Sunday, October 29, 2017

Something on Sunday, 10/28

Hey, it's time for Something on Sunday, Jenny's meme where we share good things about the week because goodness knows we need it.

I had a humor grenade last night.  We were watching some of Ghostbusters, one of the greatest movies ever made, and you know at the beginning the librarian gets scared, and Venkman asks her if any of her relatives have mental problems.  Her answer: "My uncle thought he was St. Jerome."  I was laughing about that later on and my husband was not familiar with Jerome, so he looked him up.

Jerome is the patron saint of librarians.


I went to a free concert featuring a brass quintet and it was great!  Lovely music, including Bach, some modern stuff, some jazz, and all the songs of the five branches of the military.  Because it was an Air Force quintet, part of the Air Force Band of the Golden West, a fancy name if ever I heard one.  

My daughter and I got all inspired about altered books and we each want to make one, so we're having a good time collecting papers and ribbons and oddments.  We can think of lots of good subjects, but focusing in on one topic is a bit of a problem.  She wants Gorey, and I'm thinking the seven planets.

Nicer than all these nice things, however, is that this week my husband started his new job, and he really likes it a lot.  His last couple of jobs have been stressful at best, so this is a very pleasant change.

Blogging the Spirit: October

Laurie at Relevant Obscurity has a monthly event, Blogging the Spirit, where we talk a bit about things we don't normally discuss on book blogs.   I can think of two very different things this week:

There's a podcast I listen to about various churchy things and this week's episode actually featured a woman I knew in college, where she was doing a master's in theology (and was incidentally the best Sunday School teacher I've ever had).  Since then, we've crossed virtual paths through classical homeschooling and I've also seen some of her theological work, which specializes in Mark.    That's what she was talking about in the podcast, and I learned something I didn't know before: Mark was (as you might expect) originally an oral text, but it was performed.  It should be read more like a script than like a book, and more like a collection of short scripts, each gathered around a theme, than a chronological history. She suggests listening to Mark all in one go, so I'll include here a video.  There are a few on Youtube, and I picked this one because it seemed like more of a dramatic reading than the others.  She had a lot to say about the dramatic possibilities in the stories, and it was all just fascinating. 

The disciples, for example, are portrayed as really pretty clueless -- they mess up all the time -- and in a dramatic scene would probably have gotten some laughs, but it also plays up the fact that Christ just keeps teaching them.  The message is that as long as you want to do this Christ-following thing, it doesn't matter that you can't do everything right and you mess up all the time, even if you do something as awful as Peter did.    In particular, she thinks the abrupt ending to Mark is meant to hand things off to the audience -- to ask, what are you going to do about this?

One other detail I thought was interesting is that Mark is written in pretty earthy language, and is even a bit awkward.  We miss that when we read, say, the KJV, which sounds kind of fancy to us.  When Jesus tells someone, "Hold your peace," in the original Greek it's more like "Shut up."

I've also been reading a Catholic book about food, which I'll review sometime soon.  It was pretty good and had some interesting insights into how food can be a part of spiritual practice.  Being Catholic, she's all about following the calendar of feasts and fasts -- I know almost nothing about the liturgical calendar, though I've always thought it to be a neat thing to do. But she uses that to talk about building a different, and healthier, relationship to food than the one we usually have, and also using food to practice virtue.  That means enjoying a dessert guilt-free at appropriate times, but also:
Every time we choose to abstain from meat on Friday and put a little extra money in the poor box instead, we grow in justice.  Every time we opt for water over soda, we grow just a little bit more prudent.  Every time we stick to our commitment to eat a nutritious salad for lunch our fortitude increases. And every time we eat just one cookie and leave the rest for later, we become more temperate.  The choices we make every day about food move us closer to (or farther away from) the virtuous life.   (The Catholic Table, by Emily Stimpson Chapman)
 I'll talk more about it later, but it had a lot of good stuff in it.

Friday, October 27, 2017

On Tyranny

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons From the Twentieth Century, by Timothy Snyder

A couple of years ago, I read Timothy Snyder's excellent account of Eastern Europe in the 20th century, Bloodlands.  It was a fantastic book, though one of the grimmest I've ever read.  But Snyder knows what he's talking about, and so when he writes a little teeny book about tyranny that takes its lessons from his historical knowledge, I think it's a good idea to read it.

