Saturday, March 23, 2019

March DWJ reading so far

It may not seem like I've done much March Magics reading, but I have in fact -- in the spirit of reading the favorites -- read two and a bit DWJ novels.

I needed to read Homeward Bounders all of a sudden because one of the kids had a phone catastrophe and my husband pretty much said "As to that..." and produced a replacement phone out of thin air.  It was a pretty impressive trenchcoat effect moment.  I adore Homeward Bounders, it's such a strange story and so compelling and tragic, yet of course has DWJ's humor and tendency to drop deep thought grenades on the reader (as in, you don't see them for a while and then *boom* -- in fact, I hereby declare that to be a new technical term.  Deep Thought Grenades.). 

Homeward Bounders is what you get when you put multiverse theory, Greek mythology, and Dungeons & Dragons together in a blender, and add a street-smart Victorian urchin to the mix.

I also picked Hexwood from my DWJ shelf.  I love Hexwood for its bizarre complexity; I suppose she would have had to make extensive notes for the story structure, and I wonder if it would be possible to diagram it out somehow?  It's a daunting prospect.  I have to figure out some of it anew each time I read it, what with everybody having at least two identities, and those in deliberate contrast with each other.  Absolutely everything is juxtaposed with its opposite: a galactic empire with a medieval fantasy landscape, a super-intelligent computer with the ancient primeval forest, legendary heroes with futuristic tyrants....even Fire and Hemlock might not be quite this pretzel-like!

Speaking of which, Fire and Hemlock is what I'm reading now, though I'm not very far in yet.  And I need to start Howl's Moving Castle if I'm going to write a post for the right day!

Friday, March 22, 2019

Lord Dunsany, no wait, a movie or so instead

I've been meaning to read Lord Dunsany's Book of Wonder for some time.  Well, I read it once long long ago, and don't remember anything about it except that I didn't get it, so I wanted to try again.  It was on my TBR shelf, and I figured I'd read it for the Ireland event.  It turns out I just don't like Lord Dunsany.  I read several stories, and the idea of reading a whole lot more of them is not a happy thought, so I'm quitting.  The stories are all very short, and consciously strange, with lots of names:
King he was of Afarmah, Lool and Haf, over-lord of Zeroora and hilly Chang, and duke of the dukedoms of Molong and Mlash, none of them unfamiliar with romance or unknown or overlooked in the making of myth. He pondered as he went in his thin disguise.
So, I guess I still don't get it.  But I don't think I'll bother with Lord Dunsany again, be he never so important a pillar of early fantasy literature (something I usually try hard to read).

But now I don't have an Irish book to tell you about!  Instead, I will tell you about my very favorite movie, which happens to be an Irish fairy tale.  It's The Secret of Roan Inish, and it's based on a lovely children's book, The Secret of the Ron Mor Skerry, which just so happens to be back in print thanks to the NYRB children's classics imprint.  It has charming illustrations, and one day I'm going to embroider one of them in white on navy, possibly for a tote bag.  (Since I don't have enough tote bags, ha.) 

Fiona's family had always lived on an island off the west coast until the war forced everyone to the mainland.  During the evacuation, baby Jamie was washed out to sea in his boat-shaped cradle.  There are stories that Jamie is still alive, living with the seals out around the islands, and Fiona thinks that if they move back to their old home, maybe Jamie will come back...

The music in the film is just lovely, and we've listened to the soundtrack for years.  When my kids were taking violin from our beloved teacher (who moved away, and we still miss him, though our current teacher is great too), I told him about The Secret of Roan Inish, and recommended it for his family.  Next thing I knew he was assigning my kids the music.

There are two other Irish fairy-tale movies that we've really enjoyed as a family, and that are, uh, no longer available on Netflix.  They both have similar animation and music styles -- they're from the same studio.

The Secret of Kells is a romanticized story about the creation of the Book of Kells; little Brendan lives at a monastery that is building a huge wall to keep the Vikings out, and he explores the forest and meets Aisling, presumably of the Sidhe.  Brother Aidan, a refugee from Iona, arrives with the unfinished Book and Brendan wants nothing more than to help.

The Song of the Sea features Ben, whose little sister Saoirse does not speak.  Ben blames her for their mother's death, but Saoirse -- and their mother -- is a selkie, and must be rescued from Macha if she is to live.  There is a lot of great music in this one too.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Yeats: Short Stories

Stories of Red Hanrahan
The Secret Rose
Rosa Alchemica, by W. B. Yeats

This book has been sitting around forever and I don't know where it came from.  It's a very elderly book, and the spine label is nearly illegible.   I had a vague idea that it contained Irish folktales, but when I actually opened it up and inspected it, it revealed itself to be short stories by W. B. Yeats.  There are two different collections and then one longish story that is still too short to be a novella.  My copy was published in 1914, but this fancier version in the image is from 1927.

Stories of Red Hanrahan -- these seem to have been written at different times, all about Owen "Red" Hanrahan, who starts off a young schoolteacher.  He gets a message from his sweetheart, summoning him to help her, but first a strange man insists that he play cards for a little while.  After playing for hours, Hanrahan wanders out into the mountains and finds a sleeping queen, with four crones holding the four treasures of Ireland.*  Like Percival in the Grail quest, he is afraid to ask the important questions, and so he is banished to wander forever, touched by the Sidhe.  He spends the rest of his life wandering, sometimes charming women with his words, and sometimes being defeated by them.

These stories were dedicated to the Irish poet Æ, George William Russell, and Yeats described them as being about "but one subject, the war of spiritual with natural order..."   

Yeats got more obviously mystical with the stories in The Secret Rose.  It's important to remember for these that Yeats was not just interested in Irish nationalism and folklore; he was heavily into Theosophy as well.   These stories are not connected with each other, but they all have a similar tone.

The first has a wanderer arrive at a monastery for shelter, but the shelter is terrible, so he makes up a poem satirizing the abbot.  The abbot, afraid that the locals will learn the song, comes up with a solution: instead of improving the shelter, the monks put the wanderer to death, as is their habit.  Another story has a knight who sacrifices himself for an old man's pigs, for reasons of his own.  There is an elderly hermit who has spent his life waiting for the moment when he can become young again by bringing the Men of Faery to his side, a king who grows hawk feathers in his hair, and quite a long story about Proud Costello, who ruins his life and his sweetheart's by his pride.

Rose Alchemica is the most mystical of all; it's the story of a man interested in alchemy, and an old schoolfellow promises to initiate him into the Order of the Alchemical Rose.  He has many visions of lavish halls filled with dancing pagans, wars between gods and angels, all sorts of things...but like many fairy visions, it turns to dust in the morning.

