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Showing posts from December, 2011

The Classical World

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The Classical World: An Epic History From Homer to Hadrian , by Robin Lane Fox This book has been on my mental wish list for a long time, but the length put me off for a while. Once I decided to run the Greek Classics Challenge , though, I thought I'd better brush up my history and prepare by reading it. And I've finished just in time! "Epic" is the right word to describe Fox's book, which covers nearly a thousand years of ancient history. That amount of material requires an organizing element, and Fox chose to use the Roman emperor Hadrian as a frame and reference point. Hadrian's reign is the final event of the book, and he was an emperor with "classicizing taste." He traveled over the whole Empire and did much to promote the styles we think of as classical. We start off with Homer, and the first third or so of the book is all about ancient and classical Greece. Then it's on to Alexander and the Hellenistic Age, and the Roman Republic

Pershing

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Pershing: Commander of the Great War , by John Perry (The Generals series) General John J. Pershing is probably the most-forgotten eminent general in American history. Before I read this biography, I knew the name but could not tell you what he did--and yet he was one of the most famous men of the early 20th century, and the first man to be appointed General of the Armies. Overall, the book is a good short biography, excellent for those of us who want to learn but don't want to tackle one of those 800-page definitive biographies. It's readable, flows well, and is suitable for adults or high-school students interested in history. I thought it was fair to Pershing; it didn't whitewash his flaws or blame him for being a human being. The book mainly focuses on Pershing's career and family relationships. There's not much about his childhood, but his life at West Point and in the military before World War I is thoroughly explained, and really interesting to read.

Theme Thursday

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Theme Thursday is a reading meme hosted by Reading Between Pages . I'm not in the habit of doing these, but today I'll give it a try: Theme Thursdays is a fun weekly event that will be open from one thursday to the next. Anyone can participate in it. The rules are simple: A theme will be posted each week (on Thursdays) Select a conversation/snippet/sentence from the current book you are reading Mention the author and the title of the book along with your post It is important that the theme is conveyed in the sentence (you don’t necessarily need to have the word) As we are winding one year, we will hopefully cast away everything that is old and look forward for a brighter and more prosperous year. So look for the word OLD or anything that symbolizes it. (worn out, torn, past etc) Today I'm reading all about something old in The Classical World , a giant history that spans from early Greek times to the reign of the Roman emperor Hadrian. It's by Robin Lane F

Reading the Middle Ages

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Reading the Middle Ages , by Theodore L. Steinberg Eva at A Striped Armchair recommended this to me and I thought I'd try to get it read before I start the Medieval Literature Challenge at the new year. I'm glad I did, because this is a really nice useful book. Steinberg has written an introduction to medieval literature that hooks you in and makes you want to read the works he describes. The first section is a general introduction to the middle ages, and it's quite good, avoiding too many generalizations. After that each chapter focuses on one particular work or genre. There is a good variety here; as expected, there are chapters on Beowulf and Dante and Chaucer, but there are also sections on Jewish literature, The Tale of Genji , and French women writers such as Marie de France and Christine de Pisan. (After reading two books in a row that talk about Christine de Pisan, I've decided that the universe really wants me to read her book. Message received, uni

Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History

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Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History , by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich Sometime in the mid-90's, somebody noticed a sentence in a scholarly article on Puritan funeral sermons by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. It read, "Well-behaved women seldom make history." The sentence got onto a t-shirt, and from there became a popular feminist bumper-sticker slogan. Ulrich was bemused by the sudden fame of her sentence, and this book is something of a response to it. She tells the story of the sentence and from there, launches into a discussion of women in history, well-behaved or otherwise. Ulrich uses 3 particular women as her focus: the medieval French writer Christine de Pisan, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Virginia Woolf. But they are just the platform from which we can learn about all sorts of women throughout history. I enjoyed the structure of the book, which meanders all over the place, but always in a way that makes sense. The whole thing was just great. Put this one on your

Christmas Books

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Now I'm late and no one will want to read about Christmas books. After The Country Child , the other Christmas book I wanted to read this year was Christmas Stories , an Everyman collection of short stories. They're arranged approximately chronologically, starting with Charles Dickens and ending with some modern selections. I particularly enjoyed stories by Trollope, Tolstoy, Willa Cather, and O. Henry (not the Magi one, a cowboy story), and I wasn't so wild about the modern ones. If you'd like to know about my favorite Christmas books that I always like to read in December, they are both children's books. The Children of Green Knowe is part of the classic-but-forgotten series by L. M. Boston--I think it's really the first one. Tolly goes to visit his great-grandmother at her old manor house of Green Knowe and starts to meet the many inhabitants of the place, but some are ghosts. My husband read this aloud to our kids last year and thought it was comp

