Sunday, November 27, 2011

Week 48: Austenland

Austenland, by Shannon Hale

I'm always hesitant to pick up anything that looks like part of the Jane Austen industry, so it took me a while to get around to reading Austenland, even though I really like Shannon Hale. It turns out that this is a fun and worthwhile quick read.

On the outside, Jane is a normal New Yorker, but in reality she can't seem to keep a boyfriend and instead, reads or watches Pride & Prejudice over and over. No one ever seems to live up to Mr. Darcy. When her wealthy great-aunt dies and leaves her a plane ticket to England and three weeks in a resort dedicated to re-creating the Regency lifestyle, she can't decide whether to use it to exorcise the ghost of Mr. Darcy forever or to try to find some romance. Once she arrives, Jane is disturbed by the blurring between fantasy and reality. Is anyone at Pembrook Park real?

I took so long to read this that another Pembrook Park novel is due out in a few weeks. I did enjoy it, even though I'm not a fan of Jane Austen spinoffs.

I really do like everything I've read by Shannon Hale. If you have young kids (5+), then you absolutely must find the graphic novels Rapunzel's Revenge and Calamity Jack, which are brilliant.

Week 48: Count Magnus & Other Ghost Stories

Count Magnus & Other Ghost Stories, by M. R. James

M. R. James is my new favorite creepy writer. His stories involve old artifacts or houses, unnamed horrors, and vague but sinister warnings. I also have the second volume of stories, but I think I'm going to save them for a little while so as to make it last longer.

Week 48: The Fall of Troy

The Fall of Troy, by Peter Ackroyd

This odd little novel features Heinrich Obermann, a fictionalized version of Heinrich Schliemann. I'm not quite sure why anyone would want to write a novel about Schliemann with a changed ending, but there it is. Obermann marries a young Greek woman, who then travels with him to Hissarlik, the mound that we now consider to be Troy. She works on the dig and watches her new husband, a fanatic who prefers to ignore evidence that does not agree with his vision of Homeric Troy.

I wouldn't necessarily recommend this novel; I liked it OK, but I'm kind of baffled by it. Still, I liked learning about the dig at Hissarlik, though it has to be taken with a grain of salt.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

What the Tortoise Taught Us

What the Tortoise Taught Us: The Story of Philosophy, by Burton F. Porter

I am very disappointed by What the Tortoise Taught Us. It's supposed to be a short overview of the history and development of philosophy, starting with the ancient Greeks and ending with current ethical arguments. The philosophical history does seem to be accurate, as far as I can tell--but I picked the book up because I don't know much about the subject and wanted to learn more in preparation for my Greek challenge, so I'm not really in a position to judge. The real problem with this book is that it is riddled with egregious errors in the "interesting anecdotes" liberally sprinkled through the narration.

I think most of us have an area in our heads where urban legends and unattributed anecdotes and quotations slosh around. We've all heard or repeated the story about Walt Disney being frozen somewhere in Disneyland. Porter seems to have given that part of his mind free rein in this book, throwing off quotations and stories where he thought they would fit, but without checking to see if they were accurate or even true. By the end I was waiting for him to tell me that ducks' quacks do not echo. I expect a higher standard in a book that claims to be a history written by a scholar. If a student at my school uses this book as a source, he'll be repeating inaccurate information, so I'll be recommending that this title be pulled from the collection on the grounds that it is not reliable.

I'm going to list some of the problems I found, but I'm sure I didn't find all of them. This is just what struck me:

The first, and worst, error is on page 8, as Porter introduces Greek ideas: "'In the beginning was the logos,' the book of Genesis states, which is usually translated as 'word.'" I really can't believe no one caught this. It's the first line of the gospel of John in the New Testament-- "Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν λόγος, καὶ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, καὶ θεὸς ἦν λόγος." Porter not only mixes up the Old and New Testament, he seems to think that the ancient Hebrews were Greek-speakers. I can see how someone not too familiar with the Bible would get this mixed up, but a moment's thought--or a decent editor--should have corrected this.

On Stoicism, "...we cannot say that anything in the future is inevitable, even with regard to commonsense assertions, such as 'The sun will rise tomorrow'...the earth could stop rotating at some point..." (p. 54) Well, no, it couldn't. Anything strong enough to stop the earth's rotation would also destroy it, and the bits would still spin. The earth is slowing down, and someday it will rotate once a month, like the moon--but it can't
stop. Angular momentum is stubborn stuff.