I won't say I understood these stories or anything, but they were pretty interesting.  I really only know some of Yeats' poetry and not much of that, so it's good to get some more in.  Apparently he got more realistic (in his writing, I mean) later on in life; I guess this was all written during an early transcendentalist period.


*As mentioned the other day, in the Elidor post.

Monday, March 18, 2019

The Light and the Dark

The Light and the Dark, by Mikhail Shishkin

A few years ago I read a modernist novel by Shishkin, Maidenhair, which was strange and intriguing.  I've been meaning to read his next book for quite some time and I finally did it.  By now he's probably published three more, oh dear.

This is a love story, maybe.  Alexandra (Sasha) and Vladimir (Vovka) are separated lovers who write to each other.  In long alternating letters, they reminisce about their time together, talk about their memories, and share what's happening in their lives.  Except...after a while, the reader starts to notice strange things.  Volodya is a soldier, and eventually we realize he's in China, helping to put down the Boxer Rebellion.  If you look for indications of Sasha's environment, there are few clues, but she is more modern and seems to live at the end of the century.

And both of them seem to be writing into a void; they never reference each other's letters.  Vladimir addresses Sasha directly and longs for her, but after a little while Sasha's words are more like diary entries than letters.  Only near the end does she really address Volodya again, and by then he might be dying.

Not at all a difficult read, but certainly a strange one.  I'm not sure what to make of it.  Maybe it's supposed to make an ouroboros.  It was interesting, though.

While looking for an image to use, I found out that in Russia, a play was produced, called The Letter Book, which appears to be the Russian title.

Friday, March 15, 2019

The Riddle of the Sands

I just read it for free on Kindle
The Riddle of the Sands, by Erskine Childers

 This is another title I picked up from the Slightly Foxed podcast, which lauded it as a gripping boys' adventure and minor classic.  It was indeed pretty exciting, but it's waaaay longer than I anticipated!  I thought it would be a quick little read on my phone's Kindle app for odd moments, but it took me weeks.

Carruthers, young man about town, is invited on a yachting cruise by an old school friend, Davies, and he packs up his nattiest yachting outfit and heads for the north coast of Germany to meet Davies and relax for some duck shooting.  Except, the 'yacht' turns out to be a tiny (but tough!) little souped-up boat, and what Davies really wants is to explore the north-west coast of Germany in excruciating detail, because he's become convinced that something nefarious is going on.  Something worth killing for, that involves the German navy and concerns England.  It's clearly their patriotic duty to investigate.  So Carruthers and Davies set out to explore the sandy, difficult coast, outwit the German authorities, and figure out... the riddle of the sands.

Most of the action takes place in Friesland.

It's an exciting spy story of two amateurs against professionals, and it's also a sailing story.  In fact, there is a simply incredible amount about boats.  I'm pretty sure the entire Horatio Hornblower series does not contain this much material about boats and sailing and navigation.

The novel was published in 1903, and had an enormous impact.  From what I can gather, it was really one of the very first spy novels -- it built on Victorian adventure novels but introduced a twist with modern anxieties about invasion from other European powers and espionage, and it inspired an avalanche of spy novels.*  I've seen claims that it even inspired the founding of MI5 or of British naval bases, but that seems iffy to me.  I'd like more information on that.

You can really absorb the zeitgeist of 1903 here.  These two young men are entirely a product of their time and place, which makes it interesting.   You can see World War I coming over the horizon.  There is a surprising amount of admiration for the German Kaiser from Davies, which I didn't expect:
'Here's this huge empire, stretching half over central Europe—an empire growing like wildfire, I believe, in people, and wealth, and everything. They've licked the French, and the Austrians, and are the greatest military power in Europe. I wish I knew more about all that, but what I'm concerned with is their sea-power. It's a new thing with them, but it's going strong, and that Emperor of theirs is running it for all it's worth. He's a splendid chap, and anyone can see he's right....'

For two days we travelled slowly up the mighty waterway that is the strategic link between the two seas of Germany. Broad and straight, massively embanked, lit by electricity at night till it is lighter than many a great London street; traversed by great war vessels, rich merchantmen, and humble coasters alike, it is a symbol of the new and mighty force which, controlled by the genius of statesmen and engineers, is thrusting the empire irresistibly forward to the goal of maritime greatness.    'Isn't it splendid?' said Davies. 'He's a fine fellow, that emperor.'
  It is really strange to see this character with such admiration for a guy I think of as bombastic, uncontrolled, disastrously impulsive, and fatally Prussian-minded.  But in 1903 I suppose the average citizen didn't know all that.

It's worth reading, and pretty exciting, but be prepared for a really overwhelming amount about boats.

*John Buchan came next, John LeCarre....I suppose without Erskine Childers we might not have James Bond or Jack Ryan or Jason Bourne, at least not in the form we're used to.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Parnassus on Wheels and The Haunted Bookshop

Parnassus on Wheels and The Haunted Bookshop, by Christopher Morley

These fun books came across the donation table and I just read them in spare moments.  Several years ago, I downloaded The Haunted Bookshop, but I couldn't understand the first chapter at all, so I quit.  I had no idea that it was a sequel to Parnassus on Wheels!  Now it all makes sense....

Parnassus on Wheels is the narrative of Helen McGill, spinster, who lives with her brother on a farm.  Until a few years ago, they farmed happily together, but then Andrew wrote a book and became a successful writer about the joys of country life, and things have never been the same since.  Helen is pretty fed up and the last straw arrives on a wagon in the form of a mobile bookstore, Parnassus on Wheels; the owner wants to sell the outfit to Andrew so he can retire and write his book, about the joys of bookselling.  Helen decides that it's high time she got to go out gallivanting around the countryside and let Andrew run his own farm, so she buys Parnassus and sets out to become a traveling bookseller.  She'll just take this Roger Mifflin fellow along for a day or so while she learns the ropes, and then drop him off at the train station...

The adventures of Helen and Roger are a lot of fun.  There are bandits and storms, irate landladies,  sheriffs and even a train wreck!  I think I actually enjoyed this one better than the next, which is still quite a good read.

In The Haunted Bookshop, the Great War is over and the Mifflins have settled down in Brooklyn to run Parnassus at Home.  An energetic young advertising clerk happens by and is intrigued by the garrulous Roger, and at about the same time a friend asks them to take on his daughter as a favor, so she (fresh from finishing school) can find out what real working life is like.  But odd things are happening at the bookshop.  Why do people keep coming in and asking for Carlyle's Cromwell, and why is that tome never where it ought to be?  Young Mr. Gilbert thinks he smells a rat and he's determined to find out what's going on.

