Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Greek Classics: February Wrap-Up

Greetings everyone, have you been reading any ancient Greek literature lately? Grappling with issues as old as civilization? Or just laughing at Aristophanes' crude humor? (That probably pre-dates civilization...)

This month I read Sopocles' three most famous plays, Antigone, Oedipus the King, and Oedipus at Colonus, all in the Fagles translation. I started reading Herodotus' Histories and am about a third of the way through the first book, which is all about the Persians. I'll be posting a little something about each book as I finish, since there are nine altogether and it will take a long time to read.

As I'm writing this, I am very grateful for modern conveniences. Yesterday I took my girls down to Sutter's Fort for a day-long environmental living program, which means we spent the day trying to live like people in the 1840's (pre-Gold Rush!). We wore the clothes, we eschewed our cell phones, we made rope and bread and candles, we learned to weave and grind flour, and we learned about trapping and blacksmithing. I herded 10 rambunctious children around these activities for 8 hours or so, and I wondered what one mom was thinking when she let her son have a wooden sword as part of his soldier outfit. (Probably "Hey, it won't be my problem!") There was a two-hour drive at both ends of the day, because I don't live all that close to Sutter's Fort.

It was all very fun and educational, but I was thrilled to be given pizza at the end of it (by my brother- and sister-in-law, who let me rest at their place before the drive home). If I'd really been an ordinary woman in California in 1846, I would not have been able to get pretty much any books I wanted to read, or find many people to talk with about those books. Chocolate, pretty fabric, and BBC dramas would not have been part of my life, and if I'd left any family behind back East, I would not have expected to see them ever again. On the other hand, California history is pretty exciting in bits, and maybe I could have met John and Annie Bidwell!

Anyway, now you know why I'm a little behindhand with my book posts--I have two books sitting here waiting for me to write something about them. Tell me about what you've been reading this month!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Out of My Mind

Out Of My Mind, by Sharon M. Draper

This has been on my wishlist for a long time! It's a novel for older children, maybe 10+.

Melody remembers everything. She's highly intelligent--she's the smartest kid in school. And she has never been able to say anything; her body doesn't work very well and she is in a wheelchair. Only a few people realize that she has any intelligence, until she gets a computer that can help her communicate. Now that she has a voice, she can be heard, but not everyone wants to listen. Melody is going to tell her story anyway.

It's a great story, hard to put down. Give it to your kid, but be sure to read it yourself too.

The Picture of Dorian Gray

The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde

Everybody knows the story, so I'm not going to say much. I was not a fan this time around (I read it years ago in college). The character that was pretty interesting was Lord Henry, and you don't get to know him well at all. He never says anything that isn't a well-polished epigram, and he manipulates people as a hobby. He is truly, seriously evil behind his facade, and you'll never know him.

Or maybe you do get to know him in the new uncensored edition, but I stuck with the copy I've had for 15 years, and that's OK for me.

This is a re-read title for the November's Autumn Challenge. Maybe.

Oedipus at Colonus

Oedipus at Colonus was Sophocles' last play, written shortly before his death and only staged posthumously.

Oedipus is now an old man, and his daughter Antigone acts as his guide. When he arrives in the village of Colonus and is informed that he is trespassing on ground sacred to the Furies, he knows that he has reached his refuge and asks to meet Theseus, king of Athens. The chorus figures out who he is, and is horrified, but resolves to wait until Theseus arrives before doing anything. Oedipus has now spent years paying for his unwitting crimes and defends himself, saying that he committed them unknowingly and killed his father in self-defense. He wants fair treatment.

Theseus welcomes Oedipus, earning his gratitude and an offer of a blessing. Oedipus knows that his burial-place will be a special spot, ensuring victory to the city that hosts his grave. Theseus is the deserving party, and Oedipus says he will never go back to Thebes, the city that threw him out so cruelly. Creon, the Theban king, has other plans and means to take Oedipus by force, but Theseus saves him and his daughters. Oedipus is already taking on aspects of otherworldly power, and he curses his sons and then leads Theseus away to find the ordained burial-spot. Antigone is left to make her way back home to try to stop her brother from attacking the city, but we know how that will turn out.

