Friday, December 30, 2016


Dawn, by Octavia Butler

When I looked through the library SF collection for older books to read in January, I came across this too, and I remembered that somebody in the book blogger universe had reviewed it very positively a little while ago, so I grabbed it too.   Dawn is the first book in the "Xenogenesis" series, and I'm really interested to see how it goes; this was a fascinating read.

Lilith is one of the few survivors of an all-Earth war that rendered the planet uninhabitable.  She wakes up alone, in the cell of a spaceship.  Aliens have taken her and some few hundred other survivors and kept them in hibernation for long years, until Earth is again ready for habitation.  Their species survives by trading DNA with other species every so often, and they plan to help humans re-establish life on earth -- but human children will no longer be quite human.  Lilith is expected to learn survival skills and become the leader of a group, but she's also expected to persuade everyone to go along with this plan.  She has no intention of doing so, but there don't seem to be any choices she can live with.

This is a great setup and a really good story that asks some really interesting questions.  I enjoyed it a lot, and I'll be reading more.

2016 Wrapup

Well, the world might not be going too well just now but my reading year was pretty good, so let's focus on that for a bit.

I read about 145 books, not counting fluffy mysteries and such.  I don't keep track of fiction vs. non-fiction or male vs. female authors or anything, so I haven't got any more statistics.  Literary highlights of the year included real-life events like a trip to the UK and meeting a favorite author, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni.

I have a terrible time picking favorites, but a few great reads this year were:

Something Wicked This Way Comes
The Invisible Library
Gentian Hill
Our Town
The Big Green Tent
Before We Visit the Goddess
The Shepherd's Crown

Outwitting History
The Importance of Being Little
How to Manage Your Home Without Losing Your Mind
The History of the Franks 
The World Between Two Covers
The Lost Art of Dress
The Broken Road
Home Fires
Up From Slavery

With challenges, I am pretty happy with how I did:

Back to the Classics 2016: I aimed for, and read, all 12.

Mount TBR: I hit my goal of 24 books.

2016 Hard Core Re-Reading Challenge: I set a low goal of 10, and ended up reading 24.

Reading England Challenge: This was the second year of this challenge, and while I did read some books set in England, I pretty much completely failed to pay any attention to this challenge.  Sorry, o.  But I did actually VISIT so that was entirely awesome.

I tried to pay a lot of attention to my Classics Club list, with the happy result that I have just 8.5 books left to go before my March deadline.  I've been prepping a new list, but at the moment it is severely out of control and I think well over 150 books.  I pretty much just threw everything I'd ever like to read on it, so it's going to need some pruning.

I still have a bunch of actual books to post about and I suppose there's no hope of finishing clean and starting the new year with a blank slate, but who cares?  So I'm going to stop now and think about what book to tell you about next.  Here's hoping that 2017 will bring us all some good news, many happy days, and plenty of great books.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Scorpion Rules

The Scorpion Rules, by Erin Bow

I really liked Erin Bow's first book, Plain Kate, so when I figured out that this book everyone was talking about was by Erin Bow, I finally went and got it.  It lived up to the hype, too!

Hundreds of years in the future, the world is kept mostly at peace by a hostage system: if you plan to rule a country, you must give up your child.  If you go to war (or are attacked), the child dies.  Talis, the super-computer that took over ruling the world when it decided that people were no good at it, is very strict about this.

Greta is the crown princess of the Pan-Polar Confederation (mostly Canada) and she has lived most of her life at the Precepture school with the other hostage children.  She is prepared to die if necessary, but hopes that with her 18th birthday only months away, she'll live to leave the school and become an adult.  When a new hostage, Elian, arrives, he is in no way accustomed to living according to the strict Precepture rules and the whole class is frequently punished for his rebellion.  Elian's grandmother runs a neighboring country and it looks very much as though neither Greta or Elian will live to see eighteen.

This is a really suspenseful story that keeps moving and has lots of great stuff in it to think about.  The politics are complex, the action rarely stops, and Bow does not do the expected with teen romance.  Even if you don't read a lot of YA, this is one worth getting, and I'm looking forward to the sequel, The Swan Riders.

I do have one beef with the world-building, though.  This is hundreds of years in the future, when the world's population is less than a billion (lots and lots of wars) and everyone lives, by necessity and force, in a frugal, eco-sensitive kind of way.  Food is grown locally, much of industry is given over to very high-tech methods of resource extraction from ruined areas, and so on.  Everyone is heavily focused on water; they use much less than we do per person, but it's scarce in most countries.  OK, so, if they're so much more technologically advanced than we are, why haven't they built way more water purification plants and desalinization plants?  We waste a lot of water and mostly don't bother to invest in cleaning it, but if we acted more responsibly, we could do a lot better.  If these future folks are so much better at it and need so much less, why haven't they figured out water?  It seems like the water problem is there to give them a reason to fight, not because it's a natural result of the conditions they live in.

Reading ALL Around the World: A Long-Term Club

*Deep breath*  OK, are you ready for a completely insane idea?  This is not a challenge; this is a long project.  Here we go....

There are nearly 200 countries on our planet; let's see if we can read books from all of them!  Or, since that's a large commitment, pick 50, 100, or whatever, as long as you have a minimum of 50.

I've been wishing for a while for some sort of project that involves reading something from every country, but this is a tricky prospect, since it is not always easy to find books from some countries.  Clearly this isn't something that will fit into a year-long challenge -- not for most of us!  So Esther of Chapter Adventures and I got together and thought a more long-term, open-ended project would be a good plan.  Esther designed this brilliant image!

The basic rules: 
    • Pick 50+ countries or go for the gold with all of them! The number depends on you.
    • Sign up at the project page here.
    • Read either fiction by a writer living in/from the country, OR a non-fiction book about it, such as memoir, history, culture, language.
    • There are no time constraints. You can decide on a timeline, but don't worry if you don't make it. If you're going for the full list, I'd recommend five years at least to complete it.
    • Keep track of your reading. Maybe fill in a list or build a Google map of all your books and countries. Maintain it at your blog and post about the books you read.
    • When you reach your goal, celebrate!
      The longer version of the rules, together with the signup widget, is here at the Reading All Around the World page.