On page 112, Porter tells two apocryphal stories. First is Galileo dropping things off the Tower of Pisa, which is a popular historical anecdote that most historians agree never happened (see this excellent summary). Then there is a story about William James and an audience skeptic who claims "It's tortoises all the way down!" This is another popular anecdote often attributed to various public figures (and turtles; I presume he wanted to go with the tortoise theme), most often James, but the story seems to go back much further than that.

In a section on linguistic philosophy, Porter says, "Some critics have even charged that language philosophers have focused exclusively on English...This seems arrogant, and it did not help when one analyst remarked, 'If English was good enough for Our Lord, it should be good enough for us.'" (p. 168) This is one of those quotations that gets attributed to anyone people want to poke fun at, and is most commonly credited to Governor Miriam "Ma" Ferguson of Texas as
If English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it ought to be good enough for the children of Texas.” However, it was floating around before that, put in the mouths of various country folks as a proof of ignorance, and has no solid origin that I can find. If a real linguist said it in earnest, I want a citation.

After that is a section on feminism, which starts off: "As one feminist put it, men regard women philosophers the way they do an elephant dancing: it's not that they do it well; it's only surprising they can do it at all" (p. 169). I cannot find this quotation as stated, or anything like it. All I can find is Samuel Johnson's famous quip of 1763: "Sir, a woman preaching is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all."

Porter then describes Mary Wollstonecraft, who is usually considered to be the first vocal feminist: "She echoed Elizabeth Cady Stanton that women should regard themselves not as adjectives, but as nouns" (p. 170). There are two serious problems with this sentence. Elizabeth Cady Stanton was born in 1815, 18 years after Wollstonecraft's death in 1797, so it would be difficult for Wollstonecraft to "echo" her in anything, and I cannot find any instance of Wollstonecraft ever saying anything about adjectives or nouns. Porter goes on to state that Wollstonecraft was supported by Samuel Johnson, but in fact she was supported by the liberal publisher
Joseph Johnson, not the famous wit and dictionary-writer (who, as above, was not much on women's equality).

The rest of the section on feminism has its own problems with stereotypes; it is generalized to the point of absurdity, crediting all feminists with theories on feminine ways of knowing that are in fact claimed by only a few.

In another error concerning Samuel Johnson, Porter credits him with defining man as "the tool-making animal" (p. 180). That definition belongs to Benjamin Franklin, but Johnson did argue against it in 1779, saying, "But many a man never made a tool: and suppose a man without arms, he could not make a tool." I'm not sure what Porter has against poor Dr. Johnson.

There may be a few more, but these are the ones that really made me clutch my hair in frustration. The closing sentence of the book is "Our lives should be founded on truth, not illusion, and that means hard philosophic thinking." I would amend it to "Our lives should be founded on truth, not illusion, and that means hard philosophic thinking--
and some good solid fact-checking."

Sunday, November 20, 2011

One book, two book, three book, more!

Here's a fun book-blogging meme that is making the rounds today--I found it on My Reader's Block. It was invented by Simon at Stuck-in-a-Book.

1. The books I’m currently reading: What the Tortoise Taught Us, a short overview of philosophy. So far I'm iffy. He may be an expert in philosophy, but he's egregiously misquoted the Bible and gotten some science wrong. Also, Wildwood, a children's/YA book about two kids and their adventures in the Impassable Wilderness. Interesting, but the boy's experiences so far are an awful lot like Edmund's in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Also also, Isaac Watts' book on improving the mind, but that's a long-term ebook project. I really liked the bit I just read, it reminded me of many college students I have known.

2. The last book I finished: Austenland, by Shannon Hale, quickly read last night. A short, fun book.

3. The next book I want to read: Gender Trouble, which is the next Feminist Classics Challenge book (and very impenetrable it looks too), Evil Genes (see today's Cold-Blooded Kindness post--I found the book at work, it jumped out at me from the first shelf next to my office) and Well-Behaved Women Rarely Make History, a commentary from Laurel Thatcher Ulrich on her inadvertently-coined slogan.

4. The last book I bought: Trusting Jesus, by Jeffery R. Holland. I got to go to a church bookstore Saturday, which is a rare treat for me.
5. The last book I was given: Moomintroll series, for my birthday. Five of them, anyway.

Week 47: Quadrivium

Quadrivium: The Four Classical Liberal Arts of Number, Geometry, Music, and Cosmology, ed. by John Martineau

This is a very, very pretty book. To look at it is to want it. It's full of lovely little diagrams, and the ink gradually changes from brown to green to navy to deep purple.