It was a really interesting play but I don't have as much to say about this one. I liked seeing Oedipus get some recompense for his years of punishment by Fate. Theseus is shown as an ideal king: just, majestic, powerful, and generous. At one point, Oedipus reaches out his hand in gratitude to him, but then snatches it back, realizing what he has almost done. He is so polluted that he cannot expect anyone to touch him, but Theseus courteously ignores the lapse.

That finishes off the Theban plays. Now I'm going to take a break from drama and read Herotodus' Histories, which I'm very excited about. I got this beautiful Landmark edition with explanatory notes in the margins, maps, pictures, and a staggering 21 appendices on various aspects of the ancient world. I think I will have to write a little post every time I finish one of the nine books, or you will never hear from me again. I was a bit tickled to see that practically the first story in the book is Solon visiting Croesus, telling him that you can never call a man happy until he is dead. One story Solon uses to illustrate the point is that of Cleobis and Biton, which I had never heard of until just a few days ago, when my little daughter and I read it in her Latin book. We were both very surprised when the boys died at the end.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Henrietta Sees It Through

Henrietta Sees It Through: More News From the Home Front, 1942-1945, by Joyce Dennys

It's another volume of Henrietta's village life and wartime trials! I was happy to get my hands on this volume after I enjoyed Henrietta's War so much. (Once again, I was deprived of the pretty candy-like cover of the new edition.) This one did not disappoint and is even a bit longer than the first one.

The "Henrietta" letters are fictional and were written for Sketch magazine by Joyce Dennys as a humor column. The book's introduction says it nicely: "It is Joyce Dennys' great gift to have transformed the frustration and grief of those years into the most enchanting comedy." Of course not all of the weekly letters could be published in the book, so this is just a nice selection with explanatory footnotes when you've missed an event.

All the same characters are still living in the little village on the Dover coast, but now there are evacuees in homes and American soldiers stationed nearby. As the war wears on and on, everyone is tired and it's beginning to show in frayed tempers and moments of despair. But Henrietta and her friends persevere, finding bright spots in weddings and new babies and local events, and the constant hope that they will get the opportunity to tell Hitler just exactly what they think of him.

Henrietta's letter are very funny and just all-around lovely to read. I love them.

And I'm inordinately pleased with myself, because I am counting this book for the Mixing It Up Challenge in the Humor/Journalism category--and it's both!

Oedipus the King

Yes, I am slow at getting these reviews out lately!

Let's find out a little more about Sophocles, shall we? He was a much-younger contemporary of Aeschylus and sometimes beat him at the competitions. Sophocles wrote a staggering 123 plays, nearly all of which are lost; we have seven complete plays. He competed about 30 times, won 24 of them, and never got worse than second place. He took innovation another step further than Aeschylus had done, adding another character on the stage and putting more into character development. Aristotle says that he also invented painted scenery.

Sophocles was a wealthy, educated man from the little rural town of Colonus near Athens. (Today it's a boring industrial suburb, which seems a pity.) He was born a few years before the Battle of Marathon, held some official offices, was very very famous for the plays, and had a very long life. His most famous Oedipal plays are not only not a trilogy, but were each written years apart as elements in four-part series of their own. Oedipus the King was highly regarded by the Greeks at the time, and Aristotle cited it as an example of excellence in high tragedy.

At the beginning of the play, Oedipus is at the height of his life. Anyone would admire him and call him fortunate. He's intelligent, majestic, and the epitome of a good king, having won the Theban throne years before when he vanquished the monstrous Sphinx and married the newly-widowed Queen Jocasta. Since then he has done his best for his city and ruled it with wisdom; every time someone suggests a course of action, he has already thought of it and carried it out. Now Thebes is threatened by a plague, and Oedipus has sent for advice from the Delphic Oracle. Whatever it takes to save Thebes, he's ready to do it.