      Wednesday, December 28, 2016

      Back to the Classics Wrapup

      Karen at Books and Chocolate hosts the Back to the Classics challenge!  A wrap-up post is required, so here we go.

      I completed all twelve categories!  So I get three entries into the prize drawing, woohoo.  Here is my list:

      1.  A 19th Century Classic-- Great Speeches of Frederick Douglass
      2.  A 20th Century Classic -- Man's Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl  
      3.  A Classic by a Woman Author. Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen
      4.  A Classic in TranslationMy Childhood, by Maxim Gorky
      5.  A classic by a non-white author. Up From Slavery, by Booker T. Washington
      6.  An adventure classic 
      Under the Yoke, by Ivan Vazov
      7.  A fantasy, science fiction, or dystopian classic.
      Voyage to Arcturus, by David Lindsay
      8.  A classic detective novel.
      Brat Farrar, by Josephine Tey
      9.  A classic which includes the name of a place in the title. 
      Picnic at Hanging Rock, by Joan Lindsay
      10. A classic which has been banned or censored.
      Metamorphoses, by Ovid
      11. Re-read a classic you read in school (high school or college). 
      Last Tales, by Isak Dinesen
      12. A volume of classic short stories.  The Collected Stories of Nikolai Gogol

      There were some great books in this list, some of which I probably wouldn't have read without this challenge.  Under the Yoke was certainly the most unusual, least known of these books, and I had fun with it.  Voyage to Arcturus was pretty dang weird, and is probably one of the strangest books I read this year.  Picnic at Hanging Rock was good and I enjoyed it, but I didn't like the solution to the disappearance when I looked it up.  Of course, I loved Northanger Abbey, Up From Slavery, and Man's Search for Meaning -- probably everyone should read those books!

      It was a good year for this challenge, for me, and I'm looking forward to the 2017 edition!

      Mount TBR Final Checkpoint

      Time for a flurry of challenge wrap-up posts!  Bev at My Reader's Block hosts a TBR challenge every year, and says:

      Wow. We're almost done with 2016 and it's time to get ready for the Final Mountaineering Checkpoint. Where does the time go? I'm ready to hear how all our mountain-climbing team members have done out there on Pike's Peak, Mt. Ararat, Mt. Everest....whichever peak you've chosen. Checkpoint participation is absolutely voluntary and is not considered necessary for challenge completion.

      For those who would like to participate in this checkpoint post, I'd like you to at least complete the first of these two things. And if you feel particularly inspired (or generous about humoring me during the holiday season), then please do both.

      1. Tell us how many miles you made it up your mountain (# of books read). If you've planted your flag on the peak, then tell us, take a selfie, and celebrate (and wave!). Even if you were especially athletic and have been sitting atop your mountain for months, please check back in and remind us how quickly you sprinted up that trail. And feel free to tell us about any particularly exciting book adventures you've had along the way.

      I signed up for Pike's Peak (12 titles) and then upgraded to Mont Blanc -- 24 books.  And I have just reached my goal!  Woohoo!

      2. The Words to the Wise According to Mount TBR: Using the titles of the books you read this year, see how many of the familiar proverbs and sayings below you can complete with a book read on your journey up the Mountain. Feel free to add/subtract a word or two to help them make sense.

      A stitch in time...[is] My Apprenticeship, by Maxim Gorky
      Don't count your chickens...[when] Reynard the Fox is in town.
      A penny saved is....In Search of Ireland, by H. V. Morton.
      All good things must come...Time and Again, by Clifford D. Simak.
      When in Rome, [walk]..The Old Ways, by Robert MacFarlane.
      All that glitters is not...The Umbrella Man, by Roald Dahl.
      A picture is worth [it to]...The September Society, by Charles Finch
      When the going gets tough, the tough get...Up From Slavery, by Booker T. Washington.
      Two wrongs don't make [the]..History of the Franks, by Gregory of Tours (it's a lot more wrongs than that).
      The pen is mightier than....The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin.
      The squeaky wheel gets...The Broken Road, by Patrick Leigh Fermor.
      Hope for the best, but prepare for...Revolutionary Days, by Julia Cantacuzene.
      Birds of a feather flock [on]...Gentian Hill, by Elizabeth Goudge.

      Titles read:
      1. Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein
      2. Cromartie v. the God Shiva... by Rumer Godden
      3. The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin
      4. Time and Again, by Clifford D. Simak
      5. The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, by Rainer Maria Rilke 
      6. The Broken Road, by Patrick Leigh Fermor
      7. The Umbrella Man, by Roald Dahl
      8. Reynard the Fox, trans. by James Simpson
      9. Green Dolphin Street, by Elizabeth Goudge
      10. Up From Slavery, by Booker T. Washington
      11.  The September Society, by Charles Finch
      12. The Fleet Street Murders, by Charles Finch
      13.  The Tale of Genji, by Murasaki Shikibu
      14. The Old Ways, by Robert MacFarlane 
      15. The Death of Vishnu, by Manil Suri
      16. Sister Pelagia and the White Bulldog, by Boris Akunin 
      17. Revolutionary Days, by Julia Cantacuzene 
      18. My Apprenticeship, by Maxim Gorky
      19.  Gentian Hill, by Elizabeth Goudge
      20. History of the Franks, by Gregory of Tours
      21. In Search of Ireland, by H. V. Morton 
      22. Great Speeches by Frederick Douglass
      23.  Catholic and Mormon, by Webb and Gaskill
      24. The Collected Tales of Nikolai Gogol

      Collected Tales of Nikolai Gogol

      Collected Tales of Nikolai Gogol, translated by Pevear and Volokhonsky

      Gogol wrote a whole lot of short stories, and he kind of did it in two phases of his career.  He started off in Ukraine, so the first half of the stories are called "Ukrainian Tales."  The second half are the "Petersburg Tales," written in the city.