I do mean it's teeny.  This is not a scholarly or heavy work; it's more like a short tutorial for Americans.  It has 20 sections, each just a few pages long, illustrating a rule: 1) Do not obey in advance.  3) Beware the one-party state.  5) Remember professional ethics.  12) Make eye contact and small talk.  14) Establish a private life.  19) Be a patriot.

As such, it's a pretty quick read and one that most people can read with interest.  Most of the examples are taken from World War II, so they're accessible and not hard to understand.  This is a book for everybody.  So go read it!

Some quotations:

To Ukrainians, Americans seemed comically slow to react to the obvious threats of cyberwar and fake news.

The most intelligent of the Nazis, the legal theorist Cark Schmitt, explained in clear language the essence of fascist governance.  The way to destroy all rules, he explained, was to focus on the idea of the exception.  A Nazi leader outmaneuvers his opponents by manufacturing a general conviction that the present moment is exceptional, and then transforming that state of exception into a permanent emergency.  Citizens then trade real freedom for fake safety.

[On Americans' recent assumption that liberal democracy is inevitable and cannot be changed, and some critics' talk of need for a disruption]: When applied to politics, it again carries the implication that nothing can really change, that the chaos that excites us will eventually be absorbed by a self-regulating system.  The man who runs naked across a football field certainly disrupts, but he does not change the rules of the game.   The whole notion of disruption is adolescent.  It assumed that after the teenagers make a mess, the adults will come and clean it up.  But there are no adults.  We own this mess.
Posters for each chapter

I finished this book the other evening, and we had just finished watching a couple of episodes of Babylon 5, which we've been watching as a family since the summer.  (Actually, since school started, it's been too busy to allow us to watch very often at all, so we grabbed this chance.)  We're at the start of the third year, and Earth's government is taking a scary turn into totalitarianism.  The series isn't subtle about this at all and the episode we'd watched had featured a political officer throwing around words like emergency, special circumstance, sedition, and ideological purity.  At the same time, my daughter had snitched the book on the eugenics movement in America that I had ILLed and was reading aloud bits to me.  All three of these things contained serious warnings about the dangers of arrogance, apathy, and tyranny.  I guess the universe wants me to get a message...

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

AusNovember Warmup

Since we're getting close to November, Brona has posted some fun warmup questions, which are guaranteed to make you feel more clueless than you thought you were.  Want to join in the party?  Go check out her post and write your answers!

1. Tell us about the Australian books you've loved and read so far.
 I really liked Seven Little Australians, except for the end. I enjoyed most of Picnic at Hanging Rock, and I loved My Brilliant Career.  I was blown away by The Biggest Estate on Earth, which is non-fiction.

2. When you think of Australia, what are the first five things that pop into your mind?
Kangaroos, Uluru, a lot of hot dry land, kookaburras, wildfires.... really being kind of a lot like California only with marsupials. 

3. Have you ever visited Australia? Or thought about it? 
What are the pro's and con's about travelling to/in Australia for you?
What are/were your impressions? 
I would love to visit Australia!  As with all travel, what stops me is money.  If I were rich that's what I'd do -- travel all over the world.  Including Australia (and New Zealand too).

4. If you have been or plan to visit, where will you be heading first?
Hm, the Gold Coast?  Uluru?  The trouble with visiting Australia is, I live in a hot, dry climate already, and my idea of a great trip is to somewhere that isn't.  I tend to imagine the Gold Coast as being pretty much like Santa Barbara, but it probably has better snorkeling.  I'd like to go to Melbourne and Adelaide though.  (For one thing, Adelaide is the home of the greatest smocking and embroidery company in existence, and they have a store!)