The oracle has some surprising news for Oedipus; the former king's murderer is in Thebes and unpunished, and that's why there's a plague. All this time, it's been thought that Laius was killed by a band of thieves, and Oedipus curses the murderer and vows to punish him. But as he tracks down the evidence step by step, his whole life story is revealed for the first time; Oedipus himself is the killer, and Laius was his father. Oedipus has unwittingly committed the most horrifying crimes anyone can think of--he killed his father and married his mother, and he and his family are beyond the pale of decent society. Jocasta kills herself, but that's too easy a road for Oedipus' punishment. He puts his own eyes out and condemns himself to wander as an outcast and a beggar for the rest of his life.

Sophocles uses this play to hammer home the message that the gods do matter, and one must pay heed to oracles. In his day a lot of people were questioning the value of oracles for the first time; up to then, oracles had been considered infallible and an important institution. Tradition held that an oracle (like the one at Delphi) was always correct--even if you interpreted it wrongly. Or there was always the chance that an official would take a bribe and produce a fake, but a real proper message from the oracle was always right. Sophocles upholds traditional belief with this story; Jocasta openly mocks the oracle and talks about how she and Laius got around it by exposing their son. Oedipus tried to run away from the oracle by exiling himself from his home city of Corinth (since he didn't know he was adopted). But the gods and Fate cannot be tricked or circumvented.

Oedipus committed his crimes unknowingly, but no one in the play seems to think that matters one bit; Oedipus certainly doesn't (until the next play). Whether he meant to or not, he and all his family are polluted beyond redemption, and he has no right to claim protection from any city.
The play ends with that most characteristic Greek sentiment--never call a man happy until he's safely dead:

People of Thebes, my countrymen, look on Oedipus.
He solved the famous riddle with his brilliance,

he rose to power, a man beyond all power.
Who could behold his greatness without envy?

Now what a black sea of terror has overwhelmed him.

Now as we keep our watch and wait the final day,
count no man happy till he dies, free of pain at last.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


Antigone, by Sophocles

Antigone is one of Sophocles' early plays, and it's the first of the Theban plays that he wrote. Within the story of Oedipus, however, it takes place after the other two. I read it first because he wrote it first. I used the Fagles translation, and now I'm yet another fan; I liked his strong, somewhat plain style.

Antigone's brother Polynices attacked the city, and now lies dead on the battlefield. His uncle Creon is now ruler of Thebes, and has ordered that the traitor go unburied. Greeks believed that without proper burial, the spirit could not go to its proper place and be at peace, so this is an awful order, but after all the man attacked his own city. Antigone cannot endure for her brother to go unburied, so she sneaks out and performs the proper rituals although she knows that the penalty is death. Once caught, she stubbornly defends herself, insisting that the gods would be displeased by the crime of leaving Polynices unburied. Creon arranges for her to be shut into a cave, but his son Haemon (who is betrothed to Antigone) and the chorus finally convince him to relent. But it is too late; Antigone has hanged herself. Haemon cannot live without her and kills himself, and his mother commits suicide too. Creon is left alone, having lost wife and son to his stubborn pride.

A modern person can't help but like Antigone, who is an uncompromising young woman. She has one idea and she sticks to it; her brother must be buried, no matter what, and anyone who gets in her way deserves nothing but scorn. As soon as her more timid sister Ismene expresses her fear about the job, Antigone is done with her. Even as she goes to her death, she insists that she is right and Creon is wrong, and she never bothers to plead.

Antigone has had a terrible life, what with her family history and all, and now both her brothers are dead too. Although she is set to marry Haemon (which incidentally seems like a really bad idea, genetically speaking, since they're cousins and her mother was her grandmother), she does not seem to see any hope for her future. She has had nothing but suffering so far, and does not expect anything different.

At the final moment before she is shut into her cave, Antigone says something very strange: she drops her reasoning about the gods and what is right, and says that while she could not leave her brother alone, she would not have done the same for a husband or for her own children. Her parents are dead, so she'll never have another brother, but husbands and children are somewhat replaceable. This is very strange reasoning (by Greek standards too), but it also comes true--she really does give up her future husband and children by insisting on burying her brother. Haemon is right there, about to marry her, but she doesn't even care. I have no idea what to think about that, but it's certainly interesting to ponder.