It's a collection of 6 smaller books on the four classical liberal arts. The first is on numbers, and it's a nice little collection of traditions and neat information about simple numbers. Then it's on to flat geometry; through the basic pentagrams to arches and patterns. The third book is on solid geometry and has a lot about Platonic solids and the neat permutations you can make from them. Next is an odd little section on geometrical designs that can be made with a harmonograph--sort of like a spirograph, only using harmonic sections. It's interesting but difficult to understand.

The last two books, on music and astronomy, are quite hard to wrap your brain around, or at least they were for me. The musical book has a lot to say about harmonic intervals and all sorts of things that I know very little about, and the one on cosmology is all about orbits of planets and their harmonic intervals. It's neat, but most of it was beyond me and it may have gone into the region of woo, but I can't tell; it would take someone who knows a lot more mathematics than I do to tell. It gets quite weird, anyway.

The publishers, Wooden Books, seem to specialize in this kind of small, pretty book that's probably too New Agey for its own good.

Week 47: Moomintroll books

Moomintroll series, by Tove Jansson

My parents gave me 5 Moomintroll books for my birthday! They were recently reprinted in a nice paperback edition and I've been coveting them, since I only had a few before and they are very elderly. I got two or three I had never read before (or maybe just don't remember).

Jansson was a Finnish writer, and roughly speaking, as Pippi Longstocking is to Sweden, Moomintroll is to Finland. These are children's classics, so be sure to get them if you're looking for read-alouds for your family. Moomintroll books are not terribly well-known in the US, but they're very popular in Europe and huge in Japan. You can buy all sorts of adorable Moomintroll stuff in Japan--I have a keychain fob and a Snufkin washcloth.

For the uninitiated, Moomins are a kind of troll, distant relatives to ordinary trolls and close cousins to Snorks (but white, while Snorks are green or mauve). They like free and easy living and adventure, and have many odd friends, such as Snufkin the wanderer, Little My, and various Hemulens and Creeps. Though my own favorites are the Hattifatteners.

To start with, I would recommend Finn Family Moomintroll, which is the second book and the easiest to get into. They don't really have any particular order anyway.

Week 47: Cold-Blooded Kindness

Cold-Blooded Kindness: Neuroquirks of a Codependent Killer, or Just Give Me a Shot at Loving You, Dear, and Other Reflections on Helping That Hurts, by Barbara Oakley

This book is 40% true crime story, and 60% neuroscience explained to the layman. Oakley tells the tale of Carole Alden, an eccentric artist and mother of 5 who killed her husband and tried to hide the body. Alden claimed he was abusive and about to kill her. Was it self-defense, or was it a lot more complicated than that?
Oakley uses this story to delve into a wide variety of topics in psychology and neuroscience, including codependency, domestic violence, genetics, animal hoarding, the hemispheres of the brain, the dark side of altruism, and just how little we know about any of it. Her wider point is that for the past 30 years or so, scholars and therapists have done a lot of assuming that men are always the aggressors, and women are always the victims, when in fact it is usually a whole lot more complicated than that. We are going to have to shed those assumptions if we want to truly understand domestic violence and help others.

It's hard to put the book down; Oakley has a good writing style and makes complex topics understandable to the reader. I would like to read her previous book just for the title:
Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed, and My Sister Stole My Mother's Boyfriend. Who can resist that?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Victorian Literature: Phantastes

Phantastes, by George MacDonald

I suppose you could call this a very early prototype of the modern fantasy novel. MacDonald called it "A Faery Romance," and it's the story of Anodos (which means something like 'upward path' in Greek), a young man who enters Fairyland and wanders there, searching for his ideally beautiful woman, who appears to him twice as a statue. Aspiring to knighthood in imitation of Sir Perceval, he achieves a few good deeds, but every time someone warns him not to do something, he promptly does it and suffers the consequence. Imprisoned by his own pride, he has to learn humility and how to give up the selfish parts of his love for his ideal.

The story seems a bit shapeless to modern tastes; I think we're used to more established plots in fantasy novels, which is now so much more developed (and clichéd) as a genre. MacDonald was writing something without a lot of precedent in 1858, and he's not bound by so many expectations. It's a lovely book, though not always easy to understand.

I read this half in print and half on my tablet. The print in my paperback goes right into the binding and is difficult to read, and then I misplaced it for a few days. I downloaded a free Google books copy and read it at night too. Unbelievably, this is my 15th Victorian book of the year, which puts me over the top for Subtle Melodrama's challenge. I made the "Desperate Remedies" level! Woo!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Different Classics Challenge

Katherine at November's Autumn is also hosting a classics challenge, but this one is a little different. I'm going to join up for the discussion fun, but it won't actually require me to read anything more than I already have slated unless I want to. Here are the rules:

The Challenge

Read seven works of Classic Literature in 2012
three of the seven may be re-reads

How Does it Work?