      Ukrainian tales are mostly pastoral; they take place in villages and on farms, unless someone treks off to Kiev.  They're a bit folky in flavor, and frequently have some supernatural element.  I really enjoyed most of these stories, especially "The Night Before Christmas," where a proud village girl tells her swain that she won't marry him unless he brings her a pair of boots just like the tsaritsa wears -- and so off he goes to do it.  And there was a melancholy, highly realistic story about two neighbors who were the best of friends, until a chance word causes offense, and every time they get close to reconciling, they choose to insult each other again.  It ends up consuming their lives instead of enriching them.

      The Petersburg tales are about more sophisticated people -- shopkeepers or officials or young ladies -- but they're human just the same and the trademark Gogol comedy is more in evidence here.  "The Diary of a Madman" is mostly sad, as a minor official slowly loses his grip on reality.  He develops a crush on his boss' pretty daughter, and believes that he can hear her lapdog conversing with other dogs  "The Nose" is Gogol's most famous story, as an official's nose takes a vacation from his face and is seen around town.   "The Portrait" is a disturbing supernatural story that I thought was very good, and "The Overcoat" is another famous tale, the story of a poor clerk who finally saves up enough to have a new overcoat made, with larger consequences than expected.

      It took me a good long time to read this collection, but it was very well worth it.  The stories aren't really very difficult to read, but they do take concentration (for a modern American at least), just because they're set in 1840s Russia.  I tried to read each story in one sitting, or at least in one day, and I enjoyed them pretty well.

      Tuesday, December 27, 2016

      Catholic and Mormon

      Catholic and Mormon: A Theological Conversation, by Stephen H. Webb and Alonzo L. Gaskill

      I hope everybody had a nice break and holiday and so on!  We sure did.  It was relaxing and lovely, and my sister got a job so everybody's employed (yay!) and I took my kids ice skating today.  I've been feeling very lazy about the blogging thing, but I have a lot to do before the end of the year, so...

      This is a friendly theological discussion of similarities and differences between the Roman Catholic Church and the LDS Church, written by two theologian types whose work I am somewhat familiar with, and published by Oxford UP.  Stephen Webb was a professor at Wabash College, and then became editor of First Things magazine; as he narrates, he started life as a Protestant but eventually decided that the Reformation had accomplished its goals and then became Catholic.  Alonzo Gaskill is an LDS scholar at BYU, and has done a lot of historical work.  He was raised Greek Orthodox and became LDS as a young adult.  Together they have a wide range of experience!

      Each chapter is a discussion of a particular topic: grace, revelation, authority, Mary, Jesus Christ, and so on, and is structured as a four-part discussion.  One starts by giving his thoughts on the subject, the other responds, and then they each take another turn.  They are very friendly and are quick to point out virtues in each other's faith traditions, as well as in any others that come up in discussion.  The focus is on what we can all learn from one another.

      I do get the impression that Webb was unusually enthusiastic about LDS ideas, compared to most Catholic theologians.  He clearly explains differences in theology and has lots of great stuff to say.  He'll also come out with statements like "I see no reason why Catholics cannot believe that Joseph [Smith] was inspired by the light of Christ to seek an institutional authority that was basically a tribute to the Roman Catholic Church." I suspect that would be a surprising opinion to many Catholics!

      I enjoyed this book a lot, especially for its emphasis on building bridges and learning from each other's virtues and good practices.   I did feel like it tended to focus more on the LDS side than the Catholic side and would have liked more Catholic material.  It's a welcome addition to books of constructive religious dialogue, and I would like to see more.

      Tuesday, December 20, 2016

      A Very Merry Tag

      I've been running around doing Christmasy stuff (and having a cold, fooey), so I might as well write a post too!  Lois at You, Me, and a Cup of Tea found this fun tag, and I thought I'd play along.

      Does it snow where you live around Christmas?

      Ha ha, nope.  We got a light dusting 15 years ago.  I live in the central valley of California and we don't get snow, but on the other hand I live quite near the foothills of the mountains, and they do.  So it's not very far to drive.

      Do you get a real tree or a fake tree?

      We used to always get real trees from Grandpa's Christmas Tree Farm (that is, my parents' back acre, which has a planting of pine trees).  They were always huge and sprawly things and it was pretty awesome, but the back acre has run out of trees that look halfway acceptable in a living room -- it's more like Hansel and Gretel's forest now -- and a few years ago the clever siphon arrangement we had slipped and we had a flood, so now we have gone fake.  This is our third year as a fake Christmas tree family.

      What is your favorite Christmas movie?

      Confession: I am super-bad at liking Christmas movies.  When I was a kid, we barely watched them and so I didn't develop any fondness for the Rudolph movie or anything.  Some of them I didn't see until I was an adult, and I still haven't seen Elf.  I do love Hogfather, and the Muppet Christmas Carol, and I'm a Nutcracker fiend but really picky about it.

      Where in the world would you like to spend Christmas the most? 

      I can think of a lot of great places to spend Christmas!  If I was in the UK, I could go to Stonehenge on Midwinter Day and stay in a country house (and shiver in the cold and damp).   If I was in Germany, I could go to a Christkindlmarkt!  If I was in Denmark, I could have stars in the windows and lots of snow, maybe, and familiar carols and watch Nissebanden i Grønland.  Wait!  Nissebanden i Grønland is my favorite Christmas movie!  But it isn't a movie at all, it's a 24-episode series--a TV Advent calendar, about the elves who travel to Greenland to help Santa (Santa lives in Greenland, you know), but he's missing!  So they have to produce Christmas themselves.  (To see the intro-song part of the video, skip to 00:42.)

      Of course I'd have to take my family along. 

      Which fictional/literary character would you most like to spend Christmas with?

      Um.  Let's see, it should be somebody who really knows how to have fun, and who likes the same music I do.  Or we could just go with Kermit the Frog.  Oo, or maybe the Doctor, he's a lot of fun at a party!