If Antigone is admirable for her stubbornness by modern standards, she was a bit worrying to the ancient Greeks. No one in the play praises her for her stance, even as she tells them all about the right thing to do. She embodies a dilemma; when do family obligations take precedence over loyalty to the city, or vice versa? Creon puts the city first and ends up losing his family. Antigone puts family first, and loses everything else--and she can only look forward to meeting her family in Hades, which is pretty cold comfort to a Greek. The conflict between them leaves several people dead. It was a real question to the Greeks, and to many others throughout history, even if it feels removed from us.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Why Darwin Matters

Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design, by Michael Shermer

In the Evolution vs. Creation discussions, Shermer is a welcome voice of moderation (to me anyway). As a former Baptist, he has a realistic idea of what faith is about, and he thinks that respectful dialogue and debate--as tedious as it may be, what with the everlasting repetition--is better than insults and scorn, which usually fails to convince. (It generally makes me stubborn when people do it to me.) I accept evolution as a valid scientific theory and I teach it to my kids, but as a religious person I dislike the generalized insults that come from prominent skeptics like Dawkins and P. Z. Myers.

Because of that, I was looking forward to reading Why Darwin Matters. Shermer talks about the whole debate. He does not talk as much about evolution itself as I expected, though there is quite a bit of that. He spends at least as much time on why some folks do not accept evolution, why the creationist movement does what it does, and what its eventual goals are. He also talks about why he thinks that science and religion can get along just fine and that this whole debate is kind of unnecessary. In his opinion, "intelligent design" is bad theology as well as bad science--which I agree with, although sometimes for different reasons than he gives.

It was a pretty interesting book, although I don't always agree with his logic. On the whole I think he's got some very good points. So I was a little surprised that I didn't enjoy the book more, but I think I was expecting a little more about fossils and animals. I like fossils!

I'm counting this as the science pick for the Mixing It Up Challenge.

Also, I really am going to write up the Theban plays. Really! Soon!

The Romance of the Rose

The Romance of the Rose, by Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun

I said I would finish this book if it killed me, and it almost did, but not quite! I'm very glad that my edition translated the whole thing into prose, or the nearly 22,000 lines of verse might have finished me off. Thank you, Charles Dahlberg.

The first third of the romance was written by Guillame de Lorris in about 1230 and is quite enjoyable to read. It tells the story of a young man in love with a particular rose in a walled garden. The garden is populated by various allegorical characters like Fair Welcome, Jealousy, and Wealth, so the story is all about the lover's efforts to get the girl as he courts her. But when he gets close to the rose and importunately steals a kiss, rumors start to fly and the rose is sealed behind a castle built by Jealousy, Foul Mouth, and others who keep him from his goal. The first part of the poem ends there, and it's unclear whether Guillame meant it to end there or if he just died without finishing it.

Almost 50 years later, Jean de Meun continued the poem, adding more than twice as much material as had already been there. I am not a fan of ol' Jean. As the lover frets outside the castle, he meets different characters, all of whom have plenty to say. Reason is the first, and she tries to dissuade the lover from his allegiance to Love in an interminable monologue. Friend shows up and gives a lot of rather scurrilous advice (Jean manages to be both dull and bawdy). False Seeming, the Old Woman, Nature, and Genius all have their say at great length. It is all very much as C. S. Lewis described in that essay I like, with all the characters taking delight in discoursing on the nature of things in general whenever possible.

I can quite see why Christine de Pisan was so ticked off by the romance; Jean is quite the misogynist and spends a lot of time explaining how greedy, deceitful, and generally awful women are. This is quite convenient and justifies treating women badly. I'm very much looking forward to reading The Book of the City of Ladies as an antidote!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Readathon Wrapup

Today was full of stuff to do, but I still managed to read Oedipus at Colonus, a little of my School of Freedom book, and more than half of The Picture of Dorian Gray. I really hate that Lord Henry guy; I don't think he ever says one sentence that isn't a calculated paradoxical witticism.

Thanks to Cassandra for hosting her "Hooray Term's Over" Readathon--it's been a lot of fun!