I've organized this challenge to work a little like a blog hop. I hope this will make it more interactive and enjoyable for everyone.

Instead of writing a review as you finish each book (of course, you can do that too), visit November's Autumn on the 4th of each month from January 2012 - December 2012.

You will find a prompt, it will be general enough that no matter which Classic you're reading or how far into it, you will be able to answer. There will be a form for everyone to link to their post. I encourage everyone to read what other participants have posted.

  • What if I'm not sure I can participate every month? Don't worry, the main goal is to read seven Classics. Try to participate in at least three prompts throughout the year
  • What if I'm still reading the same book as last month? That's ok!
  • What if I'm not reading something for this challenge during one of the months? You can choose to either skip that prompt or answer about the Classic you've most recently read.

Join the Challenge

Anyone who loves to read and has a blog is invited
You can join at anytime

  1. Write a post on your blog with a list of the seven works you hope to read in 2012 and why you chose them-- but don't feel bound by the list.
  2. Please include a link back to this page in your post, so others can learn about the challenge and join us.
  3. Fill out the form at the bottom, linking to your post.
  4. Check back on the 4th of each month.

Here are some tentative picks (almost the same ones as for the other challenge!):

Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert
Eugene Onegin, by Alexander Pushkin
She Stoops to Conquer, by Oliver Goldsmith
The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton
Doctor Thorne, by Anthony Trollope
The Portrait of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde (this is a re-read)
Dracula, by Bram Stoker

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Feminist Classics: Ain't I a Woman?

This month we read bell hooks' 1981 book Ain't I a Woman, which chronicles the massive injustices black women have endured in America, from colonial days right up to the time the book was written. I completely agree with hooks' main premise that black women have suffered from a double bind of racism and sexism. It's hard to argue with that! It was both fascinating and painful to read; I had to take it fairly slowly.

I did feel like she made more generalizations and used more stereotypes than she maybe should have. It's possible that in 1980, academics hadn't yet gotten obsessed with making those distinctions in the way that we do now, but I would have expected a lot more language along the lines of "many black women..." or most white women..." and so on. Or, in the first section on Colonial history, she does seem to use a lot of stereotypes about religion at the time and I think she makes overly-broad statements. Especially, she talks a lot about Puritan hatred of sex and women; and while, yes, Puritans were not exactly female-positive types, they did consider sex within the marital bond to be an important good for both husband and wife. A wife could legally complain to authorities if her husband was not giving her what she wanted, which would seem to imply that Puritans didn't hate sex as much as their popular image claims. Then, most black slave women didn't live with Puritans at all.

It's sometimes hard to tell exactly what it is hooks wants. I spent some chapters reading long lists of injustices and wondering what her solution is. I know she is against racism and sexism and capitalism and imperialism and patriarchy, but I'm not sure what economic system she does want. She wants all people to be treated like human beings--I'm all for that--but concrete suggestions are lacking. Maybe the suggestions would amount to "stop discriminating against black women," but I can't help feeling that if you're going to denounce capitalism you should say what you'd like to replace it with.

Sometimes, I couldn't help feeling that hooks is blaming people for being fallible human beings. She's certainly correct about all the racism and sexism; it's just that some of her listed injustices--such as white feminists hanging on to racism, or using the feminist movement for their own personal benefit (to careers, etc.)--are no more than we can expect from human beings, and hooks is not one to make allowances.

People do usually care much more about their own problems than about others' problems, even when others are suffering more. We are tribal in nature and will usually think of other people as The Other until presented with plenty of reasons to include them in the tribe. And as far as I can figure out from reading history, imperialism is an intrinsic part of human behavior; a group is either expanding its power over others, or it's shrinking and losing power, and that's been going on since the earliest times that we know of. To whatever degree these behaviors can be changed or eliminated, it can only be done through cultural habits, education, and training. Even so, I think people will always fail somewhere, and will usually be utterly blind to those failures until they are pointed out over and over. I can understand hooks' anger and dismay at so many failures to accept black women as equals; it is indeed an awful record, and I'm not saying she shouldn't be talking about it. It's just that most of human history is pretty awful and disappointing.