      What is your favorite Christmas song? 

      Oh, I have so many favorites!  I much prefer older carols and hymns.  A few favorites are The Wexford Carol, In the Bleak Mid-Winter,  and The Holly and the Ivy.

      What is your favorite Christmas Book/Story  (besides, ya know, THE story)? 

      My favorite is The Children of Green Knowe, by L. M. Boston.  It's particularly special this year since I got to visit! I can imagine it much better now.

      Which do you prefer: multicolored lights or white lights?

      Multicolored lights all the way!

      What time period/decade would you most like to spend Christmas in? 

      Assuming I'm protected from plague and other ills, I would like to take a page from Spenser's book and see a masque at the Tudor court's Christmas feast.  Don't forget the woodwoses!

      Which period drama has the best Christmas scene/episode? 

      Goodness, I don't really watch enough TV to know! 

      Sunday, December 18, 2016

      All Seated on the Ground

      All Seated on the Ground, by Connie Willis

      I love Connie Willis.  She can be too long, but even then I don't mind too much.  And one thing about Connie Willis is that she frequently indulges in screwball SF comedy, usually with a romance attached.  She is the only author I know of that does this, and All Seated on the Ground is a good example of it.  It's also a Christmas novella!

      The aliens have landed!  Finally, they really have; aliens landed in Colorado, but all they do is stand there and glower disapprovingly at everyone and everything.  They don't speak, they don't respond, nothing.  Meg is on the welcome committee, which has been trying to communicate with the aliens for two months now, and all they've managed to do is to get the aliens to follow them on field trips to try to introduce them to life on Earth.  It's almost Christmas when they take the aliens to the mall to meet Santa, and finally, something happens, but what does it mean and why did they do it?  Meg and an overworked, bystanding choir director wind up working together to try to figure it out.

      It's very funny, and just a hoot to read.  Entirely worth the three bucks to download it on your Kindle app.  Sit down under the Christmas tree this week and spend an evening decoding alien behavior with Meg.

      Thursday, December 15, 2016

      Outwitting History

      Outwitting History: The Amazing Adventures of a Man Who Rescued a Million Yiddish Books, by

      Aaron Lansky

      This is such a fabulous book and I had so much fun reading it!  It's been on my pile for a while now, and I'm only sorry I didn't get to it sooner.  OK, so...

      In 1980, the study of Yiddish and Yiddish literature was pretty well moribund.  Judaic scholars tended to focus on Hebrew and Jewish history, and considered Yiddish to be kind of an ugly half-language, not really worth preserving.  The Yiddish speakers of the world were elderly, and, having moved to new countries, had not passed on the language to their children.  Aaron Lansky and a couple of other grad students were interested in learning Yiddish, and pretty soon some other young grad student types were joining them, but they couldn't find the books to read. 

      Where were all the Yiddish books?  Libraries didn't have them any more.  Bookstores didn't carry them.  But they were collecting in corners, being thrown out by a younger generation that couldn't read them, piling up in attics.  Lansky and company decided to start collecting Yiddish books to share between students.  Pretty soon they realized that unless somebody started saving these books, they were going to disappear.  The Yiddish Book Center got started at the eleventh hour, just in time to save Yiddish literature from being almost completely lost.

      So this is the story of Lansky and friends and the National Yiddish Book Center.  He writes about how they got started, and the many stories of how they collected the books -- on a shoestring budget -- and how it grew into this amazing thing.  When they started, it was thought that maybe 70,000 Yiddish titles existed in the world.  They've saved 1.5 million -- including pamphlets, sheet music, children's books, and all kinds of wonderful stuff.  Not only that, they were the first to scan and digitize books on a large scale, so that the books could be read by everyone (well, everyone who can read Yiddish), and they've been translating great works of literature so that the rest of us can read some too.

      It's a particularly thrilling read for a librarian, as you can imagine, but it's a great read for anybody who loves books or history.  It will put a lot of Yiddish authors on your TBR list.  Lansky is fun to read, and he'll make you tear up fairly often as well.

      (Here is my favorite phrase in the book, which makes perfect sense if you've ever lived in the Bay Area:  "...a declining commune of left-wing Jewish chicken farmers in nearby Petaluma.")

      The best story is of how Lansky was given a massive scholarly tome printed in Kiev in 1929 -- and discovered that he had the only copy to survive the NKVD's destruction of the entire printing.
      My heart started thumping -- I didn't know what to do first.  I hid the book, locked the door, and turned on the burglar alarm.  That night I could hardly sleep.  Early the next morning I phoned...the book our interns discovered could well be the last copy on earth.

      I really enjoyed this book, I enjoyed visiting the Yiddish Book Center online (click!  go!), and I'll be making an effort to include some Yiddish literature in my reading!

      Wednesday, December 14, 2016

      A Month of Faves, Day 14: Changes!

      Do you know how hard it was to resist the temptation to type "Ch-ch-ch-changes" in that headline?  It was tough.  Anyway, to continue the posts in the Month of Faves:

      Wed. | Dec. 14 – Best Changes We Made This Year #AMonthofFaves2016 – to your Day / Life / Routines / Blog / Habits

      The dishes and accompanying kitchen tasks.  As laid out in How to Manage Your Home Without Losing Your Mind.  I'm not even very good at it yet, but the habit of getting the kitchen completely cleaned up (dishes, counters, floor, table) every night is a big one.  Of course, right now our dishwasher is busted and so it's a little trickier because our dish drainer is kind of small!

      Anyway, do those four things every night.  You'll be happier.

      Tuesday, December 13, 2016

      A Month of Faves 2016, Day 13: Winter Reading List

      Estella's Revenge is hosting A Month of Faves in December!  Today's question:

      Tue. | Dec. 13 – 5 Books on Our Winter Reading List  #AMonthofFaves2016 – which books are your must read this winter?