This story is still great fun, plus there are schemes and spies and adventures.  I particularly got a laugh out of this bit at the start of the book, where Mr. Mifflin and Mr. Gilbert first meet and entertain themselves by having their dinner conversation in a deliberately Johnsonian style:

 "Ah, you should taste Mrs. Mifflin's cooking!" said the bookseller. "I am only an amateur, who dabbles in the craft during her absence. She is on a visit to her cousin in Boston. She becomes, quite justifiably, weary of the tobacco of this establishment, and once or twice a year it does her good to breathe the pure serene of Beacon Hill. During her absence it is my privilege to inquire into the ritual of housekeeping. I find it very sedative after the incessant excitement and speculation of the shop."

"I should have thought," said Gilbert, "that life in a bookshop would be delightfully tranquil."

"Far from it. Living in a bookshop is like living in a warehouse of explosives. Those shelves are ranked with the most furious combustibles in the world—the brains of men. I can spend a rainy afternoon reading, and my mind works itself up to such a passion and anxiety over mortal problems as almost unmans me. It is terribly nerve-racking. Surround a man with Carlyle, Emerson, Thoreau, Chesterton, Shaw, Nietzsche, and George Ade—would you wonder at his getting excited? What would happen to a cat if she had to live in a room tapestried with catnip? She would go crazy!"

"Truly, I had never thought of that phase of bookselling," said the young man. "How is it, though, that libraries are shrines of such austere calm? If books are as provocative as you suggest, one would expect every librarian to utter the shrill screams of a hierophant, to clash ecstatic castanets in his silent alcoves!"

"Ah, my boy, you forget the card index! Librarians invented that soothing device for the febrifuge of their souls, just as I fall back upon the rites of the kitchen. Librarians would all go mad, those capable of concentrated thought, if they did not have the cool and healing card index as medicament!"
Yes, we would all go mad!  Mad, I tell you!

These two are minor classics of American humor and a must-read for any book lover.  I'm glad I found them.

Somebody went ahead and did it!

Monday, March 11, 2019

The Last Dragonslayer

The Last Dragonslayer and The Song of the Quarkbeast, by Jasper Fforde

I do love Jasper Fforde!  For Dewithon, I read the first two books in the Chronicles of Kazam trilogy.  The third is no longer at my library, and I put an ILL request in for it.  These middle-grade fantasy stories are so fun, everybody!

OK, I haven't gotten that third one yet, but I like this image
Jennifer Strange, age 16, is a foundling -- there are lots in the Kingdom of Hereford, ruled by the illustrious King Snodd IV.  She works as a manager at a company of wizards; it's her job to do the practical work of booking jobs, scheduling, and feeding the very unruly jobbing wizards, and since the worrying disappearance of the owner 8 months ago, she's been running it all on her own.  But!  The level of magic available in the world is going down.  It's getting harder and harder to do big workings, and pretty soon the wizards of Kazam might be out of work altogether.  Meanwhile, the last of the dragons is dying, and Jennifer has been named a dragonslayer despite not wanting at all to kill any dragons.  She and her faithful quarkbeast set out to see what can be done.

As with the Thursday Next books, at least half the fun is in the details and the oddball world Fforde has invented.  This is a Britain un-united, with innumerable tiny kingdoms and plenty of strange creatures.  A good deal of Wales belongs to dragons (naturally enough) and the north belongs to trolls.  Magic runs the technology, and is written in code -- RUNIX used to be standard but ARAMAIC-128 is more modern.

There were a lot of good moments, but this one in particular had to be read aloud to anyone nearby.  Jennifer and the company's messenger, a magic-carpet owner and prince of a neighboring kingdom, are on their way home:

We took the train back to the Kingdom of Hereford.  After the afternoon's action, the carpet was in no state to be used for anything -- not even a carpet.  The prince had no cash, so he swapped a minor dukedom back in his home Kingdom of Portland for two first-class tickets and we caught the first train out of Stirling station.  As a foundling I was not permitted to sit anywhere but third class, but when the conductor questioned my presence in first, the prince said that I was his personal organ donor and traveled everywhere with him, just in case.  The conductor congratulated the prince on such a novel use of a foundling and told me I was lucky to have such a kind benefactor. 

I'm seriously tempted to give my dragon-loving niece this trilogy for her next birthday.  I think it would be right up her alley, despite not being mainly about dragons.  I loved them, I can't wait till the third one shows up, and if you like humor in your fantasy, or if you enjoyed Thursday Next, you should definitely read the Chronicles of Kazam.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

The Wee Free Men

The Wee Free Men, by Terry Pratchett -- audiobook read by Stephen Briggs

It's #MarchMagics Pterry Day!  The readalong was Wee Free Men, and I thought I'd try listening to the audiobook, as my mom said it was fantastic.  I don't usually like audiobooks, so this is a departure for me.  (Usually, I lack the patience to listen to a book I know I could be reading about five times faster.  Also I tend to let my mind wander and then I get lost.)

And indeed, the audio version of this book IS fantastic!  It's beautifully read, and Briggs gives everybody a wonderful variety of accents.  I recommend!

Now, in my opinion, the Tiffany Aching series is just about Pterry's apex of writing.  It would probably be hard to get any better.  The way he managed to blend humor, myth, and Big Important Stuff is simply amazing to me.  Tiffany is a fantastic character, and the Nac Mac Feegles are sheer genius.

As a result, it's hard to find much to say about The Wee Free Men besides enthusiastic words.  So I'll keep this short and participate in the discussion that should happen at Kristen's blog today.

Looking around, I saw that the Jim Henson Company announced it would be making a Wee Free Men film, which sounds like a great idea, but that was all from 2016 and there doesn't seem to have been much news since then, so I guess I won't hold my breath.

So many different covers!  Here are just a few.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Adventures in music!

This isn't about books at all; it's about what I did Wednesday and how happy I am about it, and so I thought I'd write it down.

One of my very favorite all-time bands is a New Zealand group called the Chills.  It's fronted by Martin Phillipps, whose lifelong project it is; the other members have changed quite a bit though the current lineup has been around for a while.  I first got into them with their 1990 album Submarine Bells, which was their first international release.  In 1992, they did a US tour, and I saw that they were playing in San Francisco -- at a venue I couldn't get to.  I didn't have a car or any friends with cars who wanted to go see a band they'd never heard of (cars were very rare in my world); it was too far from any BART stations and in a really sketchy area.  I sadly concluded I'd have to wait till the next time, but I never heard of another one.  Until now!  And now I have a car!

