Posts

Showing posts from March, 2012

The Listening Eye

Image
The Listening Eye , by Patricia Wentworth I often read Patricia Wentworth mysteries when things have gone wrong and I need something very fluffy and familiar. Wentworth wrote the coziest kind of British mystery novel, usually starring Miss Silver (a former governess turned detective), and always featuring young love and a wedding at the end. The writing style is instantly recognizable, the characters are on the stock side, and amnesia figures in Wentworth's plots far too often. They are great if you need a nice comforting read, and they've just been reissued in a new edition. The Listening Eye does not feature amnesia, but a deaf landlady who is very good at lipreading. She accidentally observes two men plotting a crime, and visits Miss Silver for advice. I'm reading quite a lot at the moment, but they are all long books that will take a while! So things have been pretty slow around here. However, I'd just like to remind you all that it's International

A Midsummer Night's Dream

Image
This is the third Shakespeare play that my daughter and I have read aloud. She saw it performed last year at the high school and was eager to read it aloud. It was really fun watching her get the jokes--much of the time, she would read the rude mechanicals' dialogue and at first assume she was understanding it incorrectly. It would take her a minute to realize what was going on. She also did not think much of Helena's puppy-dog devotion. For our next play, she has chosen The Tempest , which is great because that's my planned reading for the Back to the Classics Challenge. I guess she's enjoying this a lot; she's the one pushing to do daily readings!

Witch Week on the radio!

Image
BBC Radio broadcast a dramatized version of Diana Wynne Jones' Witch Week the other day. I've listened to some of it, but it's always hard to find time to just listen to something, so I'm worried I won't get to hear the whole thing. I want to know what kind of voice Chrestomanci was given! So far it's taken some liberties with the original text, which is unfortunate but inevitable if you're trying to squish a novel into an hour of dialogue. Listen and enjoy!

The Book of the City of Ladies

Image
The Book of the City of Ladies , by Christine de Pizan I think The Book of the City of Ladies is one of the greatest medieval works I've ever read. I loved it, so I'm very grateful to JCNL and Eva for introducing me to this wonderful book. The background information on Christine de Pizan is available at my post over on the Year of Feminist Classics blog. Since I read The Romance of the Rose last month, I could well understand her indignation at medieval writers' constant harping on how evil women were. It was certainly very convenient for them, and must have gotten very tiring for the women. Christine builds her city in three sections. First, she and Reason lay the foundation for the city by clearing the ground--that is, by getting rid of some common ideas about women, most especially those espoused by writers. Romans like Ovid or Cato are contradicted or explained away, and more current writers are ridiculed. Reason uses Christianity to show that since women

The Pilgrim's Regress

Image
The Pilgrim's Regress , by C. S. Lewis As long as I was reading medieval allegory (which I was--I just haven't posted about it yet), I thought I would re-read one of C. S. Lewis' first books, which was written as an allegory that deliberately mirrors Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress . Lewis didn't exactly write it as a spiritual autobiography--it doesn't map on to events in his own life--but it does chronicle a very similar path. Since it's one of Lewis' earliest books, it's kind of obscure in content, plain weird in some spots, and definitely not the sort of thing that everyone is going to love. But I liked it, though the writing is less adept than it is in later works. Some bits were quite funny too.

Mount TBR Update

Image
Bev at My Reader's Block is calling for a check-in post for her Mount TBR Challenge. I signed up for the lowest level of Pike's Peak, which requires 12 books. I have now read 11 titles from my TBR pile: The Story of an African Farm, by Olive Schreiner The Man in the High Castle, by Philip K. Dick The Book of Beasts, trans. T. H. White Mr. Dixon Disappears, by Ian Sansom Nightmare Abbey, by Thomas Love Peacock The Haunted Dolls' House and Other Stories, by M. R. James The New Road to Serfdom, by Daniel Hannan Doctor Thorne, by Anthony Trollope Winking at the Brim, by Gladys Mitchell Lovely is the Lee, by Robert Gibbings A Collection of Essays by George Orwell Since I'm close to completing this level, I'm going to officially upgrade to level 2, which is Mt. Vancouver, requiring 25 titles. I think The Book of Beasts is the book that has been on my pile the longest. I'm pretty sure I picked it up used in Berkeley, and I haven't lived there since 1997.