      Oh, I have so many hopes and dreams and plans for my winter reading!  Perhaps one third of it will actually happen.  Here are some of them:

      I like to re-read two favorite children's books around Christmas time: The Dark is Rising and The Children of Green Knowe.  I don't do it every year or anything, but I do it pretty often.  I'm particularly excited about the Green Knowe book this year, for reasons obvious to regular readers -- I actually got to visit the real Green Knowe about six months ago, and now I get to imagine the whole thing in greater detail!   So I'm saving it for last; right now I'm reading Over Sea, Under Stone before I start The Dark is Rising.  Who knows, maybe I'll decide to read them all?

      The coolest thing that I'm doing right now is re-reading the Roman d'Eneas, a 12th- century French romance based on the Aeneid.  It's kind of the very first chivalric romance, as opposed to the older chansons de geste -- a tale not just of great deeds, but of love as well.  It is pretty great stuff.

      Coolest cover ever
      Deathless by Catherynne Valente is a modern novel about Marya and Koschei the Deathless, one of my all-time favorite figures.   For one thing, Koschei the Deathless is about the best name ever invented in the history of mankind.  Marya is a fairy-tale girl caught up in the Revolution until she becomes Koschei's bride...

      Getting to Green: Saving Nature: A Bipartisan Solution, by Frederic C. Rich  is about the environmental movement and the need to depoliticize it in the US.  Real progress has only come when both parties have worked together, and when environmentalists and Republicans treat each other like enemies, nobody wins.  I'm interested to see what Rich has to say.

      The Loom of Time by Kalidasa is one of the great works of Sanskrit literature and one of the remaining titles on my Classics Club list.  It's a play I'm looking forward to!

      Monday, December 12, 2016

      Russian Literature Reading Challenge 2017

      OK, I totally LIED about that whole 'last challenge' thing.  Because to my joy, a Russian literature challenge has popped up, hosted by Keely at we went outside and saw the stars.  I'd been hoping for a Russian lit challenge, but I didn't think any would happen.    So now I'm signing up for my sixth challenge.  Which is still four less than the biggest year I had!

      Keely says:

      I'll just be reading Classic Russian Literature (mostly the 19th Century) but I welcome anyone that participates to read 20th century or contemporary Russian Literature and Non Fiction. I'll be listing the books I want to read on my 2017 Challenges Page.
      Like with many challenges there will be four levels (going to make it interesting and name them after my favourite Russian writers):

      • Level One (Tolstoy): 1-3 books 
      • Level Two (Chekov): 4-6 books 
      • Level Three (Dostoevsky): 7-11 books
      • Level Four (Turgenev): 12+ books
      You can count short stories, poetry, novels, novellas and plays in your book count. I don't really mind.

      Keely has also provided a handy and massive list of Russian literature, arranged by century.  It's pretty fantabulous, so head on over and check it out.

      I'll sign up for the Chekhov level of 4-6 books and see what happens from there!

      Pedro Páramo

      Pedro Páramo, by Juan Rulfo

      As I've confessed several times here, Latin American literature is one of the things I'm not very good at.  So I purposely put a few titles on my Classics Club list, so that I would jolly well have to read some.   Several of those didn't work out as I hoped, so I've done some switching around as I've learned a bit more, and this is one of my replacement titles.

      Juan Rulfo, besides being mentioned in the Shiki Nagaoka book I wrote about the other day, became a major literary figure in Mexico in the 1950s.  His surrealism, vivid imagery, and inclusion of magic in his novels was a new departure in Latin American literature and was a large part of the movement to magical realism that is so well-known.  So here we go, one of the earlier works of magical realism:

      He is traveling to Comala, his mother's home village.  She is dead, but told him that his father, Pedro Páramo, was there.  The village is empty now -- nearly all the people are gone -- but his mother's friend puts him up for the night.  Except she isn't there either; Comala is now populated exclusively by the dead.  At first, we just catch little vignettes as the Comala ghosts show us their former lives.  Then we're drawn deeper in, even into the graves themselves as people converse between coffins and rehash events.  Eventually we know Pedro Páramo's story, which is also the story of Comala.

      An interesting novel and a fairly short and easy read, for magical realism, so not a bad way to get started in the world of Latin American literature (in case you're trying to learn about it too.)

      A Month of Faves 2016 Day 12: Weirdest Book

      Estella's Revenge hosts a Month of Faves in December, so we can remember some of the good stuff that happened this year!  Today's prompt:

      Mon. | Dec. 12 – The Most Unique, Weird or Most Memorable Book(s) Read This Year – not necessarily your favorite book because it could be memorable for how bad or how much you liked or disliked the characters.

      I read some fairly strange books this year.  Just the other day, in fact, I read the biography of a fictional writer that was as surreal as anything I've ever read:   A Nose for Fiction

       Another surreal modern novel was Baba Yaga Laid an Egg, about women getting older.  Partly.

      Weirdest mystery prize goes to The Dead Mountaineer's Inn, a murder mystery at a snowed-in ski resort involving a cast of strange people and...aliens?

      The oddest regular novel I read entwined the Cluny tapestries with the fortunes of a mixed-race Indian girl in the 1930s: The Lady and the Unicorn, by Rumer Godden

      Hermann's badge was the angry parrot eagle.
      In medieval literature, there was this oddball little story by Hermann von Aue about Poor Heinrich,, a proud knight brought low by a horrible disease.  The only way to cure it is for a pure young girl willing to give her life for him.  Will Heinrich let it happen?

      So there you have it -- a quick rundown of some of my favorite weird books this year.

      Friday, December 9, 2016

      The Classic-Book-A-Month Club

      "Gee, does Jean really need another classics-themed book project?"  I hear you say, especially if you're my mom (hi Mom!).  The answer seems to be yes, I do!  Adam at Roof Beam Reader has an intriguing little project/theme/club thing starting.  Head on over there to see the whole thing, but here's the gist of it:

      ...I am determined to revisit some of my favorite pieces of classic literature; those works which I love and have called “favorite” at sometime or other, but which I’ve only read once. But, I also want to continue to read new-to-me material. So, I came up with a plan for myself to read 12 books in 2017, 6 of which will be re-reads and 6 of which will be new to me. To make this even more fun, I thought I would invite anyone and everyone to join me, either for the entire year or for the books which you’re most interested in reading (or re-reading) along with me. 