5. Do you have a favourite Australian author/s or book/s?
Not yet, I don't think.  Working on it!

6. Which Aussie books are on your TBR pile/wishlist?
The Fortunes of Richard Mahony, by Henry Handel Richardson
A Descant for Gossips by Thea Astley
The Road From Coorain by Jill Ker Conway
Cloudstreet by Tim Winton
Dark Emu/Black Seeds, by Bruce Pascoe

7. Which book/s do you hope to read for #AusReadingMonth?
I have Cloudstreet and A Descant for Gossips.

8. It came to my attention recently (when I posted a snake photo on Instagram) that our overseas friends view Australia as a land full of big, bad, deadly animals.
Can you name five of them?
What about five of our cuter more unique creatures?
(For the locals, which five animals from each category have you had an up close and personal with)?
My impression is indeed that Australia teems with highly dangerous or venomous animals, although I also think of them as small (and thus harder to spot).  I think one is a kind of spider.  And there's gotta be a snake.  But it's true that the only ones I can actually name are Tasmanian devils, which are mean little critters but I don't know if they're actually dangerous to humans.

I can name lots of cute animals though.  Wallabies, possums (California opossums aren't cute at all, but Aussie ones are pretty adorable), those little kangaroos, I think they're called red, bilbies, and, well, koalas mostly seem to be cute from far away, but they're unique all right. And I learned a new one recently -- quolls!

9. Can you name our current Prime Minister (plus four more from memory)? 
No googling allowed!
Oh gosh, I heard his name and that he was unpopular, but no I certainly cannot.  Jean Fail.  (On the other hand, Aussies can be happy and smug that their PM isn't notorious...)

10. Did you know that Australians have a weird thing for BIG statues of bizarre animals and things?  Can you name five of them?
You guys really are secret California twins, aren't you?

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Blue Remembered Hills

Blue Remembered Hills, by Rosemary Sutcliff

A couple of years ago I wrote a post about Rosemary Sutcliff for the children's literature event, in which I mostly talked about her books and the fact that her mother had spent a lot of time telling her ancient stories and legends, which had led to her literary focus on Roman and Celtic Britain.  The interesting thing about this memoir is that it doesn't talk about any of that.  It's entirely about other subjects, and so there were lots of new things to find out.

Sutcliff was an only child, and her father was in the Navy, so they moved around a good deal.  She spent several years of early childhood in Malta!  Her mother was attractive but volatile (she probably had bipolar disorder), and dedicated herself to nursing little Rosemary in ways that were both heroic and stifling.  Rosemary suffered from Still's Disease, which is a kind of juvenile arthritis, so she was frequently hospitalized or getting surgeries, and she could not always walk.

The larger part of the book is about Rosemary's childhood before age ten, and it's good reading.  She was an interested child -- interested in the whole world around her, in the little details of the world, and not all that conscious of her disability (as she notes, a small child takes every circumstance as normal).  She was given to making awkward observations, too.  And she is honest about her difficult relationship with her mother, who wanted to be everything to her child and insisted that she knew absolutely every thought Rosemary had.

As a teen, Sutcliff attended art school and became a talented miniaturist, but that was never her real interest.  Secretly, she started writing.  She does not talk much about it -- more space is given to a difficult and hopeless love -- but that was the beginning of a long career as one of the best historical novelists for children of the 20th century.

A lovely memoir, and I'm glad I got to read it.

Monday, October 23, 2017

The Treasure of the City of Ladies

The Treasure of the City of Ladies, by Christine de Pisan

I love Christine de Pisan so much, I cannot even tell you.  I discovered her Book of the City of Ladies several years ago, and it's a must-read if you like medieval literature.  Widowed at 25 with three children, a mother, and a niece to support, she became a professional writer to pay the bills, but she did it in about 1390.  She started with lyrics -- your standard love ballads and so on -- and then moved into longer poetic and historical works.  The popularity of the Romance of the Rose inspired her to argue with the misogynistic portrayal of women in Jean de Meun's part of the poem and she took a large part in "the debate of the Romance of the Rose," a literary and scholarly correspondence with various other writers.  In 1404 she wrote the Book of the City of Ladies as her public answer to the whole question of women.  In the next year, she wrote this 'sequel,'  of which more anon. 

