Day 2

Today was my super-busy day.  I meant to mostly write a talk I have to give tomorrow, but I also wound up going to the mall twice if you can believe it, and other things.  So not a lot of reading today.  But I did manage:

The Spell of the Sorcerer's Skull, by John Bellairs -- an old favorite that I got in the mood to read.

18 chapters of Le Morte D'Arthur-- Book VII is the Tale of Sir Gareth, and it's longer.  I read half.

Tomorrow I'll get some book reviews done!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Wonderfully Wicked Readathon, Day 1

Are you joining in the Wonderfully Wicked Readathon, hosted by My Shelf Confessions, or any other?  I think there's more than one right now.  Here is my end-of-the-day news:

I started reading Diana Wynne Jones' Time of the Ghost yesterday evening and finished it today.  What great characters inhabit that story--a set of sisters, who know each other inside and out, care for each other and fight all the time, and are very peculiar owing to the really terrible neglect of their parents.

A couple of chapters of Knut Hamsun's Mysteries--one heck of a weird book.

And Book VI of Le Morte D'Arthur: The Tale of Sir Launcelot of the Lake.

I currently have a truly ridiculous number of books checked out of the library, and little business reading any of them when I have a huge chunk of Le Morte D'Arthur and War and Peace to read!  Just 500 pages to go in that last one, woohoo!

Some of my ridiculous pile at the moment

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Uncle Silas

Not the cover, but could be!
Uncle Silas, by Sheridan Le Fanu

Uncle Silas was suggested to me for an October read, and it was a lot of fun.  It is a wonderful example of the English Gothic novel (OK, Le Fanu was Irish, but it's the genre): big old crumbling mansion, strange uncle, heiress all alone...no Catholics this time, this being solid England, but there are Swedenborgians!

Maud lives with her father and a few servants on their estate; their lives are incredibly sheltered and lonely.  Maud's father is old, self-absorbed, and distant, mostly interested in the beliefs of Swedenborg.  Maud hears a tiny bit about her Uncle Silas, a former rake who, rumor claims, murdered a creditor years ago.  Although Maud's father believes in his brother's innocence, few others do and Silas lives in utter seclusion, reportedly a fervently converted Christian repenting of his former ways.  There is also a scary, scheming, screeching old French governess who terrifies Maud.

The father dies and Maud is sent to live for the next few years with Uncle Silas, who will inherit her vast fortune if she dies before she reaches adulthood.  Here, she is even more isolated, though she does have her cousin Milly, but her circumstances get ever creepier and more unsettling...

This is a really good mid-Victorian Gothic thriller with bonus locked-room mystery.  Maud is pretty irritating at first; she is so completely sheltered that she is not much use to anyone or herself, but she learns to find some backbone.  The governess is really over the top, and Uncle Silas is creepy.

I'm looking forward to the Wonderfully Wicked Readathon, starting tomorrow and ending on the 27th.  I probably won't be able to post much at the beginning--I expect to spend the next couple of days in a frenzy of activity--but I'll get there!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Le Morte D'Arthur, Part I

Here's the first check-in post--how are you all doing with the first chunk of Le Morte D'Arthur?  I found it to be pretty fun most of the time.  Malory is editing some very long French adventures down into what he must have felt to be more digestible chunks, and for medieval adventures they're not so long.  Parzival, for example, was much wordier.

There sure are some weird things in here though, aren't there?  Here are some incidents that caught my eye.

Book I, chapter 27:  Arthur learns from a prophecy that a child born on May Day will be his doom.  Like Herod, he stages a slaughter of the innocents by requiring all the children born on May Day to be sent to him, whereupon he puts them all in a ship and sends them off to die. !!!  I was really stunned by this story and would like to know just where Malory got it (besides the Bible, obviously, but I don't think Malory was the inventor here).  Inevitably, Mordred is the one baby who survives the shipwreck.  WHAT a bizarre story to put into an Arthurian tale.