      There are no obligations to stick with this for all 12 months. Come and go as you please. 
      My plan at the moment is:
      1. Post an announcement with the #CBAM2017 reading list (below).
      2. Ask those who would like to join me for all/part of this book club to share about it on their blog/site and post a link to the Mister Linky widget below. (spread the word!)
      3. Have an introductory post around the 1st of each month, describing the book and a reading pace (for myself – you can use it or not!) 
      4. Post a check-in each month, around the 15th, to see how people are doing, generate a Q & A, etc. 
      5. Post a wrap-up/review at the end of the month, when I finish the book, and open up the comments for discussion, just like an in-person book club. There might even be wine and chocolates! (on this end at least)
      See, that sounds pretty fun, right?  So now I just need to come up with a list....
      • January: Twelfth Night, by Shakespeare
      • February: Steppenwolf, by Hermann Hesse
      • March: Caleb Williams, by William Godwin
      • April: Treasure of the City of Ladies, by Christine de Pisan
      • May: Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
      • June: The Towers of Trebizond, by Rose Macaulay
      • July: A Jane Austen novel of my choice
      • August: Down and Out in Paris and London, by George Orwell
      • September: Homeric Hymns
      • October: The Man in the Iron Mask, by Alexandre Dumas
      • November: Whatever I feel like rereading in November!
      • December: Cloudstreet by Tim Winton
      The odd months are re-reads, the evens are new to me.  They're just about all from the Classics Club list I'm working on for after I finish this one (so close!  sooooo close!).  And this officially the LAST 2017 challenge/project I'm signing up for!

      Thursday, December 8, 2016

      Month of Faves 3: Books and Movies

      Estella's Revenge is hosting A Month of Faves in December!  Today's question:

      Thu. | Dec 8 – Favorite Book to Movie or TV Shows #AMonthofFaves2016 – what were your faves; did you both watch the movie and read the book; which was better?

      OK, confession time: because I don't read a lot of brand-new books, and I don't go see a lot of movies, it is extremely unlikely that I have seen any recent movies based on recent books.  Right now at work, we are running a display of books that have been made into movies (Find out if the book is better!), and I haven't seen ANY of the 2016 movies.

      Except Dr. Strange.  I saw that!  Comics are books, right?  That was pretty fun.  But I have never read any of the comics.

      And I'll probably go see Fantastic Beasts pretty soon.  I'm looking forward to that.

      As I told you yesterday, I did both read and see the film of The Neverending Story recently.  So while I am about 30 years out of date, I have at least done one book/movie combo this year.

      But that's all I've got, really.  I'll be back on Monday with a more substantive post!

      Shiki Nagaoka: A Nose for Fiction

      Shiki Nagaoka: A Nose for Fiction, by Mario Bellatin

      This is one of the odder books I've come across lately.  Bellatin is a Mexican novelist who writes experimental fiction stuff.  This is a biography and analysis of the famous, mysterious, and reclusive Japanese (?) author, Shiki Nagoka, whose massive nose led him to spend his life within a tightly circumscribed neighborhood -- living alone, working at a photo booth, and writing.  He lived part of his life in a monastic cell.

      Nagaoka's work has a cult following and has inspired many famous novelists (such as Juan Rulfo and Jose Maria Arguedas), but none of it has ever been translated into English, except for one edition that was entirely destroyed.  His most famous work, a novel, in written in an untranslatable language and still hasn't been completely deciphered.

      The writer's day job at a photo booth gave him plenty of inspiration through images, so his work included many photos.  There are quite a few photos included in this biography, mostly of accessories to Nagaoka's life, especially the instruments for the treatments he carried out on his nose.  His sister Etsuko is also prominently featured.

      Some quotations:
      While he found himself under these ruminations, one morning he met the writer Tanizaki Junichiro, who had decided to relocate his residence to the peninsula of Ikeno.  The writer went to the film kiosk to have a few rolls developed.  That writer became the only other artist Shiki Nagaoka knew personally over the course of his life...When he looked through Tanizaki Junichiro's photos he was surprised.  he was used to seeing scenes of everyday life or country scenery.  But Taniszaki Junichiro had taken infinite portraits of bathrooms.

      In his final years, Shiki Nagaoka wrote a book that for many is fundamental.  Unfortunately it doesn't exist in any known language.

      Now that the majority of his youthful monogatarutsis have been restored, the publication of his collected nose-obsessed tales is expected to become the talk of the editorial town next year.  The book is enthusiastically waited for as much by the readers and critics of his home country as by specialist groups in Europe and the Americas.  Curiously, Shiki Nagaoka's work is unknown in several countries in the East.  Nonetheless, for some time now the intellectual community of Japan has generally shown great interest in our author's books.  Their appreciation is perhaps the most powerful sign of his work's universal character.

      This is a fun and weird little story.  It's heavily implied that Shiki is Japanese, but it never says so, and the words don't quite seem right.  I don't know much of anything about the Japanese language, but it seems that the words have been changed a bit to be not quite real.  Everything is off-kilter and just a bit absurd or surreal.  Bellatin doesn't hesitate to drag real writers into his fictional portrait, either.  I liked it.

      Reading the Histories in 2017...and a bit longer than that

      Ruth at A Great Book Study and Cleo at Classical Carousel are starting a history reading challenge in January.  It isn't the usual format of challenges, and it won't just go for one year; they're working on the list of books in The Well-Educated Mind (by my personal homeschooling guru, Susan Wise Bauer) and have gotten to the Histories section.  So they're reading through the list, somewhat in tandem, and the rest of us are free to join in or participate as we wish.  I read many of the novels with Ruth and company, and I pretty much skipped the biographies, but I'll be joining in on quite a few of the histories--I hope.  I don't know about this Gibbon fellow.