After writing Treasure, Christine continued to write professionally and kept up her interest in public affairs, writing on war (seriously, she wrote a practical handbook for soldiers!) and also the prevention thereof, begging for an avoidance of civil war.  She continued to write on governance until 1418, when she entered a convent, and afterwards she wrote only one political item: the 1429 Hymn to Joan of Arc, the only contemporary account of Joan that we have outside of the trial records.  Christine may not have lived to see what happened to Joan, actually; we don't know when she died but it seems to have been not too long afterwards.  Joan of Arc was killed in 1431, a couple of years later.

The Treasure of the City of Ladies is a handbook to women's survival.  Christine re-introduces her three ladies, Reason, Rectitude, and Justice, and has them compile a book of practical advice for getting along in the world.  Christine must have been a very practical woman, for she always prefers to write about reality.  She hardly ever bothers to talk about how the world ought to be and how women ought to be treated; she simply goes straight on to dealing with facts.  And she starts at the top: the first chapters address how a queen (or, as she says, princess) should order her days.  The wise princess must be up on all the business of the court, be careful and discreet, keep a firm hand on the staff, and of course always virtuous and without reproach.  There is a lot on how to deal with scheming enemies and those who would do you harm.  All of this is addressed specifically to queens, but everyone else is advised to use the rules as well, for "everything that has been said before can apply to one woman as much as to another."

Christine goes through every possible station of life from the top down, mostly, of course, addressing the women who would actually be reading her book.  So there is advice for widows (watch out; everybody will try to cheat you, as Christine knows from bitter experience), newly married women, young maidens, older chaperones of foolish young maidens (and how to head off disastrous love affairs), and then women who live on country estates, merchants' wives, and then all the way on down to servants, peasants, and even prostitutes and the absolutely indigent.   These last are probably more to indulge the medieval love of completeness than anything else; it is not likely that any chambermaids read Christine's work, but we wouldn't want to leave anyone out!

Christine's main rules are:
  1. Use faith as rule and consolation, observe religious habits properly, and give alms generously.  (You don't really need every fancy dress; dress properly to your station, but be sensible and you'll have plenty to relieve the poor.)
  2. Know everything about your business, which includes your husband's business.  Keep a sharp eye on everything, and exert your influence for good management and peace. 
  3. You are stuck with your husband, so be prudent and treat him well, whether he is lovable or not.  
  4. Watch over your children carefully and bring them up properly, with good educations.
  5. Do not indulge in envy and rivalries with other women; women should stick together.
  6. Always, always, always be virtuous and prudent.  And sensible and realistic.
She is just so hard-headed and sensible; it's a lot of fun to read.  It's also crammed with little illustrations of everyday life, which is both fascinating and rare.  Christine is living in the middle of a chivalry-obsessed nobility that mostly likes knightly tales of glory and romantic love, which by definition is adulterous  -- and hers is just about the only account we have of how that worked in real life.  She warns several times against falling for the eloquent blandishments of rogues.  That stuff is fine for poetry but don't think it will work out in your favor if you try it!

I marked a lot of passages, but I'll just quote a few:
This work is the proper duty of the wise queen and princess: to be the means of peace and concord, to work for the avoidance of war because of the trouble that can come of it. 
Since it is the established custom that knights and squires and all men (especially certain men) who associate with women have a habit of pleading for love tokens from them and trying to seduce them, the wise princess will so enforce her regulations that there will be no visitor to her court so foolhardy as to dare to whisper privately with any of her women or give the appearance of seduction....
...we say, in regard to lovers, that although they are all supposedly faithful, discreet, and truthful, they are not.  On the contrary, one knows many of them who are false.  To deceive ladies they say what they neither want nor intend to do.
This really is a survival manual.  It was a tough world, and women were vulnerable.  Christine had advice for how to navigate it successfully.  I think she's great.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Something on Sunday, Oct 22

Okay, I can't really say I'm in a blogging slump any more.  I'm just having a really hard time getting to the computer to write posts!  And I'm working a lot for the next few days, so don't expect better any time soon.  So here we go with another short one, filled with the small but good things of the last week:

My car flipped to 150,000 miles and I caught it on film.  Plus, it still runs at 150K.  Pretty much.  Keep going, little car!

The used book-sorting gig was exciting when we got three boxes of ancient pulp paperbacks, mostly in pretty good shape, nearly all Westerns.  I love pulp paperback covers! 