Oddly, the story says that "some were four weeks old, and some less."  So they are all infants, but surely if they were all born on May Day they would be exactly the same age?

Book IV, the Tales of the Three Damosels:  Sir Gawain's part in this tale is really pretty strange, don't you think?  First he refuses his damosel's advice (rightly, as it turns out) and she just walks off.  He meets Sir Pelleas, who tells his tale of woe about the lady he loves who doesn't love him back* and Gawain promises on his honor to get her to love Pelleas.  Then he goes off and makes a stab at the job, but ends up seducing her himself!  In the ensuing mess, the lady is properly punished for not loving Pelleas, Pelleas gets a better lady, and no one seems to mind all that much about Gawaine's behavior.

*We could have a whole long post about consent issues in this book!  Suffice to say that Malory seems to feel that if a knight likes a single lady and he is a knight of prowess, the lady has no good reason not to give him her love and should be punished for her orneriness and being so rotten.  I'm sure it was a very common attitude.  Ick.

Book V: the Tale of Arthur's War With Rome: You have to kind of love this.  The Roman Empire demands tribute, and Arthur's reaction is not only that he will never pay tribute, but: "I have understood that Belinus and Brenius, kings of Britain, have had the empire in their hands many days, and also Constantine the son of Heleine, which is an open evidence that we owe no tribute to Rome, but of right we that be descended of them have right to claim the title of the empire."  And off they all go to conquer the entire Roman Empire.  Arthur is crowned Emperor and then trots back home to Britain, never to think of Europe again.

One notable thing about Malory's Arthur is that he isn't always what we would consider to be a paragon of knightly virtue.  He's only mostly a paragon.  I can't believe that anyone back then would have thought that slaughter of the innocents episode to be OK for a king.  And another thing Malory has Arthur doing is committing more outright adultery than usual.  Before he marries Guenevere, he sleeps with at least a couple other women, both of whom are married, and produces children both times.  Most writers, in my experience, try to avoid things like that, or smooth over them--they'll have Morgause hide her married status, or something.

Change of schedule:  I was going to have us read Books 6-10 in the next two weeks, but I've just realized that Book 10 is huge, and Books 11-15 are quite short.  My two-volume set has no table of contents, and I thought that Book 10 ended with volume I, which it does not.   So I am hereby officially changing the schedule: we will read Books 6-9 in the second half of October and 10-15 in the first half of November.  Or, feel free to break 10 up into two chunks to make it easier; whatever works for you is fine.  See you on Halloween for the discussion!

Well, I'm late with this post already and I'd better stop typing.  It turns out to be a truly crazy week for me and I didn't get to this as soon as I wanted to, but that's the beauty of book blogging--there are few rules and it's all voluntary, and so it doesn't matter all that much that I am 12 hours late.  Now tell me about your progress!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Invasion of the Body Snatchers, 1956

As long as I'm doing the RIP event, I may as well tell you about the movie we just watched for the Peril On The Screen portion of the challenge.  Invasion of the Body Snatchers is, of course, one of the big classic alien invasion films!  I don't think I'd ever actually seen it before, even though I know all about pod people.  My daughter and I love Daniel Pinkwater, and he riffs on pod people in Lizard Music, so we both wanted to see it.

In the small town of Santa Mira, a doctor comes back from a conference to find that a) his old girlfriend is back in town and available, and b) several people seem to be hallucinating that their closest relatives are no longer themselves.  Soon, he and his true love are on the run from terrifying plant-based aliens who first grow into copies of people, and then take over their minds while they sleep.  Can they make it to the outside and warn the world before it's too late??

It's a pretty great movie, despite a little lack of coherence on the takeover process.  You'll see some familiar faces from the 50s.  Like so many SF stories of that time, it can be seen as a fantasy about the dangers of communism (or maybe brain-washing, or heck, conformity); the pod people lose all humanity, become completely alike, and work together in a hive-mind-esque way.  It was re-made in 1978, so I'd quite like to see that; I bet it's entertainingly bad.

Great classic movie.