Herodotus' Histories: Book II

Image
I was going to spend a lot of time blogging today, but real life got in the way, so you just get the latest installment in the Herodotus saga. Book II is all about Egypt--its geography, wildlife, culture, and history. Herodotus puts in quite a bit about religion, though that's a subject he generally tries to avoid; since Egypt claimed to be the oldest civilization with the longest history, there is lots of investigating to do with the priests. The funny thing about this book is that Herodotus got quite a lot of his material wrong. The entire chapter is liberally sprinkled with footnotes saying "Herodotus is wrong here" or "of course the Egyptians are quite wrong about the lake." After a while I felt like Kermit the Frog in The Great Muppet Caper , when he says "You know, it's amazing. You are 100 per cent wrong. I mean, nothing you've said has been right." So while it's quite interesting to read all about Egypt, apparently we are

Essays by George Orwell

Image
A Collection of Essays by George Orwell George Orwell wrote a lot of essays, and here is an assorted collection: some autobiographical, others analyzing literature or popular culture, some plain political. The famous ones such as "Shooting an Elephant" or "Politics and the English Language" are included, and it seems to be a very good representative sample of Orwell's writing. "Such, Such Were the Joys" is the first essay, about the prep school Orwell was sent to as a boy and how horrible it was. (You did not expect him to enjoy school, did you?) It does indeed sound horrible, and as a less-wealthy unathletic introvert of a boy, he fared badly. It's no wonder classical education died in England, if this was what it looked like--and of course it usually did. Orwell comments that "I doubt whether classical education ever has been or can be successfully carried on without corporal punishment," which is pretty discouraging to a (neo)

Crossed

Image
I didn't quite mean to take the week off blogging, but it was my spring break and I had lots of resting, reading, cleaning and sewing to do instead. I need another week! I got two dresses sewed, went on a daytrip to a local animal preserve and museum, stuff like that. Now I have a lot of books to get caught up on. Crossed , by Ally Condie I read Matched when it came out, and enjoyed it, so I was looking forward to getting Crossed too. One thing I like about Ally Condie's dystopian fiction is that there's a good story without a ton of gory violence or sex. Condie's focus seems to be on how people make choices; her oppressive Society hardly allows any choices at all, and Cassia's development is all about the freedom to make decisions, allowing other people their freedom too, and taking the consequences.

Her Royal Spyness

Image
Her Royal Spyness , by Rhys Bowen Georgie is penniless nobility--sister to a duke, 34th in line to the throne, and without a bean to call her own. So she heads off to London to seek her fortune and try to get a job without attracting the notice of Her Majesty, who will either marry her off to a boring German prince or shove her into a job as lady-in-waiting to an elderly princess. Georgie starts a housekeeping business, but next thing she knows there's a dead body in her bathtub. Her brother is blamed for it and he's not clever enough to save himself, so it's up to Georgie to clear the family name and not get killed in the process. This was a very funny mystery, and the 30's London setting, full of Bright Young Things (and a cameo appearance from Mrs. Simpson!), was fun too. I really enjoyed it. Not only that, the book was a present from a fellow reader, and it showed up right when I needed a fun, light read, so thank you Stacia! Georgie is joining the ranks o

The Victorian Celebration

Image
Allie over at A Literary Odyssey is hosting a Victorian literature celebration in June and July . There are prizes! Allie writes: Some of my very favorite writers come from the era, and I still have many others to discover. During the months of June and July, I'm only going to be reading titles from this time period. I hope you'll decide to join me for a text or two. The Victorian era in literature refers to the time that Queen Victoria was ruling in Britain (1837-1901). It was a time period of great peace and prosperity for Britain and allowed for a lot of artistic and literary expression. Generally speaking, Victorians are only the British authors who published during this time period. However, some like to group American writers and others into the mix since their work can be closely tied together. To give you an idea of what writers I am talking about, some of the most well-known Victorian writers include: Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Wilkie Collins

The Master and Margarita

Image
The Master and Margarita , by Mikhail Bulgakov Bulgakov told a modern Faust story set in Soviet Moscow, in which he satirized the Soviet government, compliant writers, and everyone else too. He started the novel in 1928, burned the manuscript in fear of arrest, and continued working on successive drafts until his death in 1940. Bulgakov was nearly always repressed by the Soviet system, and The Master and Margarita remained unpublished until 1966, when a heavily censored edition came out. A fuller manuscript was circulated through the samizdat system until more complete editions were published in 1967 and 1973. But the current version was finally compiled even later, in 1989. (Are you tired yet?) The novel starts with the devil's arrival in Moscow for a visit. It is 1920 and the Soviets are newly in power, enforcing atheism and correct opinions. Professor Woland (as he is called) and his retinue of demons proceed to wreak havoc in the city, especially upon the writers

