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Showing posts from November, 2011

Week 48: Austenland

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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

Week 48: Count Magnus & Other Ghost Stories

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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

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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.

What the Tortoise Taught Us

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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

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 Femi

Week 47: Quadrivium

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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 leas

Week 47: Moomintroll books

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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 m

Week 47: Cold-Blooded Kindness

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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 th

Victorian Literature: Phantastes

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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 clich├ęd) as a genre. MacDonald was writing something without a lot of precedent in 1858, and he's not bound by so many expectations. It&#

A Different Classics Challenge

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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 Only 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

Feminist Classics: Ain't I a Woman?

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Ain't I a Woman?: Black Women and Feminism , by bell hooks 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

Week 46: Through the Language Glass

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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 o

Week 46: The Mockingbirds

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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

It's the Greek Classics Challenge!

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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: 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. Books may count towards other challenges. 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. 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! Every month, I'll post about what I'm reading, you can link to your posts, and we can discuss. Read read read! There will be three challenge levels: Sophocles: read 1-4 works Hesiod: read

The Final Challenge

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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

Medieval Literature Challenge

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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 t en 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 require

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Challenge

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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 League

TBR Pile Challenge

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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 mounta

Classics Challenge 2012

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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: 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. 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. Please sign up for the Challenge using the linky list (or comment section if you do not have a blog/website). 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 re

Week 45: Storming the Tulips

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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 Wednesd

Week 45: Ex Libris

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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.

Victorian Literature: Lady Audley's Secret

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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.

Pushkin: Prose Selections

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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 lege