Hooks' thesis is solid and she tells a lot of truths that make you think. I'm very glad to have had the opportunity to read this. She ended with a wonderful 1892* quotation from an address of Anna Cooper (go and read the whole thing, and sorry about the weird coloring I can't seem to fix it):

Let woman's claim be as broad in the concrete as in the abstract. We take our stand on the solidarity of humanity, the oneness of life, and the unnaturalness and injustice of all special favoritisms, whether of sex, race, country, or condition. If one link of the chain be broken, the chain is broken. A bridge is no stronger than its weakest part, and a cause is not worthier an its weakest element. Least of all can woman's cause afford to decry the weak. We want, then, as toilers for the universal triumph of justice and human rights, to go to our homes from this Congress, demanding an entrance not through a gateway for ourselves, our race, our sex, or our sect, but a grand highway for humanity. The colored woman feels that woman's cause is one and universal; and that not till the image of God, whether in parian or ebony, is sacred and inviolable; not till race, color, sex, and condition are seen as the accidents, and not the substance of life; not till the universal title of humanity to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is conceded to be inalienable to all; not till then is woman's lesson taught and woman's cause won—not the white woman's, nor the black woman's, not the red woman's, but the cause of every man and of every woman who has writhed silently under a mighty wrong. Woman's wrongs are thus indissolubly linked with undefended woe, and the acquirement of her "rights" will mean the final triumph of all right over might, the supremacy of the moral forces of reason, and justice, and love in the government of the nations of earth.

*hooks says 1892, says 1893.

Week 46: Through the Language Glass

Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages, by Guy Deutscher

If you've ever learned to speak a second language fluently, you know from personal experience that other languages come with a slightly different way of thinking. But linguists have been arguing for years over exactly what that means, and what the limits are. Quite often, popular assumptions have led to wildly bigoted conclusions. Deutscher tackles some of the more intriguing corners of language in this book, and he does it very well; his writing is interesting and doesn't get too bogged down in minutiae.

Deutscher covers three language topics in detail: color, direction sense, and gender. All turn up some really surprising results. We start off with Homer, who doesn't really talk much about color at all, but if you collect all his color references and look at them, they are very strange. Everyone recognizes 'wine-dark sea'--but since when is the sea the color of wine? And he calls both hair and sheep 'violet.' Oddest of all, according to Homer, honey is 'green.' Why on earth should that be?

I won't spoil the rest of the book; go find out yourself why honey would be called green--and why English doesn't really have noun gender any more.

Week 46: The Mockingbirds

The Mockingbirds, by Daisy Whitney

Themis Academy is one of those prep boarding schools for highly talented teenagers, but the administration has a blind spot. All the adults seem to be under the impression that these students are so stellar that they would never do anything wrong, so there is no real structure for dealing with problems. When Alex is date-raped, there is nothing she can do--unless she decides to go to the Mockingbirds, the student-created justice system.

It's a great story and Whitney does a good job of drawing you in. Most of her teen characters feel like real people. Alex has to learn to stand up for herself and for what's right, and it's a hard struggle.

The scenario seems implausible to me--I think most prep schools have figured out by now that even highly talented teens have problems and do bad things--but it's interesting because it forces a situation where the students have to figure out a system themselves. That raises more than a few questions about secret vigilante groups, which I think will be addressed again in the upcoming sequel, The Rivals.

The author did, in fact, have a part in forcing colleges to pay attention to the issue of date-rape when she was a student (back in the early 90s when schools were only just starting to realize that date-rape is a thing that exists and that it's a crime), so I thought that was interesting.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

It's the Greek Classics Challenge!

I'm going to try hosting my own challenge here at Howling Frog Books, and I'd like to invite you all to join me in reading the classics of ancient Greek literature.

Here are the rules:
  1. Challenge runs from January 1, 2012 through December 31, 2012. It doesn't count if you start reading before the 1st! Join at any time during the year, but have your reviews in by December 31.
  2. Books may count towards other challenges.
  3. Write a sign-up post at your blog. Choose a challenge level, but be modest; you can go up a level, but you can't go down. You may post a list of titles you plan to read, or choose as you go along.
  4. Link to your sign-up post (not your blog) at the linky, and grab my lovely owl badge to post on your blog. Be sure to link back here, and tell your friends!
  5. Every month, I'll post about what I'm reading, you can link to your posts, and we can discuss.
  6. Read read read!
There will be three challenge levels:
  • Sophocles: read 1-4 works
  • Hesiod: read 5-7 works
  • Herotodus: read 8-10 works
  • Thucydides: read 11+ works
Sign up HERE at the challenge homepage, and watch for monthly posts on my progress through Greek literature. I'm aiming for 12 works, which are not all chosen yet, but at the least I want to read the following:

  1. Aeschylus' Oresteia
  2. Sophocles' Oedipus cycle
  3. One or two plays of Euripedes
  4. Aristophanes' The Frogs or another play
  5. Hesiod's Works and Days and Theogony
  6. Herodotus' Histories
  7. Something by Plato
  8. Something by Aristotle
Some of these are re-reads of works I read in college, but nothing that I've read very recently. I might include the Odyssey, but I have read it since college, so maybe I ought to do more that I've never read before. I'm looking forward to expanding my knowledge of the ancient Greeks, and hope you'll enjoy it too.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Final Challenge

Amy J at My Overstuffed Bookshelf is upping the stakes this year with a 150+ Books Reading Challenge.