They all looked just like this.
My husband and I went to see The Princess Bride at an actual movie theater!  I think that it's a practically perfect film, and I didn't see it the first time 'round (I don't think?) so that was really fun.  It was kind of a bummer that there were a lot of superfans there who felt it necessary to recite famous lines along with the characters.  I did not pay to hear those guys say it, I wanted to hear Inigo!  Keep that at home, people.  This is not the Rocky Horror Picture Show and it's not there every Friday night. 

And then on Friday it was the Almond Bowl.  There are two high schools in our city, and their football game is a huge deal with a lot of turnout; it's the only time football pulls a big crowd.  I've actually never been before, but now my kid is in the band, so we were committed to go and then stay until the bitter end.  I liked the band parts best.  They did a great halftime show, and I wore my brand-new t-shirt which says on the back, "It's cool, I'm with THE BAND."  As a besotted parent, I think this is far funnier than it probably actually is.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Something on Sunday, 10/15

Jenny at Reading the End has been doing a 'Something on Sunday' event, where we post something good or inspiring.  It's been a pretty rotten week in the world outside, so we all probably need it.

I got all inspired this week with a quilt idea.  (I have a lot of quilt ideas.)  I belong to a quilting guild, and they have a challenge every two years.  This one starts in January and will have an animal theme.  I'm not much on animal sewing, but I have a brilliant idea for this one.  Hint: it will connect to this blog and my love of reading.  I can't wait to get started!

Another hint

This week I managed to kill my car battery by leaving the lights on (the weird part is that I didn't know they were on at all; it was the middle of the afternoon, I have no idea what they were doing on).  It was a hassle to get a jump, and I was feeling pretty dumb for killing the battery, but then this Toy Dolls song that I had never heard before came on my playlist and I laughed all the way home.  Play the first 30 seconds and see if you don't crack up too:

Less cheerfully, here in northern California we're all riveted by the fires in Sonoma County.  Stories and video are starting to come out, and it's horrific.  From what I hear, about 10% of the population of the county is now houseless.  It turns out that evacuation orders only went out over landlines, and people without them didn't get any warnings (keep your landline, people).  The fires moved so fast that many people only had a few minutes to get out, and a lot of them spent those minutes rousing neighbors instead of packing.  That part is pretty inspiring, even if the rest of it is awful.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Norse Mythology

Norse Mythology, by Neil Gaiman

Everybody went nuts over this book last year, and I finally got to it too.

I like Neil Gaiman, and I like Norse mythology, so I expected good things, and I got them!  This is a very nice retelling of the Norse myths; it's clear, it's exciting, and it's beautifully written, with just a hint of Gaiman's personality, but not so much that it overshadows the material and becomes annoying.  I mean, this could have been "Neil Gaiman Tells His Own Version of Norse Myths"  -- which would be fine except that the cover doesn't say that -- and it's not.  So, good job Neil.

I don't have a lot more to say -- I just liked this book quite a bit.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

November Events!

There are a couple of fun events coming up in November, and I plan to participate -- how about you?

Brona is hosting her annual AusNovember event, and she has a cool geography bingo theme -- go take a peek!  I'm going to commit to the easiest "Fly by night" level, which is all of one book.  I do have several Australian books on my wishlist, and I will probably read either Cloudstreet or A Descant for Gossips -- maybe even both!

Nonfiction November is a group-hosted event that has a new prompt every week. Check it out at JulzReadsLori at Emerald City Book Review will be posting for the 5th week!  I'll try to write a post for every week; it looks like it's going to be a lot of fun.

What do you think -- will you join me?

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

My Real Children

My Real Children, by Jo Walton

Patricia Cowan is very very old, and she lives in a nursing home.  It's 2015 and she's had a good long life, except that she has two sets of memories.  She remembers raising four children in an unhappy marriage with Mark, and being called Trish.  She remembers a happier life as Pat with Bee and three children.  Which is real?  Are they both real?  Is she switching universes?

Not only that, the world is different too.  The world with Mark in it is fairly peaceful and has moon bases, while the world with Bee has the occasional exchange of nuclear bombs.