52 Books Wrapup!

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Robin asked us these questions: Did you reach the goal of 52 books or did you manage to beat your own personal best? I blogged about over 100 books, so yep. I have no idea how that measures up to the quantity of books read in the past, but I had less time for reading this year so I expect I read less. What book are you ending the year with? I'm preparing for my Greek Classics challenge with The Classical World , and for the Medieval Challenge with Reading the Middle Ages (which I am loving, thank you Eva!). Did you discover a new author or genre? Did you love them or hate them? This year I discovered H. R. James, Joyce Dennys, and Erin Bow, among others. I guess if I read an author I didn't like, I didn't think of it as a discovery, more like a chore. Did you challenge yourself to read more non fiction if prefer fiction or more fiction if you prefer non fiction? No, I just read whatever I wanted. It turns out that I read almost exactly 50% of each--I co

Week 52: The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party

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The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party , by Alexander McCall Smith It's the latest installment of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency! I like these books. They are just nice. There's not much that can be called a mystery; really they're just stories about good people doing the best they can. This is something like #12 and I still like them.

Week 52: The Country Child

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The Country Child, by Alison Uttley I haven't read nearly as much by Alison Uttley as I would like to, but she's not easy to come by these days. She wrote quite a lot, but apparently most of it was picture books. I've had The Country Child for years, and I wanted to read it as a Christmas book, even though really the story goes through a whole year. The Christmas parts are what stuck in my head from my first reading. Susan Garland lives on an isolated farm high in the hills, and the story simply follows her through a year. There is a lot of very detailed, very beautiful description of the country, the people, and the things in Susan's life. It's really a fictionalized version of Uttley's own childhood at the end of the 19th century. Americans will find it a bit similar to the "Little House" series, but of course with a very different feel. The other Uttley book I have is probably her best-known, A Traveler in Time , about an adventure back t

Week 52: Laika

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Laika , by Nick Abadzis I didn't like this graphic novel about the most famous Russian space dog ever as much as I hoped to. It's pretty good, and interesting, but I felt like Abadzis tried a little too hard to pull on our heartstrings. And the art wasn't my favorite. The story starts with Sergei Pavlovich Korolev staggering out of a gulag. He's been recalled to to Moscow to have his case reviewed, but only if he doesn't freeze on the way there. His determination and a little luck keep him alive, and we skip to 1957 as Sputnik is launched. Korolev is the director of the Soviet space program now, but he still has to do whatever Khruschev orders--and what Khruschev orders is another launch within a month's time. After that there are quite a few flashbacks about the Soviet space program, and Laika is introduced. She gets a fictional backstory. It takes about half the book to settle down to a single timeline and start preparations for Sputnik II (which i

Week 51: Torn

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Torn, by Margaret Peterson Haddix The is book #4 in Haddix' latest book series, a time-travel adventure with a whole cast of characters. Here, the brother-sister duo of Jonah and Katherine are thrown into 1611, onto Henry Hudson's voyage searching for the Northwest Passage. It's June, everything is frozen, everyone is starving, and time has broken down enough that the kids aren't sure what to do. And Captain Hudson seems kind of on the delusional side, and some of the crew are planning a mutiny... I've liked this series so far and am looking forward to the rest of the series; there are going to be 7. Haddix uses a device here that seems to be getting increasingly common. I'm noticing more boy/girl pairs as double protagonists--they may split up and have separate storylines, or stick together and work to solve their problem. I think it's a strategy to try to get more girl heroines in without breaking the common "rule" that boys won't r

Week 51: Gaudy Night

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Gaudy Night , by Dorothy Sayers Dorothy Sayers is one of my favorites. In fact, the classical homeschooling philosophy I follow is based on a speech she gave, which kind of makes me boggle a bit. I just really enjoy her style, and have read some of her theological books as well as the mysteries. Gaudy Night is my favorite of the Wimsey mysteries--and he hardly appears in it, and there's no murder. Instead, the story focuses on Harriet Vane as she goes back to Oxford for the first time since her trial. She ends up staying in her old college for quite some time as she tries to figure out who is vandalizing things and writing poison pen letters. Harriet spends a lot of time pondering questions that Sayers had a lot of opinions about--the difficulties (for women) of combining work and marriage, the importance of scholarly integrity, and suchlike. And as she ponders, she comes to realize a few things about herself and Lord Peter...