      Here's a list of the books:

          The Histories by Herodotus
          The Peloponnesian War by Thucydides
          The Republic by Plato
          Plutarch’s Lives
          The City of God by St. Augustine
          The Ecclesiastical History of the English People by Bede
          The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli
          Utopia by Sir Thomas More
          The True End of Civil Government by John Locke
          The History of England, Vol. V by David Hume
          The Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau
          Common Sense by Thomas Paine
          The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon
          A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft
          Democracy in America by Alexis De Tocqueville
          The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels
          The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy by Jacob Burckhardt
          The Souls of Black Folk by W.E. B. Du Bois
          The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism by Max Weber
          Queen Victoria by Lytton Strachey
          The Road to Wigan Pier by George Orwell
          The New England Mind by Perry Miller
          The Great Crash 1929 by John Kenneth Galbraith
          The Longest Day by Cornelius Ryan
          The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan
          Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made by Eugene D. Genovese
          A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous Fourteenth Century by Barbara Tuchman
          All the President's Men by Bob Woodward & Carl Bernstein
          Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era by James M. McPherson
          A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
          The End of History and the Last Man by Francis Fukuyama

      As you can see, this is a list that will take quite a lot longer than a year to read!  Some of these I have read recently enough that I don't plan to read with the group, and some I don't particularly want to read at all.

      There is also a Goodreads group for discussion, which I'll be joining, though quite honestly I am terrible at participating in Goodreads groups.  I hate the interface.

      Want to join in?  Join the Goodreads group or let Ruth and Cleo know!

      Wednesday, December 7, 2016

      European Reading Challenge 2017

      Rose City Reader is hosting her annual European Reading Challenge!  Since I have a large pile of books from various countries to read, I'm signing up.  (I'm also going to do a reading map, which I haven't done in a few years, since Google has made it a coherent process again.)  Gillion says:

      Welcome to the 2017 European Reading Challenge – where participants tour Europe through books.  And have a chance to win a prize. Please join us for the Grand Tour!

      THE GIST: The idea is to read books by European authors or books set in European countries (no matter where the author comes from). The books can be anything – novels, short stories, memoirs, travel guides, cookbooks, biography, poetry, or any other genre. You can participate at different levels, but each book must be by a different author and set in a different country – it's supposed to be a tour. (See note about the UK, below)

      WHAT COUNTS AS "EUROPE"?: We stick with the same list of 50 sovereign states that fall (at least partially) within the geographic territory of the continent of Europe and/or enjoy membership in international European organizations such as the Council of Europe. This list includes the obvious (the UK, France, Germany, Spain, and Italy), the really huge Russia, the tiny Vatican City, and the mixed bag of Baltic, Balkan, and former Soviet states.

      THE LIST: Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Macedonia, Romania, Russia, San Marino, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, and Vatican City.

      NOTE: Even after Brexit, the United Kingdom is still one country, in Europe, that includes England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. So one book from any one of these four counts as your one book for the United Kingdom. I'm not going to be a stickler about it because challenges should be about fun not about rules. However, when it comes to winning the Jet Setter prize, only one book from one of the UK countries will count.


      FIVE STAR (DELUXE ENTOURAGE): Read at least five books by different European authors or books set in different European countries.
      FOUR STAR (HONEYMOONER): Read four qualifying books.
      THREE STAR (BUSINESS TRAVELER): Read three qualifying books.
      TWO STAR (ADVENTURER): Read two qualifying books.
      ONE STAR (PENSIONE WEEKENDER): Read just one qualifying book.

      There's more to it, so pop on over and see what the rules are.  I will be signing up for the Five Star level, and hopefully will get into a deathmatch with Maphead over who reads most (it will be him).

      Tuesday, December 6, 2016

      The Neverending Story

      The Neverending Story, by Michael Ende

      A couple of months ago, I took my kids to see The Neverending Story at the movie theater for the 30th anniversary.  We had a lot of fun -- there was a little documentary first about the filming of the movie, and about a kerfuffle with Michael Ende (he hated the ending) -- and the movie was beautiful to see on the big screen.  Naturally, I promptly wanted to re-read the book, but I wanted my 13yo daughter to read it first.  It's one of her favorite movies, and so I've seen it several times over the years, but I haven't read the novel since the mid-1990s.

      My kid still hasn't gotten around to reading it my battered old paperback, but a couple of weeks ago at work I was going through the children's literature/YA section and moving a bunch of things down to the reading lounge, where they will get more use.  There was a mystery book with black tape on the spine and no title on the cover, but when I opened it up it turned out to be a fairly early edition of The Neverending Story, complete with two-color text and illustrations!  (The 'real world' action is in purple, the Fantastica parts in green.)   So I checked it right out and brought it home, and I had a lot of fun reading it in the proper way.

      26 chapters begin with consecutive letters, A-Z

      Bastian is an imaginative, lonely little boy whose distant father is wrapped in his own grief.  The kids at school tease him for being weird, and Bastian finds comfort in the stories he makes up and in books.  He steals a book from a bookstore, hides in the school's attic, and doesn't plan to go home.  The book tells the story of Fantastica, a land falling apart, and Atreyu's quest to find the a human being who can save it.  Bastian is stunned to find that he is part of the story, and frightened to participate, but eventually he enters Fantastica as its Savior and starts re-making the land with his wishes...which take away his memory.  Forgetting who he is, Bastian becomes proud and corrupt, and if he loses his last memory, he will never go home.  He doesn't want to anyway.

      If you've seen the movie but never read the book, you really really ought to go out and get a copy to read.  It's an excellent, and very strange, story that offers no certainty of a happy ending.  Not a lot of child protagonists turn into corrupt tyrants partway through!   The film that everybody knows actually only covers the first half of the book; they made a sequel that sort of covered the second half, but it wasn't very good.  And the film ending is just about the opposite of what Ende wrote; he hated it so much that he tried to stop the release of the film.  I think that was kind of a silly thing to do, and I love the movie, but the novel is longer, deeper, and a good deal weirder.

