Saturday, August 28, 2010

Week 35: A Rulebook for Arguments and Five-Minute Marriage



A Rulebook for Arguments, by Anthony Weston

This little book is recommended for 9th-graders in The Well-Trained Mind. It's a useful collection of 45 specific rules for writing or arguing correctly. It's clear and interesting, with good examples of common mistakes or good strategies. I wish I'd read it when I was in high school!




Five-Minute Marriage, by Joan Aiken

Joan Aiken is on my Favorite Authors list, and she was one of the few writers who could produce a really good Regency novel (Georgette Heyer is the other one that I know of). This one features Delphie Carteret, an impoverished and independent young woman with a slightly dotty mother to support who is forced to apply to her mother's estranged family for help. She is promptly dropped into an adventure featuring villainous conspiracies, imposters, a counterfeit marraige that may not be so counterfeit, and a whole pack of aggravating relations.
Aiken wrote several Regency novels, including some Jane Austen spinoffs that are actually worth reading. She is most famous for her "Wolves Chronicles" series for children, which started with The Wolves of Willoughby Chase and continues for quite a few wonderful volumes. And I can't miss mentioning the Mortimer books for children, featuring the young Arabel and her hideous, obnoxious raven Mortimer. We love those and if you have never read any Joan Aiken, I'm telling you that you should!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Week 34: Heat Wave and Children of the Company

Heat Wave, by Richard Castle

Who could resist reading this piece of fluff? My husband and I are fans of Castle, so of course I had to read this tie-in. (If you aren't familiar with it, Castle is a show featuring a mystery novelist who tags along with a New York City detective, and they solve murder cases. The writer then starts a new book series inspired by the detective, and this is supposed to be the book.) It's not wonderfully written, but what did you expect?


Heat Wave is exactly like an episode of the show; all the characters are there, they just have new names. Castle is turned into Jamieson Rook (ha!), a magazine writer. And Kate Beckett's character, the detective Nikki Heat, is written the way Castle would like her to be in his imagination. The device was both amusing and irritating, since I kept thinking that a real mystery writer would never just copy over every single character like that. The story does actually take place during a New York heat wave (which sounds much worse than summer here--another reason to love my town).










Children of the Company, by Kage Baker


Another installment in my new favorite SF series. I'm still loving it, and drawing it out slowly so I can enjoy it longer.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Classics Interlude: Aristophanes!


I've never read any of Aristophanes' plays, not even one, not even when I was taking college courses in Classics. So I decided to fix that and read The Clouds, Aristophanes' satire of Socrates--and the rhetorical schools that Socrates did not actually belong to. This play shows Socrates as a loud atheist, denouncing Zeus and all other gods, and it was apparently influential in getting Socrates put on trial for atheism and corrupting the youth, which of course led to his execution.
The story involves a father whose son's extravagant spending is ruining his fortunes. He decides to send his son to the Thinkery (the Phrontisterion) so he can learn to talk his way out of the debt collectors' clutches. The son refuses, so Dad goes himself and meets Socrates and the other philosophers. He is too stupid, however, to learn and gets thrown out; his son then goes in. But the son learns his craft too well...


I also read Lysistrata, one of Aristophanes' most famous plays. Lysistrata is an intelligent woman who decides to rally all the Pelopennesian women to stop the idiotic war their husbands are embroiled in. They simply refuse to sleep with their husbands, and within a few days everyone (both women and men, but the women hold out) is so unhappy that they decide to end the war.


Week 33: The Little White Horse and The Core

The Little White Horse, by Elizabeth Goudge


We are on an Elizabeth Goudge kick around here! The Little White Horse is one of Goudge's children's books, and evidently it was one of her favorites. It is a lovely story, and what really stands out is the quality of the writing. It is just beautifully written, and makes most modern children's books look cardboardy and mass-produced by comparison.

The story itself is not unusual--a young orphan arrives at her ancestral home and finds that she has a mystery to unravel and a quest to solve. The difference is in the writing; it is done so well. I don't understand why this book isn't at the top of lists of children's classics. The sad thing about this particular edition is that it does not include the illustrations or cover art, which were done by C. Walter Hodges (an eminent writer and illustrator of children's books, especially historical fiction)--and the book is actually dedicated to him!

I will be searching out more of Goudge's children's books--at the moment I'm coveting Linnets and Valerians and I saw Three Ships. I see a purchase from abebooks in my future...


In the meantime, give this book to your daughter.






The Core: teaching your child the foundations of classical education, by Leigh Bortins


Bortins is the author of Classical Conversations, a homeschooling curriculum that I am not very familiar with. The Core focuses on classical homeschooling, especially the grammar stage (that is, the foundational knowledge for any discipline, not just English grammar). There is a lot of emphasis on memorization of basic facts and otherwise relaxing. It's a pretty good book worth reading, but for myself I really prefer the Well-Trained Mind approach.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Week 32: The Vicar of Wakefield


The Vicar of Wakefield, by Oliver Goldsmith


I hadn't read this book since college, and I found a neat edition illustrated by Arthur Rackham for cheap! This antique book has the same cover illustration, but mine is a paperback.


This is a comedy of sorts, narrated by the good Vicar Primrose himself. He and his family are very nice people, and very silly, though they do not know it. They do absurd things, and the vicar preaches at everyone all the time--in a very well-meaning way--and their fortunes get lower and lower until you think it isn't a comedy at all. But it is, so hold out for the happy ending.


The Vicar of Wakefield 's popularity lasted for generations. It's one of the early novels of the 18th century, and it's not at all difficult to read, so if you're looking to get into those first classic novels but find them intimidating, this is an excellent place to start.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Medieval Madness!


I finally finished both the medieval literature books I've been working on.

The first is the Nibelungenlied, a long poem written at the very end of the 12th century. It's based on German and Scandinavian legend, and served as a source for Wagner's Ring cycle. The story is in two parts: the first half tells the story of Sifrid (Siegfried in Wagner), a great hero and dragon-slayer who owns a magic treasure. He helps his friend to win the maiden Brunnhilde, so that he can marry Kriemhilde. But after the two queens have an argument, Sifrid is betrayed and murdered. The second half of the story tells of Kriemhilde's grief and quest for vengeance, which destroys pretty well everyone. I think Hamlet had more survivors.






I also read The Book of Margery Kempe, a sort of autobiography by a 14th-century woman who had religious visions. After raising a large family, she dedicated herself to worship and went on some pilgrimages. She constantly wept and sobbed--for hours at a time--with religious fervor, and after a trip to Jerusalem, she started shrieking as well. This naturally tended to annoy the people around her, and much of her account revolves around her difficulties getting along with others. The book is her dictation to a priest, and it's fairly rambling; there isn't much in the way of chronology or order.


Some of the book is quite interesting, but it's also very repetitive. I'm glad I finally got around to reading it, but I'm happy to be done.
These two books put me into the Lord category at the Tournament of Reading. If I want to get any higher I'll have to read another historical fiction book.