March Classics Discussion: Dickens

Image
Katharine over at November's Autumn is hosting a classics discussion every month: Choose a setting within the novel that most intrigues you. Is it the house of the character? Maybe the place where the novel reaches its climax? To clarify how this will work: I'll post various questions, don't feel obliged to answer all of them. Participants have the full month to post and share their answers. The different levels are based on how far into the book you are.Feel free to skip around the levels if you see a question that catches your fancy. Level 1 How has the author introduced the setting? What does it tell you about the character? about the time period? What is the mood of the setting? I'm only about 10 chapters into Dickens' The Old Curiosity Shop , but I thought I'd do a post on it anyway. The wider setting is, of course, London, and we spend most of the time in the curiosity shop. It seems to be night most of the time! In fact, the day

Before I Go To Sleep

Image
Before I Go To Sleep , by S. J. Watson Every day, Christine wakes up with no memory of the past 20 years or so--no memory of her husband, or her son, or anything else. She remembers events during the day, but they disappear as she sleeps. Over the past few weeks, though, she's been keeping a journal, recording her thoughts and any memories that pop up. As she writes, she realizes that her husband lies to her. Did she really lose her memory because of a car accident? I thought this thriller was fine, but it's probably a little overhyped. Amnesia novels seem to be awfully common just now. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed it, but it wasn't hard to figure out where it was going. I think I like Lisa Unger better.

Lovely is the Lee

Image
Lovely is the Lee, by Robert Gibbings This is one of those nice, peaceful books where the author wanders around the countryside and writes about it. I liked it very much. Apparently it was quite a hit in the mid-40s when it was released; Gibbings had already written two books about the countryside and there was another after this one. Gibbings became quite well-known and appeared on the radio and even television. There is not one word about World War II in this book, which was probably part of its appeal, but at the same time, everyone knew that the things he wrote about were in danger of disappearing. I expect a lot of it has disappeared by now. Gibbings starts in Galway and just sort of wanders around the Irish coast for several months. He visits tiny islands, goes out with fishermen, and meets interesting people. There is a lot about birds and fish, a good bit of history, and many anecdotes about fairies and weird happenings--I think I liked that best. Eventually Gibbing

Magical 11 Blog Tag

Image
Cassandra tagged me, so here we go! The Rules: Post rules. Post 11 fun facts about yourself. Answer the questions from the person who tagged you. Make up 11 questions for the people you tag. Tag 11 people. Let them know about it. So here are my fun facts, different from the 7 fun facts I wracked my brain to come up with last time: I am the oldest of 5 siblings, and have 3 brothers and a sister (in that order) Two of those brothers speak German, one speaks Korean, and my sister speaks some Japanese. Then there's my Danish. Add in our respective spouses, and we have quite a collection. Then my husband speaks Spanish--with a Chilean accent--and he doesn't like to hear me try to say anything in Spanish. Because it comes out with a Danish accent, and it is not good. I like reading books about housekeeping way more than I like actually doing any housekeeping. I watch reality shows about messy people just so I will get inspired to clean. We all have Google doppelgängers, but min

Herodotus' Histories: Book I

Image
I finished Book I of the Histories the other day--and then I went out of town and couldn't post right away. This is all about Persia: its history, peoples, and customs, and how the war between the Greeks and the Persians got started. There are some great stories! Herodotus starts off with the story of Croesus and his great wealth, and how he lost it all to Cyrus. Cyrus dominates the book, conquering all over the place, but there are lots of digressions into the histories and rulers of the places he conquers. If you're not paying attention, it can look like he is meandering all over the place, but he always comes back to where he left off--eventually. Sometimes there are digressions within digressions inside other digressions! There are so many familiar stories in this book--I know them from other sources, but here is the original. There are even more stories that are new to me. As I'm also reading the Book of the City of Ladies , I'm meeting the same valiant

A Duty to the Dead

Image
A Duty to the Dead , by Charles Todd Bess Crawford is a nurse, serving on the Britannic during World War I. Well, she gets torpedoed in the first five pages, and after that she's on leave getting better, so she doesn't actually spend much time in the war, but this is a historical mystery anyway. During her recovery, Bess seeks out a wealthy Kent family to deliver a final message from a dying soldier. She doesn't know what the message means, and she's unsatisfied with the reception it gets from the family. As she gets to know the family and other village residents, she starts to develop suspicions about the past, and in trying to fulfill her duty, she gradually uncovers an old story of malice and horror. I quite enjoyed this mystery. There are a good many characters, but they're all individuals, and the mystery is sufficiently mysterious without being too complicated for credibility. I looked for this title because the story sounded interesting, and it deli

Join up with the Classics Club!