Poor Old Oedipus Rex

Since I read Oedipus this weekend, I've had this classic song in my head quite a bit. If you've never heard it, you've missed out on a treat, but I'm here to help you out! Please enjoy Tom Lehrer's "Oedipus Rex" song, with words handily included.

End of Saturday

I should have posted last night, but I didn't. I read Antigone and Oedipus the King, and then switched to a science book by Michael Shermer called Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design. I'm about halfway through that now.

Since I'll be spending the morning at church--and I'm unexpectedly teaching a class--nothing more will happen on the reading front until lunchtime.

Saturday, February 18, 2012


I finished The Romance of the Rose! Yay! I picked up my Sophocles and am going to read Antigone. I was going to skip the introductory material, because that's what you're supposed to do, but I changed my mind. I read Antigone, once long ago in college, and remember liking it a lot, but not much else.

Weekend Readathon!

Let the fun begin! I don't know how much I'll actually get read, but I've been looking forward to spending as much time as possible with my nose in a book this weekend. I'm going to finish The Romance of the Rose if it kills me (which it might). And I want to read at least one of Sophocles' Theban plays (finally!). Otherwise I'm not quite sure what I'll read; I have quite a pile to choose from, though.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Alloy of Law on Audio

Hey everyone, I have a little treat for you! This is most of the first chapter of Brandon Sanderson's The Alloy of Law on audio. I listened to it, and I thought Michael Kramer had a good voice for the narration; to me, he evoked the feeling of the novel nicely. I would like to listen to more.

I'm not really much of an audiobook person because I get impatient. I can read much faster than anyone can narrate. But my husband listens to a lot of audio on his long commute, and my daughter loves them (now I know why; it's hard work for her eyes to focus on small print for long). So I am learning to appreciate audiobooks.

The clip does start rather suddenly, with no intro time, and since the story begins with dialogue it took me a short while to figure out where I was. Remember, like I said before, this is something of a Western, and it starts in the middle of a gunfight in a ghost town. Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Alloy of Law

The Alloy of Law, by Brandon Sanderson

Hello to everyone who stopped by because Eva mentioned my name! Nice to see you.

It's been a while since I've read a nice Sanderson book for grown-ups (Warbreaker is on my TBR pile!). I really enjoyed the Mistborn trilogy a lot, and it seems that he's planning a second and then a third trilogy, each set further on in time. This book is just a fun little interlude--a short story by Sanderson standards, since it's only 325 pages long instead of 1000--set over 300 years from the original story. It's a Western! There are lots of guns, and train robberies, and law-keepers, and of course Allomancy. (If you're not familiar with Brandon Sanderson, he likes to create worlds around very complex magic systems. The Mistborn books have three separate, but related, magic systems centered on metals. Magic users can access the properties in different metals. It's modern high fantasy at its finest.)

There are some great characters in The Alloy of Law, and I hope to see more of them sometime. I couldn't help picturing Nathan Fillion in the role of the protagonist, Wax, so I think someone should make a movie. In fact, Adam Baldwin would make a pretty good Wayne! Marasi would have to be played by someone new, though.

I've been really slow with the reading lately. Life caught up with me this month and I have too much to do! So here's an interim report on what I'm reading:

I have fewer than 100 pages to go in The Romance of the Rose, which got very tedious in the middle. I like Guillame de Lorris just fine, but Jean de Meun is my new nemesis.

I got an ILL of a book I've been wanting to read for some time called The School of Freedom, about liberal education through the ages. It's really a collection of historical tidbits. I'm almost done with Cicero's thoughts, so there's a way to go yet.

I've started John Keegan's history of World War I and am going very slowly so far. I'm learning a lot about Schlieffen at the moment. WWI always seems so depressingly avoidable in hindsight.

I've read a few chapters of The Old Curiosity Shop because it's Dickens' 200th birthday!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

My First Readathon

I've never signed up for a read-a-thon, because I can't really see how I could get a whole day (or two!) to read in. But Cassandra over at Literary Stars says I can treat it as a pretty casual one, and I've always wanted to do it, so I'm signing up. Cassandra is celebrating the beginning of her school vacation on February 18-19, which is not at all when I get a school vacation, but who cares?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Grave Mistake

Grave Mistake, by Ngaio Marsh

It's been the kind of week where I read a lot of brain-candy mystery novels. My little girl has been having trouble with her eyes and started vision therapy today, so I've been very taken up with that. Wish her luck!