Week 51: The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain

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The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain , by Barbara Strauch Until quite recently, no one was really studying the ordinary adult brain. Scientists mainly studied children's development and the decline of mental abilities in the elderly. We made a lot of assumptions about how the adult brain works, and it turns out that many of them are wrong. Adult brains are much more malleable than researchers had realized. Instead of starting a slow decline in adulthood, middle-aged adults can synthesize knowledge and draw on years of experience. They are calmer and happier, even if a bit slower and more scatter-brained. They can grow new neurons (exercise is especially good for this) and possibly even stave off the effects of Alzheimer's through education and interaction. So this was a very interesting book with a lot of new science to learn.

2011 Challenges Wrap-Up

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I'm a few days early, but I'm going to wrap things up now. The Year of Feminist Classics Challenge: I read nearly all the selections, but opted out of God Dies by the Nile, The Second Sex , and the academic anthology (I looked at it!). I'm pretty satisfied with that even though I don't get to tick all the boxes, but the real point is that I got to read a lot of great books and enjoyed them very much. A Vindication of the Rights of Women by Mary Wollestonecraft So Long a Letter by Mariama Ba The Subjection of Women by John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor Mill A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf God Dies by the Nile by Nawal Saadawi The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf Ain’t I a Woman? by bell hooks Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism Anthology Gender Trouble by Judith Butler Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde

Feminist Classics: Sister Outsider

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Sister Outsider , by Audre Lorde This collection of essays, speeches, and other pieces by Audre Lorde was worth reading (and in my view better than the last one on our list!). The pieces that interested me most tended to be the ones that recounted Lorde's personal experiences: an essay about a visit to the USSR, excerpts from an interview, and "Eye to Eye." I don't know that I have a lot of amazing insight into the book, but it was an excellent addition to this year's list of feminist works. This book also wraps up the list! Stay tuned for a possible continuation of the project.

Mixing It Up Challenge

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I know, this is going a bit overboard, but I like this one! It's the Mixing It Up Challenge hosted by Ellie at Musings of a Bookshop Girl. Here are the rules: Read one book from each of the challenge categories, using the guidelines above. Don't use the same book for more than one category! The challenge will run until December 31st 2012, so you can sign up any time during the year. Create a blog post for the challenge, to keep track of what you've read. Add review links for each completed book so we can see how you're getting on. My post, for example, looks like THIS . The URL you leave in the Mr Linky MUST be a direct link to your challenge post, not to your blog homepage - I don't have time to comb through several months' worth of posts searching for it as the year wears on! Leave a comment on this post with your blog name (so I can match you to your Linky entry) and your chosen level of participation. Bookmark this post so you can come back late

Feminist Classics: Gender Trouble

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Gender Trouble , by Judith Butler This book is famous for its impenetrability, and the reputation is deserved. Butler's prose will leave most people confused and frustrated, and that includes me. I am conceding defeat on this one; I got about halfway through it, and my ILL copy has to go back. A fairly easy sentence taken at random from page 7 reads, "As a result, gender is not to culture as sex is to nature; gender is also the discursive/cultural means by which "sexed nature" or "a natural sex" is produced and established as "prediscursive," prior to culture, a politically neutral surface on which culture acts." The liberal use of quotation marks is a consistent feature of the book, since Butler is trying to question the meaning of all the words. To me it read as a more opaque version of the kind of academic prose that seeks to impress readers through jargon. I'm not sure I buy the necessity of that kind of language. Too often

The Improvement of the Mind

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The Improvement of the Mind, by Isaac Watts One of the things I really love about having a tablet with e-reader apps is that I can get old and obscure books --for free! --that I can't easily get in real life. Isaac Watts' Improvement of the Mind is one of the first books I downloaded, and it's been a reading project for a while now. My copy is 400 pages long, and quite old--a second edition from 1743, printed in that old-fashioned script where nouns are capitalized and most of the S's look like F's. It's a copy from the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, which also made me happy. Isaac Watts is most famous for his hymns and poetry, but he was also a well-known theologian and logician. His handbook of logic (which I've also downloaded!) was the definitive work on the subject for many years, and Improvement of the Mind was a follow-up work, all about self-education. I originally heard of it in a lecture on self-education for busy moms by my favorite homeschooli