In alternating chapters, we see both of Patricia's lives unfold.  (Honestly, it can be a little tricky to keep track of some characters!)  Which one is she, and can they both be true?

I was actually more gripped by this novel than I expected to be.  Sometimes I was a bit annoyed with it, but on the whole it really kept me interested and there was a lot to think about -- again, more than I had expected.  At the beginning, it reminded me just a little bit of Fire and Hemlock; I couldn't help wondering if Walton was a bit inspired by Polly's realization that she has two sets of memories.  The story goes in a completely different direction, but I did wonder if a few phrases were deliberate callbacks.

I am more interested now in reading further Jo Walton books, so that probably means that this novel was a success for me.


In other news, my state is on fire again, and it's really bad this time.  I don't live anywhere near Somona county, where it's the worst; that's where all the terrible news and pictures are coming from.  Here where I live, there have been three fires, and they have not been pleasant at all, but they are nowhere near the scale of Sonoma's.

If you're wondering why California suddenly seems to be on fire, it's because October is actually the most dangerous part of the fire season, and this year has been a bad one.  We had a good wet winter, so everything grew a lot and then dried out.  We don't really get rain again until winter, and in October we often get strong winds.  On Sunday, it was very windy indeed; I went for a lovely walk and enjoyed it, but by the evening several fires had been sparked and with the winds they grew quickly.  These fires are usually in hilly, brushy areas that are hard to get to.  This is the worst year since 1991, when the Oakland hills burned, and it may get even worse, as the Sonoma fires are not yet under control.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Boris Godounov

Boris Godounov, by Alexander Pushkin

A year or so ago, I was browsing in the used bookstore and found this great edition of Boris Godounov by Pushkin, illustrated by Zvorykin.  But it was kind of on the pricey side, so I thought I might get it later...and then of course it wasn't there any more, and I regretted everything.  But!  Then I started this volunteer job sorting used books for the library, and the very first thing that happened was that the same book came across the table!  So I finally got to read it, and for free too.  It turns out to have a companion volume of fairy tales, so I'd like to get that as well.

Boris Godounov is a play written in blank verse, but I think more people are familiar with it in the Mussorgsky opera based upon the play.  (Comment and tell me!)  It's a historical play, and I had to learn some Russian history before I could make head or tail of the story.  The quick version: Ivan IV (the Terrible) murdered his son and heir in a fit of temper, which posed a massive problem of succession, because his second son was "feeble" -- he couldn't really reign.  Ivan made Boris Godounov and a couple other boyars into a regency council, but pretty soon Godounov was reigning as tsar all by himself.  Ivan had also left a tiny son, Dmitri, who was not officially legitimate or in line for the throne, but he died at the age of ten, and his mother accused Boris Godounov of having the boy assassinated.  (Official cause of death: he cut his own throat during a seizure.  So you can see where people might be skeptical.)  This history sets the scene for the play.

At the opening of the play, Russia has no tsar; the feeble and childless Feodor has died and there is no heir.  A ruler must be elected, and Boris Godounov is an obvious choice, but he is publicly reluctant until compelled to accept the crown.  Now Boris is tsar, his son Feodor is tsarevich, and surely all will be well.  And so it is, pretty much, until a disgruntled young monk decides that he'd make a pretty good Dmitri, coming out of hiding and now old enough to be the rightful tsar.  All of Godounov's reprisals, punishments, and fighting avail him little; he dies of a stroke, his heir is murdered, and Dmitri is crowned tsar.

This is all history too; Boris Godounov really was succeeded by an impostor Dmitri.  And then another one, and then it was all a big mess for a few years (the Time of Troubles) until the Romanovs got started.

This edition of the play is beautifully illustrated by Boris Zvorykin in a beautiful, very intricate style.  It's clearly influenced by Bilibin, though to me it seems more florid; I must admit that I prefer Bilibin, but it's still a lot of fun to look at.  Some of the illustrations, especially the portrait of Godounov, recall Russian icons and evoke their remote mood.

I sure do wish I could read Russian well.  It's very nice to read Pushkin in English, but it would be an awful lot better in the original.