I don't think this one will be hard at all; I'm pretty sure that if I just count everything I read (which I have never done for this blog--I leave out things like mind-candy mysteries and my 13th re-reading of my favorite Diana Wynne Jones book), that it will come out to 150 or more. I'm counting this as a freebie! I'll just keep a running total at the end of this post, which I will turn into a tab when I feel techy, and I'll include the titles I'm not going to blog about officially. Here are the rules:

1. The goal is to read 150 or more books. Anyone can join. You don't need a blog to participate. Posting on GoodReads or wherever you post your reviews is good enough.

2. Allowed are: Audio, Re-reads, eBooks, YA, Manga, Graphic Novels, Library books, Novellas, Young Reader, Nonfiction – as long as the book has an ISBN or equivalent or can be purchased as such, the book counts. What doesn't count: Individual short stories or individual books in the Bible.

3. No need to list your books in advance. You may select books as you go. Even if you list them now, you can change the list if needed.

4. Crossovers from other reading challenges count.

5. Challenge begins January 1st, 2012 thru December 31, 2012. Books started before the 1st do not count. You can join at anytime.

6. When you sign up under Linky, put the direct link to your post where your books will be listed. Include the URL to this post so that other viewers can find this fun challenge. If you’d prefer to put your list in the sidebar of your blog, please leave your viewers the link to the sign up page. Again, so viewers can join the challenge too.

Medieval Literature Challenge

I'm going to take another shot at a medieval challenge. This one is hosted by JNCL at The Beauty of Eclecticism. Here are the rules:

Join with us in challenging ourselves to read some of those incredibly famous books that few of us have ever actually read, the bright sparks in the midst of the "Dark Ages". Choose 12 books off the approved reading list--an average of one per month for the year, though you can read them in whatever increments you like. Out of the ten genres of books available, your choices must cover at least four. Put the challenge button on your site with the code located in the right sidebar, sign up on the initial link that is located at the bottom of this page, and come back to link up a new review on the last day of each month. The challenge will run from January 1-December 31, 2012, and only books read within that time frame may be counted.

By popular demand, the challenge now has three levels:

Inferno--at least 4 books, to meet the requirement of reading from at least four different genres
Purgatorio--a minimum of 8 books
Paradiso--12 books, an average of one for each month of the year

Whichever level you choose, at least half of your chosen books must come from the master list given below, and all must fall into one of the given genres.

In order to truly challenge ourselves, we are NOT reading fiction set in the Middle Ages, books by modern experts on the Middle Ages, or biographies of major figures from the Middle Ages. Sorry, the latest account of that daring temptress, Eleanor of Aquitaine, will not count for this challenge, nor will a Philippa Gregory novel. We are reading works written between the rather arbitrarily chosen dates of 400-1550 CE (chosen by me, because nobody can really seem to decide what the exact Medieval dates are). We are, however, reading them IN TRANSLATION! Believe me, I won't be tackling any of the originals! Please feel free to double dip this challenge with any others where there is overlap, especially my own "Read Your OWN Library!"

The host has chosen several categories and then selected titles for each category. Below are the ones I've chosen as possibilities, but that doesn't mean that I think I'm actually going to read all of these! I'm going to shoot for the Paradiso level (since no one wants to get stuck in Purgatory!)--but some of these are quite long, so we'll see. I do already own a bunch of them; at least they'll count for Mount TBR.