Week 50: Evil Genes

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Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed, and My Sister Stole My Mother's Boyfriend , by Barbara Oakley Why are some people so manipulative and rotten? What could be the causes of sociopathy, narcissism, or borderline personality syndrome? Inspired by her manipulative older sister (who really did steal her mother's boyfriend!), Oakley looks into the complex and poorly-understood reasons behind Machiavellianism. The chapters alternate between describing cases of the "successfully sinister" from Mao to Skilling and heavy-duty neuroscience. Some of it is fascinating, and some is awful, and some is depressing. Oakley points out historical events influenced by Machiavellians; chaotic circumstances tend to allow them to rise to leadership positions. For me, one of the major lessons in this book was this: "...emote control allows our best traits--love, caring, loyalty, and trust--to be used as manipulative levers....the successfully sinister have no co

Week 50: Wildwood

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Wildwood , by Colin Meloy One day, Prue takes her baby brother Mac to the park to play, and is horrified when a murder of crows suddenly appears to grab Mac and fly away with him...to the Impassable Wilderness. Prue and her tag-along friend Curtis set out for the Wilderness to save her brother, but first they find a country in a state of war, an evil madwoman queen, and a lot of talking animals. The story is set in a fictionalized (and either way in the future or alternate-universe) version of Portland's Forrest Park, and the geography is just the same. I had some fun studying a map of the real Portland and noting that the bridges and so on are put directly into the book. But in the story, the park is the Impassable Wilderness to outsiders and a small collection of countries inside. The two friends lose each other right away, and each has an adventure to tell. Curtis' story spends half its time feeling too much like Edmund's in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe , bu

Week 50: On the Wasteland

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On the Wasteland, by Ruth M. Arthur This is an old children's book that is now almost forgotten, but I thought it was very good. It's too bad no one hears about it any more. My local library has one of the few library copies left in the US, so when I heard about it, I could get it easily. Betony is an orphan girl living in a group home in Suffolk. Although she has no family, she knows that her mother was from Suffolk and feels a strong attachment to the local land. And when she spends time on a piece of waste land that was a harbor 1000 years ago, she is taken back to a time when Vikings and Saxons were neighbors and enemies.

OK, One More Challenge...

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...but I was already going to do this anyway! The Where Are You Reading Challenge is simple; you just put all your books on a Google map, exactly as I did this year. Only now I can look at other readers' maps too! You can see my 2011 map on my sidebar. It shows that I have shamefully neglected Australia and South America this year, that I have a bad case of Anglophilia, and that American writers live disproportionately on the East Coast--most of my general non-fiction books seem to have ended up there. Here's the link to my completely empty 2012 map. I'll start adding to it in January. Whee!

Week 49: The Death Cure

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The Death Cure , by James Dashner It's the final book in the Maze Runner trilogy! In this volume you'll see a lot more of the world and find out the whys and wherefores of the story. Plenty of dystopian post-apocalyptic fun for everyone! I enjoyed this trilogy and look forward to seeing more from Dashner.

Week 49: Cinderella Ate My Daughter

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Cinderella Ate My Daughter , by Peggy Orenstein Who could resist a title like that? Although I have read enough "advertising and modern culture are oppressing our children" books to fill a wheelbarrow, I had to read this one too. Orenstein focuses on the pink and glittery girly-girl culture that has risen up since about 2000--I actually didn't realize it was so recent, since my own daughter was born in that year. I've never really seen a toy store without swathes of pink glitter everywhere. Did you know that Disney Princess merchandise only dates from 10 or so years ago? I didn't. Apparently Disney's merchandising department wasn't doing too well until someone noticed that little girls were all wearing homemade princess outfits. And why let people sew their own when you could sell them one with a character on it? Five seconds later you could buy absolutely anything with a Disney princess on it. The analysis was mostly fine, if not terribly surp

Week 49: Wonderstruck

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Wonderstruck , by Brian Selznick I was so excited when I saw this in the bookstore! I loved The Invention of Hugo Cabret and this story is similarly structured, with over half the book taken up with illustrations. But this story is also quite different. It concerns two children living 50 years and several states away from each other. One story is told in images, the other in words, but they intersect often and finally merge together. I really enjoyed the stories and the art, and I'm so glad that Selznick decided to do another one. It must take a tremendous amount of work and time to create so many detailed illustrations. My older daughter also loved Wonderstruck and I'm hoping to get my younger one to read it too. (She's picky and doesn't like to read anything she doesn't already know she enjoys.) Put this one on your list for sure!