I picked Grave Mistake out of my pile of old mysteries. I like Ngaio Marsh; her writing is really nice to read, though she does tend to focus on painting and the theater to the exclusion of all else. Most of her mysteries are set in England, but since she was really a Kiwi from New Zealand, she set a few stories there too (not this one), and those make a nice change.

This story is mostly told from the point of view of the victim's neighbor and old friend. The charming, ultra-feminine, hypochondriac Sybil is killed at a nursing home during a vacation. Was it the unscrupulous doctor? The wastrel, semi-criminal stepson? Perhaps even the jealous nurse or the covetous neighbor?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

They Found Him Dead

They Found Him Dead, by Georgette Heyer

I love Georgette Heyer's historical fiction, but until now her mysteries have left me cold. Now, finally, I have read a Heyer mystery that I liked! It's a good puzzle, the characters are memorable (and sometimes memorably hateable), and it was fun. Just what I needed!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Works and Days

Works and Days, by Hesiod

Works and Days was quite fun to read. The translation I have is by Richmond Lattimore, and it has little summary lines on the side to let the reader know what's going on. Unlike my copy of the Theogony, it has no footnotes at all, so while I may have missed some nuances, it was easier to stay focused. Works and Days is a more straightforward poem anyway.

Evidently Hesiod had a wastrel brother named Perses, who squandered his half of the family property and then successfully sued the poet for some of his half. Hesiod responded with a sort of life instruction book. He starts off with the stories of Prometheus, Pandora, and the Five Ages of Man to explain why life is stern and life is earnest and you have to earn a living. Then he gives instructions on how to run a farm: when to plow, what kind of help to hire, how to make convenient clothes, how to choose a wife, all sorts of good advice. Other advice is included too; how to send out a merchant ship (if you insist on running that kind of risk), what the proper auspicious days are, how to please the gods and how to keep good company and be a good friend.

I bet it really got up Perses' nose, and Hesiod probably meant it to.

This bust is supposed to be Hesiod, but of course it's entirely imaginative. He looks a bit too agonized for my taste. And this text is from a 1539 printing, with convenient Latin translation.

Next up is Sophocles' Theban plays in the Fagles translation, and it will be my first experience with Fagles. I've almost always read Lattimore. I've always thought that the Oedipus cycle must have been the Greeks' idea of thinking up the worst thing that could possibly happen. Here Oedipus is, a virtuous and intelligent man with everything he could want, and it turns out that he has unwittingly committed the most horrible crimes anyone could imagine. Never call a man happy until he is safely dead!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Distant View of a Minaret

Distant View of a Minaret, by Alifa Rifaat

I only heard of this collection of stories recently, and now I can't remember where I got the title, but I was interested right away. Alifa Rifaat is a writer in Egypt with relatively little exposure to Western ideas--she speaks no English and wouldn't care about the West anyway--and so while her stories are considered to be feminist, they are feminist from a very different point of view, one that is orthodoxly Muslim. (Is orthodoxly a word? It should be.)

Most of the stories are very short, and realistic, portraying pivotal moments in ordinary women's lives. I liked most of them and zipped through the book very quickly. Some of the time she looks at how men lose the right to respect when they treat women badly--but she would not say that men should not be in charge at all, I gather.

Great Stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Great Stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, selected by John Dickson Carr

Arthur Conan Doyle wrote about a squillion adventuresome short stories, and the best of them are collected together here. There are a couple of Sherlock Holmes tales, but the rest are stand-alones with the exception of one Professor Challenger story. Several are rather how I imagine Jules Verne stories must be, about fantastic adventures in the air or under the earth. Others are sporting stories about boxing and so on. I liked most of them.

"The Final Problem" is not included in this collection, but I read it too. It is the single Sherlock Holmes story featuring Holmes' intellectual equal, Professor Moriarty. Unfortunately, since Doyle really only wrote it in order to kill Holmes off, it wasn't all that interesting. Holmes talks a lot about the Napoleon of crime, but all that really happens is that Moriarty follows him to Switzerland and they disappear. It's pretty disappointing, but it counts for my League of Extraordinary Gentleman challenge.