So my husband and I hopped into the car on Wednesday and started driving.  Wow, spring sure is pretty in California (if extremely short; see this poem)!  The drive was just lovely.  I was supposed to do the driving, but I lasted all of 45 minutes before I got too sleepy, so my poor husband had to drive down and then back again afterwards.  We hung around the Mission district for a bit -- luckily, we found a really great bookstore with a cafe attached -- and had some dinner before going in.

Excited me
 We got a very nice spot at a little table at the front of the balcony, which gave us a wonderful view.  There were two opening acts; one was okay, the other stank on toast.  But it was all entirely worth it, because the actual show was fantastic and the best thing ever.  They played most of the songs that I would have picked to hear, the playing was wonderful, and pretty much I GOT TO SEE MARTIN PHILLIPPS SING and I won't pretend I didn't tear up once or twice from joy.

The drive back was brutal, and we got home at 3am, but we're still poking each other and going "We got to go see the Chills!"  I was 27 years late, but I got my chance!   And now I shall inflict photos and music videos upon you:

One of their most known early songs

The breakout hit (whenever I'm asked for a quotation I tend to produce a line from this song)

Just one of my favorites

A more recent song that I just really like

Wednesday, March 6, 2019


Stet: a Memoir, by Diana Athill

I've been listening to the Slightly Foxed podcast, which is a bit of a problem when it comes to my TBR pile and its daunting rate of growth.  One episode mentioned this memoir by Diana Athill, who was an editor in London for decades, and it sounded so fun that I had to have it.  InterLibrary Loan was my friend, and I enjoyed it very much.  It also put three more books on the TBR list, which I hope doesn't happen every time; the podcast gave me two or three titles, and if each one gives me two or three titles more, pretty soon we'll have a 'going to St. Ives' problem.

Athill starts out with her youth as one of those county families with no actual money but some land and a taste for the leisured life.  She lived with horses and dogs outside, and books inside, and then went off to London to earn her living, which coincided with the war, and eventually turned into editing.  She ended up at Andre Deutsch, and edited books for a good 40 years or so.

The first half of the book is a chronological memoir of life in publishing.  It's a great pleasure to read (although intermittent accounts of love affairs show up at boring intervals) and there is plenty of humor.  I particularly liked the description of editing one book, written by an expert and full of wonderful detail but very badly written.   After she painstakingly edited just about every sentence in the book, the author sent her a review that praised the writing and pointed out that there had been no need for all that editing fuss.

The second half consists of Athill's reflections on working closely with six of 'her' authors -- including Jean Rhys and V. S. Naipaul.  Also very interesting and, like the rest of the book, honest in her assessments of others (and herself).

The whole thing is a delightful read and, I'd say, something just about any book-lover would really enjoy a lot.  I don't mean necessarily everyone who likes to read -- I mean anyone who is interested in books, in how they are written and produced and made.  It's out of print, but libraries have it (though not many in the US) and used copies are available.

One of Athill's last thoughts is a short meditation on what she considers to be the shortcomings of publishing during her career.  She points out that English publishing was run almost entirely by people of her own 'caste' -- upper-class types with a particular outlook -- and that the resulting books tended to appeal to that caste and not to others.  She singles out Virginia Woolf and Angela Thirkell as rather embarrassing examples -- I meant to put the quotation here but then I lent the book to my mom before it has to go back.  Now, I'll agree that both of them were awful snobs, but I'm going to defend Thirkell (Woolf hardly needs me).  She is indeed an example, and I can see where from within that world, she's cringe-inducing; nearly all her 'real' people are of her own class.  But for me as a complete outsider, reading her as someone from a very foreign world, it's possible to read her for her many good points and take the others with a grain of salt.  It's much easier to enjoy her for what she is, and I'd hate to miss out on her books.

So -- if you like books about books, get hold of this one sometime.

Monday, March 4, 2019


Elidor, by Alan Garner

I chose this book for Dewithon, because I was under the impression that it had something to do with Wales...and it's set in Manchester.  So I was only a couple pages in and thought I was wrong, but Chris at Calmgrove pointed out some details, and the story features threads of both Irish and Welsh legend.

The four Watson siblings, bored and wandering around, go exploring and are suddenly shoved into a different world.  Elidor is not a lovely adventure world at all; it's a barren, post-apocalyptic wasteland, and Roland, the youngest, meets Malebron -- who promptly shoves him into a terrifying barrow to find some treasures and save his trapped siblings.  Malebron then tells them to take the treasures and hide them in their own world, and for over a year, nothing happens.  Until all of a sudden it does and the children are being hunted by men who mean to kill them to get those treasures.

Like most of Garner's work, Elidor is an unusual kind of fantasy story.  The children spend hardly any time in Elidor and much of the meaning is a bit buried.  There are clear echoes of Narnia: four siblings, and the youngest is the most faithful and the strongest, who has to learn to do what he needs to do regardless of what his older siblings are telling him.  (The oldest brother is desperate to find any way out of believing that there are four magic treasures and another world, not to mention a unicorn.)

So, what connections to Ireland and Wales?  I was glad for Chris' hint, because it's been far too long since I read my Irish mythology and I'd forgotten exactly what the treasures of Ireland are, but Garner really lays it out pretty clearly.  (And then I started reading something else and they popped up there too.)  Each treasure belongs to a city, which Garner shows as four castles, only one of which is still inhabited.  I need a chart:
Spear of Lugh    Gorias    Invincibility
Stone of Fál    Falias    Cries out for the king
Sword of Nuada    Findias    Also Invincibility
Cauldron of the Dagda    Murias    Plenty
These aren't given their proper names, or properties, and in fact once they're in our world they look like junk (luckily).

All right, so what about the Wales connection?  That's a good deal less obvious, and while I would have spotted the treasures anyway, I needed a big hint here.  Gerald of Wales told a story in his Journey Through Wales  about a priest who told a story about when he was a little boy: young Elidyr met two little men, who took him into their own land through a tunnel.  It was beautiful, though with no sun, and there was pleasure all the time.  They ate milk dishes with saffron, and hated lies, and gold was common there.  Elidyr visited often, and told his mother about the land, and she asked him to bring her a present of gold.  So he stole a golden ball and took it home, but the little men chased him and took it back, and he could never find the tunnel again.