The Romance of the Rose, by Guillaume de Lorris

The Life of Columba, by St. Adamnan of Iona

Ecclesiastical History of the English People, by the Venerable Bede
History of the Franks, by Gregory of Tours
The Muqaddimah, by Ibn Khaldun

The Decameron, by Giovanni Boccaccio
Piers Plowman, by William Langland

The Consolations of Philosophy, by Boethius
The Prince, by Niccolo Machiavelli

The Golden Legend, by Jacobus de Voraigne
Pastoral Care
, by Pope St. Gregory I the Great

Troilus and Cresidye, by Geoffrey Chaucer
Yvain: The Knight of the Lion, by Chretien de Troyes

The Book of Beasts
On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres
, by Nicolaus Copernicus

The Travels of Marco Polo, by Rustichello da Pisa

The Alexiad of Anna Comnena
Revelations of Divine Love, by Julian of Norwich
Scivias, by Hildegard of Bingen

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Challenge

This one is not quite my usual thing, and it looks like a lot of fun. I have never seen the 2003 movie "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen," but evidently it gathers heroes from several novels and pits them against two literary villains. The challenge is to read every character's book. Here are the rules:

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to read the original book featuring each of the main characters and post a review of each between 1st January 2012 and the 31st December.

Every single one of these books is out of copyright (which is how they could be used in the first place) and so are free for download on most e-book readers.

Even if you don't complete the challenge, it's great fun watching the film and knowing a little more about the characters!

The main characters and their books are:

Allan Quatermain from King Solomon's Mines by H. Rider Haggard

Mina Harker from Dracula by Bram Stoker

Captain Nemo from 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea by Jules Verne

Tom Sawyer from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

Dorian Gray from The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde from The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

Rodney Skinner from The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells (kind of)

The Phantom from The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux

James Moriarty from The Final Problem by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I've read a few of these books, but in most cases it's been years. And I have to say I'm not really looking forward to The Phantom of the Opera. I've been successfully avoiding Phantom-mania since high school! (I went away for a year, and when I came back everyone was raving about it.)

TBR Pile Challenge

This is one I really need to do. You see, since my literary eyes are far bigger than my actual reading capacity, I always have a large pile to books to read. But I will always pick a library book over a book I own, because there's a deadline attached. The result is that even though I don't buy a lot of books, the pile of books that I own but have not read is much too large. And so I am joining the Mount TBR Challenge at My Reader's Block. Here are the rules:

Challenge Levels

Pike's Peak: Read 12 books from your TBR pile/s
Mt. Vancouver: Read 25 books from your TBR pile/s
Mt. Ararat: Read 40 books from your TBR piles/s
Mt. Kilimanjaro: Read 50 books from your TBR pile/s
El Toro: Read 75 books from your TBR pile/s
Mt. Everest: Read 100+ books from your TBR pile/s

And the rules:
*Once you choose your challenge level, you are locked in for at least that many books. If you find that you're on a mountain-climbing roll and want to tackle a taller mountain, then you are certainly welcome to upgrade.

*Challenge runs from January 1 to December 31, 2012.

*You may sign up anytime from now until November 30th, 2012.

*Books must be owned by you prior to January 1, 2012. No ARCs (none), no library books. No rereads. [To clarify--based on a question raised--the intention is to reduce the stack of books that you have bought for yourself or received as presents {birthday, Christmas, "just because," etc.}. Audiobooks may count if they are yours and they are one of your primary sources of backlogged books.]

*Books may be used to count for other challenges as well.

*Feel free to submit your list in advance (as incentive to really get those books taken care of) or to tally them as you climb.

*A blog and reviews are not necessary to participate. If you have a blog, then please post a challenge sign up and link THAT post into the linky. Non-bloggers, please leave a comment declaring your challenge level.

I will be going for the basic Pike's Peak level, and we'll see how it goes.

Classics Challenge 2012

It's that time of year again, when we get to sign up for next year's reading challenges! I have gone overboard, again. My first pick is the Back to the Classics Challenge 2012. Here are the rules:
  1. Challenge runs from January 1, 2012 through December 31, 2012. Books started before January 1st do not count, and all links/reviews/comments for each category must be posted in the correct place by December 31st. Feel free to join in at any time, but the end date is December 31.
  2. Please feel free to use books in this Challenge toward any other Challenge you may be participating in. However, you must read a different book for each category of this challenge. Audio and e-books are allowed.
  3. Please sign up for the Challenge using the linky list (or comment section if you do not have a blog/website).
  4. Once the Challenge has begun, you will see a new bar on the left hand side of this blog. This will list the places for you to link/comment your reviews of the book you have read for each category as well as a "wrap up" page.
  5. THERE IS A PRIZE THIS YEAR! People who complete the challenge (and I will check that all categories are completed!) will be entered into a random drawing for $30 worth of books (Book Depository will be used for an International Winner). I may have other prizes as well.