Doctor Thorne

Doctor Thorne, by Anthony Trollope

The Barsetshire Chronicles make me happy. They are just fun, pleasant books to read. Doctor Thorne is the third Barsetshire book, and it is really long and really nice. I have read a lot of Angela Thirkell novels (she lifted and used the Barsetshire setting) and it surprises me how familiar Trollope feels; Thirkell must have done a really good job of writing in the same vein.

In Doctor Thorne, we get to know the doctor and his niece Mary, who is a lovely girl but unfortunately illegitimate. The young squire of the county, Frank Gresham, falls in love with Mary--but his mother is conscious of the duties of high breeding and noble blood, and his father has run the Greshamsbury estate deeply into debt, so that everyone assumes that Frank must marry money. Can the lovers ever be united? Only Doctor Thorne knows that Mary might be the solution to all of Lady Gresham's problems.

I liked it. The next Barsetshire novel is Framley Parsonage, so I'll read that sometime soon when I'm feeling cozy.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

World War I Challenge

I found another challenge to join! This one is hosted by War Through the Generations and is all about World War I. The information:

War Through the Generation’s 2012 reading challenge will be World War I. The challenge will run from January 1, 2012, through December 31, 2012.


This year you have options when reading your fiction, nonfiction, graphic novels, etc. with the WWI as the primary or secondary theme.

Books can take place before, during, or after the war, so long as the conflicts that led to the war or the war itself are important to the story. Books from other challenges count so long as they meet the above criteria.

Dip: Read 1-3 books in any genre with WWI as a primary or secondary theme.

Wade: Read 4-10 books in any genre with WWI as a primary or secondary theme.

Swim: Read 11 or more books in any genre with WWI as a primary or secondary theme.

Additionally, we’ve decided that since there are so many great movies out there about WWI, you can substitute or add a movie or two to your list this year and have it count toward your totals.

You can decide which books you’d like to read right away, or you can choose them during the course of the challenge. Check out the Recommended Reading: WWI page for suggestions.

We wanted to try something a little different this year, and we thought that it would be fun to do a group review here on War Through the Generations midway through the challenge.

The 2012 book for the read-a-long will be A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway.

I am going to sign up for the "Dip level--3 books about the Great War seem like enough for me. I've never read A Farewell to Arms, so that will be good for me. I'll probably hate it. I also plan to read John Keegan's history, The First World War. I'm not sure what #3 will be.

The New Road to Serfdom

The New Road to Serfdom: a Letter of Warning to America, by Daniel Hannan

Daniel Hannan is the Member of the European Parliament for South-East Britain, and he's an articulate conservative who is especially passionate about localism and decentralization of power. He shows up on TV cable news shows every so often, so you might have seen him. Hannan felt that many Americans might not be aware of how governance works in the UK and the EU, and wrote this book to show where the US might end up if we continue to consolidate power at the federal level.

One of the first points he hits is how much British government is run by non-elected agencies now. I had no idea that UK citizens do not elect their local sheriffs or school board or much of anybody--apparently many local functions now operate through "quangos," which are state agencies run by appointment rather than election (this does explain something to me about why British home educators are so leery of their Local Authorities). It's entirely possible to have an illustrious political career in the UK without ever being elected to anything.

Most of the book is given over to explaining why Hannan is such a fan of localism. He feels that the more governance can be run at the local level, flexibly subject to local conditions and needs, the better. There is a lot about the EU and how it runs so much by government fiat, avoiding referendums whenever possible, and what the philosophy is behind that. He especially emphasizes that once you take any power away from a local body and give it over to a more centralized power, you are unlikely ever to get that power back--so watch what you're doing.

I found it to be a very interesting book that makes some excellent points. Hannan is a sharp and articulate guy. And I'll be paying much more attention to local elections from now on.

This book was on my TBR pile! Though admittedly not for long, since I only bought it late last fall. Still, it counts!