Elidyr would be pronounced the same as Elidor, as far as I can figure, so Garner used a Welsh name connected with the otherworld for his tale.  A picture book of the story was printed in 1973 in the UK, which must have been fun. I'd like to see that.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Undine and Other Stories

Undine at the start (Rackam, obvs.)
Undine and Other Stories, by La Motte - Fouqué

Well, his whole name was Friedrich Heinrich Karl de la Motte, Baron Fouqué, but that was too difficult, so even my book only says "La Motte Fouqué" on the title page and never elaborates.  He lived from 1777 - 1843 and was a German Romantic to the core; my little Oxford World Classics book (from 1932) says we "may now recognize in Fouqué the latest and the most uncompromising of the Romanticists, the man who accepted most unflinchingly the principles of that school, and who carried them out most thoroughly."  It also calls him "somewhat stupid" and goes on to note that his output "was positively prodigious, and most of it, so far as modern readers are concerned, might very well have been left undone."  Poor Fouqué!  The introduction does allow him several stories to keep for posterity, and these four make up the majority of them.

It must be admitted that these stories are...odd.  Undine was not what I expected at all and neither was Sintram (those being the two that I had heard of at all).  They are a little on the overwrought side and I would like to propose them for a Reading Rambo Readalong.  I'm not at all saying they're bad, but you should know that indeed they are very much in the Romantic vein.

Undine at the end
Undine is, I think, the most famous story.  A knight travels through a dangerous forest, and on the other side he takes shelter at a fisherman's hut.  His foster-daughter is Undine, a lovely girl of 18 who acts very childishly; she is always playing tricks and changing moods.  The knight, Huldbrand, is stranded at the hut when the river floods, and so he and Undine fall in love and are married by a traveling priest.  Undine promptly turns into the ideal woman, and explains that she is a water-spirit and had no soul until she got married.  Her uncle, Kühleborn, is the spirit of the river and will make mischief if he can; and if Huldbrand is inconstant to Undine, he will take her back home to the water.

Huldbrand is a less than ideal husband, and once he's got Undine, he starts thinking maybe he should have married Bertalda instead.  Bertalda ends up coming to live with them as a friend, but that goes about as well as you might expect, and eventually Undine is snatched back down to her watery home.

Sintram and His Companions -- I know I've heard mention of Sintram somewhere, possibly in an E. Nesbit novel,* but I never expected what I got.  Sintram is a Norwegian knight with a dual nature; he yearns to be pure and spiritual, but also wild and vicious.  He careens between the two poles of his being, and the great temptation of his life is his infatuation with his guest Gabrielle, the wife of the perfect knight Folko.  He is constantly tempted (by the devil!) to somehow abduct Gabrielle and make her a Helen to his Paris.  It takes Sintram his entire life to conquer the darker corners of his soul.  In a postscript at the end of the story, Fouqué explains that he based it all on the Dürer engraving "Knight, Death, and the Devil."

Dürer's engraving
 Sintram does, however, contain the floweriest description of skiing I've ever read.  Here is Sintram warning Folko about the difficulties of skiing (which Folko turns out to be expert at):

‘Look, noble Sir’ — said Sintram the next morning upon Folko’s desire to go out with him — ‘our snow-shoes, which we call skier, wing our course indeed, so that it goes down hill fleet as the wind, and up hill more rapidly than any one is able to follow us, and upon the plain no horse can catch us, but it is only the experienced master whom they serve to his weal. It is as if the spirit of a cobold were confined in them, fearfully destructive to the stranger that has not learnt to use them from his childhood upwards.’

Two short little stories round out this volume.  In Aslauga's Knight, a Danish knight (from my own Fyn!) with a folklore hobby falls in love with the long-dead, legendary Aslauga and decides to serve her in knightly fashion.  At the next tournament, he is sometimes tempted by the great beauty of the princess, but every time Aslauga appears to chastise him.  Besides, the princess is obviously destined for the shy young (and bookish!) Edwald. 

The Two Captains may be the zaniest of these four pretty zany stories.  Two soldiers, a Spaniard and a German, start as friends but become deadly enemies.  After a battle with the Ottomans, they both pursue the beautiful enchantress Zelinda out to the Sahara desert (which is surprisingly thickly inhabited).  Will either of them win her?  Will their friendship survive?

The Sahara is not only full of people to meet at random.  There are animals too:
Several times night had followed day and day night when Heimbert one evening, as the dark came on, was standing quite alone in the endless desert, unable to see a single fixed object around him....Sometimes he heard some one’s footstep or the rustle of spreading cloaks go past him; then he drew himself up in haste and alarm but only saw what he had seen often enough in those days, the wild beasts of the wilderness, wandering through the desert in joyous freedom. Now they were ugly camels, then long-necked awkward giraffes, and then again a long-legged ostrich, sailing along hastily with uneasy wings.
 So, Fouqué didn't know a whole lot about the Sahara, but after all it was about 1820.  Anyway, I had so much fun reading these tales -- they are simply drenched in Romanticism, and although we've nearly forgotten them today, I think they're well worth reading for anybody interested in 19th century literature and/or Romanticism.  They became part of any Victorian's basic reading background.

*A quick bit of research reveals that both Undine and Sintram were hugely popular in English and made it into the canon of popular children's tales, with several retellings published in the late 19th century.  The Bastable children play Sintram at one point, which must be where I picked it up.

Monday, February 25, 2019

That's Not English

That's Not English: Britishism, Americanisms, and What Our English Says About Us, by Erin Moore

This was a fun, fast read that I enjoyed a lot because I will never not want to read books comparing the British to Americans and vice versa.  I cannot get enough of those.

Erin Moore is American-born, moved to England, married into a trans-Atlantic family, and is now raising a little Briton of her own, so she's had plenty of opportunity to experience culture shock (both ways) and delve into the mysteries of our respective characters.  Each chapter is dedicated to a word or expression that either means different things to each side (quite, sorry, cheers, ginger) or is practically unknown to one side (knackered, bespoke, dude).  So, some random observations from me:

Indeed, I use quite as an intensifier that means just plain really.  Apparently Britons aren't quite that enthused when they say it.

Moore says that English parents say to their children "You get what you get, and you don't get upset."  She then comments that "These sentiments are so un-American it is not even funny."  This shows that she really hasn't done her parenting in the US, because everybody I know says "You get what you get, and you don't throw a fit" several times a day.

Indeed my kid's red hair has always been considered enviable, and pretty much only that.  She considers 'ginger' to be a term of pride.

 Someday I'd like to see a real British pantomime.  I'd be completely bewildered, even though I do kind of know the basics.  One of the strangest sentences in this whole book is about American actors appearing in panto: "In recent years, both David Hasselhoff and Vanilla Ice have played Captain Hook in regional English I write this, Henry Winkler -- the Fonz himself -- is playing Hook in Liverpool." 