Now that I've read this play and figured out a little bit of  the history, I'm hoping to tackle the history of the Romanovs that has been sitting on my shelf.  It's huge and intimidating.  The number of huge and intimidating books of Russian history on my shelf is getting a little out of control, though, so I really need to work on actually reading them!  (I also have The House of the Dead, The End of Tsarist Russia, and Gulag.  And one on the Cold War.)

Monday, October 9, 2017

RIP XII: The Castle of Wolfenbach

The Castle of Wolfenbach, by Eliza Parsons

Here it is, the first Horrid Novel!  Eliza Parsons wrote it in 1793, just a few years into her career.  She wrote to support her family, and turned out 19 novels and a play in her 17 years as a writer.   This was a fun read, and I zoomed right through it (weeks ago now).  It starts off in the trackless forests of Germany, but ends up traveling all over the place, to France and England and Italy, and even further!

On a dark and stormy night, a poor German peasant couple receives an exhausted lady and her manservant.  They direct the lady to a nearby castle, but warn her that it is haunted!  She is undaunted, however, and when the groans and rattling chains start, she simply grabs the nearest candle and starts exploring.  Thus she meets a lady, secretly imprisoned, and as they become instant friends, they start to confide their stories to each other.  Our heroine is Matilda, escaping from the nefarious intentions of her guardian uncle (if he is her uncle at all).  The other lady plans to tell her story the next day, but instead she is abducted from her prison!  Matilda is bound to try to locate her despite the lack of all clues, while also still evading her own wicked uncle, so she heads off to Paris to find the lady's sister....and pretty soon everyone is rushing all over Europe!

Matilda is brave, sensible, and intelligent (if rather given to fainting later on in the story).  In fact nearly everybody is.  Not only that, this novel is not notably anti-Catholic!  Matilda heads off to a convent of her own free will, and everybody there is pretty nice.  The abbess isn't even a secret Protestant or anything.  There are relatively few villains: two evil men and two women, one spiteful and one simply foolish.  Even the Turkish pirate turns out to be a good man. 

So this was not nearly as bonkers as most Gothic novels.  I have a lot more respect for the author and her characters, but on the other's not as entertaining either.  I open a Gothic novel expecting ridiculous mayhem, and The Castle of Wolfenbach only sort of delivers that.  Still, it's a perfectly good read and quite fun, and at least your average English miss wouldn't have imbibed awful ideas about Catholics, or even French people, from it.

Here's a bit that really cracked me up -- just a musing on the foolish lady's character:
 That woman, thought he, has many amiable qualities, but she wants steadiness and respect for herself: an imbecility of mind makes her resign herself up to her passions, from the want of resolution or fortitude to subdue them; she has naturally a good and generous heart, but she is easily led aside by others more artful than herself.
I look forward to reading more Horrid Novels!

A side note: Gothic novels seem to be a little preoccupied with the name Matilda.  The daughter in Castle of Otranto: Matilda.  The acolyte/girlfriend/demon in The Monk: Matilda. Our heroine: Matilda.  Seems funny to me.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Mount TBR Checkpoint 3

Now I've been so lazy that I have a lot to do on the blog, as well as actually talk about the books I've been reading.  So let's get going already and see how Mount TBR is doing.  Bev says:

For those who would like to participate in this checkpoint post, I'd like you to do two things:

1. Tell us how many miles you've made it up your mountain (# of books read).  If you're really ambitious, you can do some intricate math and figure out how the number of books you've read correlates to actual miles up Pike's Peak, Mt. Ararat, etc. 

2. Complete ONE (or more if you like) of the following:
A. Who has been your favorite character so far? And tell us why, if you like.
B. Pair up two of your reads. But this time we're going for opposites. One book with a male protagonist and one with a female protagonist. One book with "Good" in the title and one with "Evil." Get creative and show off a couple of your books.
C. Which book (read so far) has been on your TBR mountain the longest? Was it worth the wait? Or is it possible you should have tackled it back when you first put it on the pile? Or tossed it off the edge without reading it all?
D. Choose 1-4 titles from your stacks and using a word from the title, do an image search.  Post the first all-eyes-friendly picture associated with that word.