Here are my picks for each category, but don't hold me to it.
  • Any 19th Century Classic--I'm thinking Doctor Thorne, a Barsetshire novel.
  • Any 20th Century Classic--maybe Slaughterhouse Five? I've never read that.
  • Reread a classic of your choice--The Master and Margarita. I loved it in college and remember almost nothing about it.
  • A Classic Play--I'll pick a Shakespeare, or something. Maybe The Tempest.
  • Classic Mystery/Horror/Crime Fiction--Dracula. If I've ever read it, I've forgotten.
  • Classic Romance--Er. I'm going to need suggestions.
  • Read a Classic that has been translated from its original language to your language - so many to choose from!
  • Classic Award Winner - To clarify, the book should be a classic which has won any established literary award. -- The Age of Innocence, which won a Pulitzer in 1921.
  • Read a Classic set in a Country that you (realistically speaking) will not visit during your lifetime - (To clarify, this does not have to be a country that you hope to visit either. Countries that no longer exist or have never existed count.) --Again, it's hard to choose. Also, I really hope to visit a lot of countries, so I might have to pick a made-up one.
Join me for some fun reading! I'll be posting my other challenge picks in short order.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Week 45: Storming the Tulips

Storming the Tulips, by Ronald Sanders and Hannie J. Voyles

The students of the 1st Montessori School in Amsterdam are the focus of this collective World War II memoir. Those who survived the war tell their stories and remember the many who were lost. There is quite a lot here about how Dutch citizens survived the war and what it was like, which I think many Americans don't know all that much about; we read about Anne Frank and others who were taken away, but not so much about those who stayed.

This would actually make a great companion volume to the story of Anne Frank for a teenager studying it; she was also a Montessori school student nearby and is mentioned a few times here. Storming the Tulips fills in quite a lot of the background and would lend depth to a study of Dutch victims of World War II. It's also a good length and reading level for a teen student.

For local residents, Hannie Voyles will be giving a presentation on the book and her experiences on Wednesday, December 7, 2:30 – 4:30 p.m. in the Center for Excellence, Library 210 at Butte College's main campus. Ms. Voyles is an emeritus faculty member.

Week 45: Ex Libris

Ex Libris: the Art of Bookplates, by Martin Hopkinson

A nice array of bookplates are collected in this historical survey. Many were executed by famous artists. Others were done for well-known people in all kinds of professions, and they often feature puns or meaningful imagery. I like bookplates (though I rarely actually use them) and this is a good short collection.

Here is my favorite bookplate image, which is actually an illustration by one of my all-time favorite artist/illustrators, Edward Ardizzone. It is in one of my all-time favorite books, Eleanor Farjeon's The Little Bookroom. I was lucky to find a box of these bookplates and even framed one so I could always have it.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Victorian Literature: Lady Audley's Secret

Lady Audley's Secret, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

One of the nice things about having an e-reader is that you can get lots of Victorian melodrama--for free! My reader is now packed full of weird old books that are not in any local libraries.

Lady Audley is a beautiful young woman, the belle of the county. She was a penniless governess, but is so lovely and amiable that Lord Audley (an older widower) fell deeply in love with her and raised her to a life of luxury and wealth. But! Lady Audley has a secret! That secret is completely obvious after the third chapter; most of the story is about how the young hero collects his evidence, so it's mainly a mystery story. However, there is more to Lady Audley's secret than we think, and there's another twist at the end.

It's pretty typical Victorian melodrama; mind candy, but fun. And it's not badly written.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Pushkin: Prose Selections

Alexander Pushkin: The Tales of Belkin, The Queen of Spades, and The Captain's Daughter

Pushkin is generally thought to be Russia's greatest poet, and the father of true Russian literature. He was, mostly, a Romantic, but in a quite different way than Keats or other well-known Romantic poets; he was Russian through and through. He died quite young in 1837, from duelling wounds--Pushkin was constantly embroiled in duels. His zeal for reform made him an inspiration to generations of Russian rebels and reformers. I read a selection of his shorter prose.

The Tales of the Late Ivan Petrovich Belkin is a collection of very short stories that are anecdotes of life in the country. Some are romantic, others are stories of coincidence, and there is one ghost story. All take place in the country, in small villages or lonely outposts.

The Queen of Spades is a short story about a girl fooled into a romantic intrigue by a young man who only wants to get at her aunt's legendary secret. Tchaikovsky made an opera about it as well, which I've never heard of. The story itself is great.

Finally, I read The Captain's Daughter, a fast-moving short novel about a young soldier (and, of course, his true love) caught up in Pugachev's Rebellion of 1774.

All of these are wonderful, and I'd recommend them if you're looking to learn a bit about Russian literature.

Pushkin was not in the least Victorian but I'm counting him for that challenge anyway, since the rules are pretty fluid and he did at least die in the year of her succession.