      I'm not a huge fan of the names, though.  Probably they sounded a lot better in the original German.  I tend to think that they're a little overdone in spots -- Bastian Balthazar Bux is not my favorite name ever.  On the other hand, Atreyu is a perfect name!

      Back to the Classics 2017

      Once again, it's time to sign up for the Back to the Classics challenge, hosted by Karen at Books and Chocolate, now run from Germany!  Hope Karen is getting lots of yummy chocolate there.  Mmmm, now I want German chocolate -- the Milka with the hazelnut filling, for choice.  Anyway, Karen says:

      It's back! Once again, I'm hosting the Back to the Classics Challenge.  I hope to encourage bloggers to discover and enjoy classic books they might not have tried, or just never got around to reading. And at the end, one lucky winner will receive a $30 (US) prize from or The Book Depository!
      Here's how it works:

      The challenge will be exactly the same as last year, 12 classic books, but with slightly different categories. You do not have to read 12 books to participate in this s

      • Complete six categories, and you get one entry in the drawing
      • Complete nine categories, and you get two entries in the drawing
      • Complete all twelve categories, and you get three entries in the drawing
      And here are the categories for the 2016 Back to the Classics Challenge:

      1.  A 19th Century Classic - any book published between 1800 and 1899.

      2.  A 20th Century Classic - any book published between 1900 and 1967. Just like last year, all books MUST have been published at least 50 years ago to qualify. The only exception is books written at least 50 years ago, but published later, such as posthumous publications.

      3.  A classic by a woman author

      4.  A classic in translation.  Any book originally written published in a language other than your native language. Feel free to read the book in your language or the original language. (You can also read books in translation for any of the other categories).

      5.  A classic published before 1800. Plays and epic poems are acceptable in this category also.

      An romance classic. I'm pretty flexible here about the definition of romance. It can have a happy ending or a sad ending, as long as there is a strong romantic element to the plot.

      7.  A Gothic or horror classic. For a good definition of what makes a book Gothic, and an excellent list of possible reads, please see this list on Goodreads

      8.  A classic with a number in the title. Examples include A Tale of Two Cities, Three Men in a Boat, Slaughterhouse Five, Fahrenheit 451, etc.

      9.  A classic about an animal or which includes the name of an animal in the title.  It an actual animal or a metaphor, or just the name. Examples include To Kill a Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men, The Metamorphosis, White Fang, etc. 

      10. A classic set in a place you'd like to visit. It can be real or imaginary: The Wizard of Oz, Down and Out in Paris and London, Death on the Nile, etc.

      11. An award-winning classic. It could be the Newbery award, the Prix Goncourt, the Pulitzer Prize, the James Tait Award, etc. Any award, just mention in your blog post what award your choice received.

      12. A Russian Classic. 2017 will be the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, so read a classic by any Russian author. 

      Head on over to see the rest of the rules!  I don't have anything picked out ahead of time -- I'll just aim at finishing all 12.  This is a great challenge and a favorite of mine, so I'm excited about getting started.  And this is a really fun list of categories!

      Monday, December 5, 2016

      This is How I Read (Month of Faves 2)

      Estella's Revenge is hosting a month of favorite things.  Today: what do we read?

      Mon. | Dec. 5 – This Is How We Read #AMonthofFaves2016 – eg. Number of books read so far, genre you read the most from, picture of favorite (or most often used) reading location, most read author, % eBooks, hardcovers, paperbacks and/or audiobooks, hint at what your favorite read of the year is (let us guess), types of books you wish you read more of, month you read the most and least)

      Forgot to mention this, which was neat
      Goodreads says I have read 130 books, which doesn't count the fluffy mystery re-reads that I don't bother recording.  (For example, I have not recorded anywhere that my brother gave me a pile of old Three Investigator books at Thanksgiving, and I'm on something like #6, or that I'm reading Aunt Dimity mysteries at the gym.)  I have blogged about most of those, but not all -- maybe 120-125 books blogged about this year.

      This year has been a mix of world literature and non-fiction, with some medieval literature and SF/fantasy thrown in too.  In other words, it's my usual eclectic brew.

      I don't keep stats on what kind of book I'm reading, but it's overwhelmingly hard copies, and at a guess about 60% paperback.  I'm having a hard time reading ebooks for any but the most fluffy of reasons, which is too bad, since I have some great non-fiction on my Kindle app.  Part of the trouble is that I much prefer Aldiko, which I can read in gold on black (perfect for night time!), but all the more serious books are on Kindle, which only offers white on black (ow, my eyes!).  I don't listen to audiobooks at all; I've always found them frustrating.  I like lectures, but not books.

      Most read author would certainly be Kage Baker, since I did a re-read of the entire Company series this year -- about ten books.  Usually, Diana Wynne Jones would win that contest, but I don't think I read ten this year (though it's probably seven or eight, and I plan to read The Pinhoe Egg again soon!).  I also had a bit of an Eleanor Farjeon kick, as I bought several of her books.

      The month I read the least would probably be June, since we spent half of it racing around southern England.  January or March would appear to be when I read the most -- January's Vintage Sci Fi month always brings in a lot of short reads, and March was DWJ/Pratchett month.

      I don't know that there is a type of book I wish I read more of, proportionately speaking; just that I could squish more reading of the same kinds of things into my life.  More history!  More medieval literature!  More Ukrainian novels!

      Favorite book of the year: Gosh, that's a tough one.  I've read some wonderful stuff this year!  And I hate picking favorites.  But some of my best reads have been travel (like The Broken Road) and novels by favorite authors (like Before We Visit the Goddess and Gentian Hill).

      I've had some wonderful literary moments this year, and yesterday I mentioned the Green Knowe visit as one, but I should have included meeting Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni!  That was certainly a squee-worthy evening!