Moore says that if there is one Americanism that Britons never, ever pick up, it's dude.  I would LOVE to talk about dude, folks, so any British people reading this, you have to tell me what you think about dude.  I, being a California girl, cannot go an hour without saying dude.  I don't notice that I'm doing it -- it's a less noticeable word than like (which I also say, but not nearly as much).  I clearly remember being in Denmark, in 1989, and trying to help the English teacher learn how to say dude.  You have to say it in that particular way, you see. 

And here's the thing about dude: it is the single most flexible, most adaptable word in English.  You can use dude to express virtually ANY emotion, with the possible exception of deep, heartfelt love.  Deep, heartfelt sympathy, yes absolutely, but preferably not a marriage proposal, though I'm sure it's been done.

Of course, you've seen the little meme going around about how dude can address anyone and anything.  Or maybe you haven't, so I'll put it here.  It is completely true.

I can quite see that a Briton would probably find it a non-comfortable word to use.  I'd just like the discussion.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Two more March events!

Yes, indeed there are other reading events besides March Magics, and here they are.

Paula at Book Jotter is hosting Dewithon 2019, also known as Reading Wales.  Read anything by a Welsh writer, or about Wales!  My trouble is, all the Welsh books I can find are fantasy novels I've read before, but I have this copy of Elidor, by Alan Garner, that I haven't read in a long time, and also Jasper Fforde wrote a fantasy trilogy I haven't read yet, so I got The Last Dragonslayer.  I plan to enjoy those, and sometime I will get my hands on some Serious Welsh Literature.

Cathy at 746 Books is hosting Reading Ireland 2019.   She's even going to have weekly themes!  It so happens that I put a battered old book of Yeats on my TBR list for Adam's challenge this year, so I'll read that.    Looking into it properly, I find that it contains Stories of Red Hanrahan, The Secret Rose (also a collection of stories), and Rosa Alchemica -- a novella perhaps?   I really have very little idea of what is in this book, and was pretty surprised to see a publishing date of 1914 when I inspected it just now.  It's pretty elderly but I didn't think it would be that old.  I've never read anything by Yeats that wasn't poetry, so we'll see how I like his prose.           

Friday, February 22, 2019

How to Think

How to Think, by Alan Jacobs

 I'm going to make a judgement here, and that is that every college student and adult ought to read this book.  It's short and painless, so entirely doable!  I heard about this, by the way, from a favorite podcast I didn't mention before (because it's not literary), No Dumb Questions with Destin and Matt.  Destin does the Smarter Every Day channel on Youtube, and all of us are big fans.  Matt is a smart dude too, and they just talk and it's hugely entertaining.  They have kind of a book club, and they discussed this one a while ago.  I'm not current on their podcast, so I have yet to read a book along with them.  Anyway...

Alan Jacobs teaches at a college, and he wants us all to learn to think a bit better -- especially on Twitter.  Really thinking is not easy; it's uncomfortable, and kind of hard work, so our brains don't like to do it.  So in short chapters, Jacobs tackles various aspects of thinking well.

One of his first points was kind of unusual; he observes that it's not really possible to 'think for yourself.'  Usually, what we mean by 'thinking for ourselves' actually means thinking with different people, changing our thoughts to be more in line with some other group.  Thinking is a social activity and does not occur in a vacuum -- you have to interact with other thoughts.

Jacobs' big thesis, though, is the paramount importance of ingroups, outgroups, and the Inner Ring -- and of learning to deal with our instincts for othering.  We all have what he calls 'repugnant cultural others' -- people whose beliefs are so different that it's very easy to think of them as Other, and pretty soon as not human.  Learning to think involves exercising patience and understanding of that other, because unless you can truly understand those you disagree with, you won't be able to communicate, persuade, or be persuaded.

It's a great little book, full of interesting stories and examples.  I highly recommend it as a quick education in thinking, plus it will make you feel pretty uncomfortable every so often, which is all to the good. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

March Magics is coming!

One of my very favorite yearly events is March Magics, when we read and discuss two of the greatest fantasy writers around, Diana Wynne Jones and Terry Pratchett.  It's hosted by Kristen at We Be Reading, and the theme this year is "Riches Well-Told."  Kristen says:
What does that mean in terms of books? It means we get to read our favorites this year! I want everyone to pick up the books from these authors that never get old, the ones that we've read dozens of times already but plan to read at least a dozen more times.

The DWJ readalong this year will be Howl's Moving Castle, and the Pterry title has yet to be chosen.  Kristen is running a poll at the announcement post, and I voted for Wee Free Men on the grounds that I haven't read it in a long time.  (Update: it's official; Wee Free Men!)  I'll have to think about which favorites I want to read in's hard to choose!  There are so many to love.

I just realized I'm wearing my Death "I could murder a curry" t-shirt as I type this post.  It was a Christmas present.  If only there was a good DWJ t-shirt out there -- does anybody have a good DWJ image I could put on a t-shirt?

Oh, I'm excited about March Magics!  There is going to be all kinds of good stuff going on in March, what with the Welsh literature event, and isn't there an Irish one too?

Monday, February 18, 2019

The Unknown Ajax, and a mystery too

The Unknown Ajax, by Georgette Heyer

I always enjoy a good Heyer novel, though I don't always review them here.  The last one I read was just OK, so I didn't post about it, but it wasn't bad either.  On the whole, I think we should all admit that Georgette Heyer was the best writer of Regency romance-comedies ever.  She simply cannot be beat.  Her dialogue is always great, her comedy excellent, her detail and knowledge unmatched.  And The Unknown Ajax is one of the best of the romances that I have read.

The Darracotts are not a united family, and they are headed by the irritable -- nay, enraged -- Lord Darracott, who is particularly angry that his eldest son got himself killed in an accident.  Now the family must accept an estranged and unknown cousin -- from Yorkshire! who is half commoner! -- as the heir.  Major Hugo Darracott arrives, a huge and amiable man, and everybody expects him to be both stupid and vulgar.

Anthea, the young lady of the house, is particularly irritated by Hugo's arrival, for Lord Darracott's solution to the problem Hugo presents is to make her marry him.  She is therefore icy and unwelcoming, but once Hugo persuades her that he has no intention of marrying her, they become good friends.  Anthea's younger brother Richmond presents a problem, for he is eighteen, enormously energetic, and completely thwarted in his desires to join the Army.  He has nothing to do but get into trouble.

There is a romance in this story, but it's almost incidental compared to all the other action crammed in.  A mismatched and feuding cast of cousins, the local free-traders and the Preventative men who want to catch them, and all sorts of complications take up most of the book, and it's all great fun. 

Footsteps in the Dark, by Georgette Heyer

I find Heyer's mysteries to be less dependable than her romances, but I always read a new-to-me title if it's available.  This one was a fun surprise, and I think it's one of her better mysteries.