I'm actually nearly to my goal of 24!  Here's my list:
  1.  They Walked Like Men, by Clifford Simak
  2. Dirt, ed. Mindy
  3. The Best of Leigh Brackett
  4. Shakespeare's Planet, by Clifford D. Simak
  5. The Broken Citadel, by Joyce Bellou Gregorian
  6. Castledown, by Joyce Bellou Gregorian
  7. Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston
  8. My Universities, by Maxim Gorky
  9. Germania, by Simon Winder
  10. The Heart of Mid-Lothian, by Sir Walter Scott
  11. Storm in the Village, by Miss Read
  12. Further Afield, by Miss Read 
  13. The Lottery, and Adventures of the Demon Lover, by Shirley Jackson 
  14. Steppenwolf, by Hermann Hesse
  15. The Histories, by Herodotus
  16.  Half a Crown, by Jo Walton
  17. The Foundation Pit, by Andrei Platonov
  18. The Long Earth, by Pratchett and Baxter
  19. The Go-Between, by L. P. Hartley
  20. Marie Grubbe, by J. P. Jacobsen 
  21.  My Real Children, by Jo Walton
  22. The Treasure of the City of Ladies, by Christine de Pisan
  23. The Castle of Wolfenbach, by Eliza Parsons
I haven't actually written about those last three yet, oops.

I'm going to do option D, but since the first images of my search were usually boring, I decided to choose the first interesting images. 

Half a crown

Castle of Wolfenbach


Treasure of the City of Ladies

I'm pleased that I've nearly hit 24 titles, but I hope to do more.  Of course, my TBR pile is larger now than it was in January!  Now that I sort book donations once a week, free books are pouring in much too fast, and I have to be careful or I'll suffocate under a pile of old books.  I even went so far the other day as to actually get rid of some of the books on my TBR pile.  Desperate times...

Sunday post #2

I still seem to be in a posting slump, but I am reading more, so, progress!  You may recall that Jenny at Reading the End is running a weekly event where we share good things about the week.

We've had some very good news this week, as my husband received and accepted a job offer that he is pretty excited about.  That has been a huge relief.

Right now, something that is bringing me joy is that my 14-year-old's two friends are here.  They are sisters, and make an adorable little trio with my daughter.  They used to get together often, but the family moved away over a year ago.  So we were thrilled when they showed up this weekend!  The girls have been having a great time all day and we took them out for lunch.  It's not a big special event, just a sweet reunion for them.

And one more fun thing that I just now thought to include: I took a backwards bicycle ride on Thursday!  I went to pick up a kid and found a guy riding what can only be described as a pushmipullyu bike; it carries two people and one rides backwards.  Each person has to pedal to make it go.  The gear and chain setup is a little complex, and crosses in the middle. 

Riding backwards is fairly terrifying, but it was a lot of fun.  It's especially scary while making turns, if you're going fast enough to lean over.  It doesn't feel at all right to lean over to the right, backwards, while the lead rider turns left.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Something on Sundays

It must be admitted that I've been in a slump, and not just in the reading and blogging realm.  Things have been a little tough all 'round.  Jenny at Reading the End has noticed that a lot of bloggers are feeling this way  -- possibly disasters, politics, and the disaster of politics has something to do with this -- so she decided to ask people to post "something on Sundays:"
The only guidelines are that you write about something that kept you on your feet that week, whether that’s a person that inspired you, an action you took that you’re proud of, a book or movie or TV show that nourished your heart, a self-care strategy that worked for you, a goofy event or moment that brought you joy. Whatever it is, every Sunday, I want you to tell me something that matters to you. If you don’t have enough energy for a post, tweet it at me (you can use the hashtag #SomethingonSunday).
So here we go.  This week I finally started doing some sewing again.  Years ago, when I had just one little baby, I took a class at the quilt shop and made this fun batik thing with a moon and stars on it.  I couldn't think of how to quilt it, so I put it on a shelf and left it for a long time.  Over the summer when I was clearing things out, I came across it at the same time as a large piece of batik, and I finally realized that it would make a great back.  So I pieced together a batt (out of the large bag of big batting scraps), and now I am quilting it -- all without going shopping.  My 14-year-old promptly fell in love with it and wants it on her bed.


So that's my thing I did this week to get myself going.