Celia, Peter, and Margaret, siblings, have unexpectedly inherited a crumbling estate, so they decide to check it out and have a holiday -- along with Celia's husband Charles.  All the locals warn them it's haunted by the Monk, a terrifying robed apparition, but they are modern, educated people and don't believe in ghosts.  The weird sounds, the strange events, the skull that bounces down the stairs...they don't convince everyone to flee, although Celia is pretty freaked out.  And why does half the village seem to be in their garden all the time?

It's very much a Scooby-Doo, Three Investigators kind of plot.  Very well done, too.

Friday, February 15, 2019

The Whale Rider

The Whale Rider, by Witi Ihimaera

I was pretty excited when I spotted this novel on the donation table; it's currently not that easy to find in the US.   It's also shorter than I expected!  This cover make it look kind of like a kid's book but I would say that it is maybe more YA.  It's one of those novels that kind of defies age categories, really.

The story is told in two interlocking parts: one side is mythic, about the far past and about the whales.  The other is narrated by a young Maori man, and it's really about his niece, Kahu.  She is the first-born of her generation, and the family patriarch, Koro, is extremely displeased, because he expects a boy to be the chief and carry on the family heritage -- they are descended from the legendary whale rider.  Kahu adores Koro, and spends her childhood following him around, bouyantly ignoring his indifference.

 When an entire pod of whales beaches near the village, Koro believes that it's a watershed moment for his family.  If the whales can be saved and persuaded to go back to the sea, it will be a new birth for the humans of Wharanga too.  If they can't, it will be the end.  But the ancient bull whale that leads this pod misses his wonderful rider.  Is there anyone to take his place?

It's a beautifully crafted novel, and I enjoyed every bit.

A film was made in 2002, and I'd like to watch it.  They made Kahu older (which makes sense; the novel takes her from infancy to maybe 10 or so, and they would have needed five or six actresses), and this film seems to have more martial arts than the story does (which is none).  Looks pretty good, yeah?  It won an award at Sundance.

Monday, February 11, 2019


Enraged: Why Violent Times Need Ancient Greek Myths, by Emily Katz Anhalt

What?  Why would a modern, 21st-century society need stories told by a bunch of Greeks over 2000 years ago?  Well, Emily Anhalt is here to tell you, and she is dang good at it.  I enjoyed this book a lot!

Anhalt's thesis is that human beings are just the same as they always were, and the ancient Greeks gave these things a lot of thought.  She analyzes the Iliad and the plays Ajax and Hecuba for themes that hit close to home for us today.  All of them are about rage, and there's a lot of that going on right now.  She doesn't talk specifics -- there's enough rage to go around anyway

The Iliad is all about rage.  Achilles and Agamemnon both have a lot of it, and it has tremendous effects -- none of them good.  Achilles' rage leads directly to the death of his best friend, and that's only the beginning.

Sophocles' Ajax covers an episode just after the Iliad, in which Ajax and Odysseus have contended for the right to Achilles' armor.  Odysseus used his rhetorical skill to convince a panel of warriors that he was the best, despite Ajax' obvious better claim.  Humiliated and enraged, Ajax goes mad and kills a lot of cattle in the delusion that they are the Greek leaders.  When he comes to his senses, he falls onto his sword.  Anhalt shows that Sophocles was meditating on the limitations of democracy -- a majority vote will not always be the correct decision.  In order to work well, democracy must be accompanied by the willingness to see others' points of view, to compromise, to work together.  Ajax, an old-school aristocrat to the core, can't understand democracy or its necessary corollaries...but he can point out the problems of democracy badly wielded.

Euripides' Hecuba is even more violent and despairing.  Hecuba, the deposed queen of Troy, is now a captive slave.  She has one daughter left to her, and the hope of her youngest son's survival, since he was sent to live with a friendly king.  As the Greeks are encamped, about to leave, Odysseus arrives and requires the daughter, Polyxena, for a sacrifice to Achilles' shade.  Hecuba warns him that the powerful should not abuse the powerless or think they'll always be victorious, but Odysseus takes the girl anyway.  Hecuba's son's body, murdered, then washes up on shore just before the friendly king shows up, pretending innocence.  Mad with grief, Hecuba has his two children murdered before killing him; having been denied justice, revenge seems her only option.

(In 1995, I went and saw a prestigious production of Hecuba that starred Olympia Dukakis.  I had only the barest idea of what a big deal that was supposed to be, but it was certainly an excellently-staged play.)

Enraged is a great read, because Anhalt is wonderful at demonstrating the meanings and nuances of Greek literature.  I'd love to hear her lecture.  This book is packed with fascinating insights.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Dancing With the Viper

Dancing With the Viper, by Amy Beatty

A few months ago I told you about my friend Amy, whose novel Dragon Ascending was published last October.  She also has a second series going, and I bought myself a copy of this first installment in the Viper series.  It's available in paperback and on Kindle, and there are a couple of short stories on her website too!

This is Amy's 'complicated politics in a galactic empire' story, but it doesn't start that way.  We start at the edge.

The Talessanin made contact several years ago, and they have an embassy on Earth now, but Hanna has never actually met one of the aliens before.  Now she has a Talessanin for a neighbor, and she's not entirely sure she wants the company on her cherished lonely country road.  Still, one must be neighborly, so she takes a welcome cake over and meets Jon, a retired soldier, and his two friends? assistants?, Chance and Tomin.  Pretty soon Hanna (and her friends) are getting to know the Talessanin guys well, and while she is drawn to Jon, she's also wary of getting involved with anyone at all.  Jon, for his part, has a lot of secrets of his own, and he's not just any retired soldier -- plus he has a bunch of relatives and family connections with very definite opinions on what he ought to be doing with his life.

So here we have a romance/SF/thriller, and there's a good bit of romance.   Apparently the genre-crossing kind of stymied publishers, who loved it but didn't know what to do with it.

I really enjoy Amy's storytelling.  She's just really good at drawing the reader in.  Even though I was reading on my phone -- normally something I will do anything to avoid -- I could hardly put it down.  There are bits I've gone back and read several times now.  I don't usually do romance, but I liked this one.  I may buy it in paperback too.  If you like romance/SF, give this one a go.

Monday, February 4, 2019

A Most Dangerous Book

A Most Dangerous Book: Tacitus's Germania From the Roman Empire to the Third Reich, by Christopher B. Krebs

I've been pretty excited about this book.  Once I finished reading the actual Germania, so that I could understand this one, I was able to get started.  (I shall continue the chain by reading about one of the terrible consequences in Timothy Snyder's Black Earth.)  Krebs packs his book with lots of fascinating information, but it's quite dense and I went pretty slowly because I found it hard to concentrate sometimes.  The second I drifted even a tiny bit, I'd lose the train and discover that I had no idea what the last two pages had said.

Krebs starts off with plenty of background for Tacitus and what was going on in the Roman Empire at the time.  Of course, Tacitus never set foot in the unconquered territory of the barbarians; he didn't study the Germanic tribes in person or anything.  He draws the tribes as the descendants of an autochthonic earth god, Tuisto, and his son Mannus (which just means 'human'); they've remained 'pure and unmixed' with other tribes because their land is so grim and cold and unpleasant that nobody else wants to live there.  Tacitus wrote with his eye on contemporary Roman government and society, not on anthropology; he wasn't so much describing actual Germanic tribes as drawing a contrast with his own society.  Germania proved to be a popular work and hand-written copies were sold at bookstores.

We then have to skip ahead over a thousand years, to Renaissance Italians excited about finding old manuscripts in monasteries.  Books had been preserved carefully in monastic libraries, but they were not necessarily known to the outside world.  Certain Italians made something of a competition out of digging up unique books, and one of these was the Germania, hidden away in a German monastery.  This was a wonderful find, but humanists took it a little too seriously as real ethnography and went right ahead applying it to their own day.  Italians sneered at the 'uncivilized' Germans, and German humanists grasped desperately at a chance to prove that they too had a proud and ancient heritage of strong, honest, loyal warrior-farmers.  This required a good deal of twisting of the actual text, but never mind.

Krebs then traces a complex and ever-growing movement of Germanness through several hundred years.  Tuisto was remade as a Trojan prince and even as a son of Noah.  Perhaps German was the Adamic tongue?  Well, if not, it was definitely ancient and pure and passed down from the Tower of Babel.  Whatever the favorite issue of the day was, scholars could use Tacitus and their imaginations to prove that Germanness was whole, unmixed, and unique to itself (in a never-ending, endlessly expanding repetition of that one single paragraph from Germania).

In the 19th century, the racial theories came in and scholars started arguing that Aryans (what we would think of as Indo-Europeans, except racialized) were the drivers of history, and Germans were the highest example thereof, indicated by being tall, blond, blue-eyed, and dolichocephalic (that is, having a long and tall head).  "As a mythical race -- rather than as a linguistic group -- Aryans were believed to have conquered, colonized, and acculturated the world."  They'd taken an ancient belief in the possibility of an autochthonic god siring a race of humans, and turned it into a pseudo-scientific racial theory that meant nothing whatsoever.  It all intensified in the 20th century...

It's all pretty depressing, but reading it all at once like this is also a salutary exercise.  Krebs traces the development of this belief, which became pretty much a religion to some, from its beginnings, and in doing so shows how very hollow and insane the whole thing was. The whole racial superiority thing developed from a wish to show those snotty Renaissance Romans that Germans were just as good as they were, and that developed from a pamphlet written to remind a certain few ancient Romans that tyranny is bad.   I guess there's no limit to the human ability to invent and rationalize reasons to do nasty things to each other.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Favorite Podcasts

I've been listening to some really great language or literature podcasts lately, and I thought I'd let you in on the fun in case you didn't know about these yet.  Probably you do, because I cannot claim to be terribly knowledgeable or cool about podcasts!  My list is not long, and I mostly only listen to them when I'm walking on my own, am alone in the car, or possibly sometimes while folding a mountain of laundry.  Still, I really like these, and here they are:

The History of English, by Kevin Stroud.  This might be my very favorite podcast.  Kevin starts with Indo-European and takes us on a detailed, fascinating trip through the history of the English language.  I'm on episode 62 and we're almost to the Norman Conquest, so there is a lot of information!

Medieval Death Trip, by Patrick Lane.  I'm the last to know about this fabulous podcast; my mom told me about it.  In every episode, Patrick reads a selection from a lesser-known medieval text and then talks about it.  It's great and anybody with the slightest interest in medieval history will want to listen to it.

Clear and Present Danger, by Jacob Mchangama.  I listen to several free speech podcasts, but this one is the most relevant here.  This is a global history of free speech, starting with the ancient Greeks.  It's pretty great information, and there's the bonus of listening to Jacob's homey (to me) Danish accent.

Slightly Foxed, by Gail, Hazel, and others.  While I adore the Slightly Foxed books and ideals, I am not a subscriber.  I do the next best thing and listen to this podcast, which is still in its infancy but so far has been lovely.

Shedunnit, by Caroline Crampton.  This is my newest discovery; I've only listened to one episode out of the eight.  It's a very new podcast too!  It's about the Golden Age of detective fiction and the women who wrote the books.  My coworker, a true crime podcast addict, hooked me up with this one.

I have other, non-literary, podcasts I listen to as well, but I figured those were not as relevant.  Maybe you'll find something here to enjoy.  Do you have favorite bookish podcasts to recommend?

Thursday, January 31, 2019

CC Spin: Crime and Punishment

Lurid cartoons on every panel!
Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, trans. by Oliver Ready

My chunkster Spin title was Crime and Punishment, and despite the completely un-cozy nature of the novel, I really was pretty excited to read this new translation by Oliver Ready.  I read Crime and Punishment once before, years ago (maybe 15?  after I moved to this house but before I started the blog), and I don't know what translation that was, other than an older one -- given that I was reading a very elderly pocket paperback, it was probably Constance Gannett.  I remember almost nothing, but I did find it something of a slog.  Well, this translation is not a slog!

The story is well known: Raskolnikov, a student in St. Petersburg, has no money and no energy either.  Everything makes him angry, and he lies in his filthy little room and feverishly stews over his terrible, tempting plan -- there's this awful pawnbroker woman, and if he killed her, he could take her money!  He's got a couple of rationalizations for this; she's a useless leech on society, and he could be a Napoleon, above petty moral rules because of his impending greatness, which the money would help.  But his lack of direction seems to have almost as much to do with it.  Raskolnikov performs the murder, and kills a harmless sister too, but he grabs only a few pawned items before running off.  He hides those, and completely fails to profit from his crime.

There's the crime, and the punishment takes up the other 4/5 of the novel, as Raskolnikov finds out that he can now never be free of the terrible fear of discovery.  His best friends and his family are only irritants.  Everything gets worse and worse...

Ready's translation is lively and gripping.  I really liked it, and there are helpful notes as well.  If you're going to take this one on, I recommend investing in this newer edition; it's worth the money.  I have not read the other new translations, so I can't compare, but I think I did prefer this writing to the P/V translation of The Brothers Karamazov I read a few years ago.  Who knows.

I'm excited about the next Spin; it can't come soon enough!