Image
Jillian at A Room of One's Own has started a classics club . It's not exactly a challenge, more of a long-term project. Jillian says: At your own blog, list 50, 100, or 200 classics that most interest/scare/excite you, alongside your goal date for finishing this list. You can either make a straight list of titles (what I’ll be doing), or explain next to each title why you’ve chosen it. You could also explain a few of your chosen titles, but leave the others explanation-free. It’s up to you. Rereads are encouraged . When you link your list in the comments here , please pick one title from your list that you are most excited to read, so it can be included on the participant list . The goal? To read every classic on your list at your blog, and write about each one at your blog. Each time you write about a classic from your list, hyperlink the discussion post at the main classics list on your blog. It's going to take me a very long time to compile a list of

Marva Collins' Way

Image
Marva Collins' Way , by Marva Collins and Civia Tamarkin Other classical homeschoolers I talk with online are always recommending Marva Collins' books. This was the only one that was locally available. I was unfamiliar with Collins' name, and it turns out that back in the late 70's and early 80's, Americans were getting very worried about the state of public education. Collins became known as a teacher who was doing things differently; in fact, she was giving inner-city children a classical education. Marva Collins' Way is a sort of history of how she became a teacher and started her own private school, and what her methods are. Collins did not start out to become a teacher, but found that she enjoyed the work. For several years, she worked at an elementary school in Chicago and had great success teaching children to read and work, but when the administration changed, so did the atmosphere at the school. Collins became more and more unpopu

Tom Sawyer

Image
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain It's been a very, very long time since I read about Tom Sawyer! I really had fun reading this book, and I'm sure I appreciated it much more this time around. It's very funny, and just such a great picture of a young boy. I wound up requesting the audio book for my younger daughter, who probably couldn't handle the reading quite yet but will love the story. I also checked the sequels out and will probably read them; they sound a bit more Jules Verne-y than this more realistic (if very improbable) story. This was a selection for the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Challenge! That takes me to 6 out of 9. I checked 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea out of the library, so that's next.

Brandwashed

Image
Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy , by Martin Lindstrom I always like to read books on advertising, commercialism, and so on, so I had to pick this up when I saw it at work. It's really fascinating, because Lindstrom is a fairly eminent marketer and he explains a lot about how companies persuade us to buy stuff. Topics range over influencing unborn babies, selling fear, stealth advertising, nostalgia marketing, and why we (subconsciously) think that celebrities know what they're talking about. I was most interested by his chapter on selling hope. Lindstrom describes in detail how marketers design bottles and labels and names to associate their product with your longings for a more peaceful or more competent or more beautiful life. Herbal supplements, health and energy drinks, and cosmetics do it all the time, and the explanations were great. At the end, Lindstrom tackles the loss of privacy that is happening to all of us

Winking at the Brim

Image
Winking at the Brim, by Gladys Mitchell I picked this paperback mystery out of the pile I was given because I recognized Gladys Mitchell's name. She was quite well-known in her day, but her books have lost popularity. Her detective is a psychologist, which was exotic at the time, and she's a weird character, but in this book Dame Bradley is very toned-down and doesn't even come into the story much. The heroine is really her granddaughter Sally, who joins an expedition to a Scottish loch in order to search for an aquatic monster said to live there. The company is an ill-assorted bunch, and eventually one of them ends up dead. The story was quite fun, but really the mystery part of it was the least interesting. It wasn't terrible though. The cover on this book is so ugly I hate to post it, but there you go.

The School of Freedom

Image
The School of Freedom: A Liberal Education Reader from Plato to the Present Day , by Anthony O'Hear and Marc Sidwell Just so you know, I thought this was a really great book. It took me forever to read, though; it consists of excerpts from writers throughout history and is fairly heavy going. Through these bits of writing, you gain a picture of what a "liberal education" has looked like at various times, and its development until today. A liberal education is defined as that befitting a free citizen, preparing the student to function in a free society, engage in open debate of ideas, and participate in government. A liberal education has no end and is on-going; it exposes the student to a wide range of ideas and (one hopes) teaches a thirst for knowledge. In America these days we often call it classical education since "liberal" has taken on a particular political meaning. The book starts off with Greek and Roman writers, and then focuses in on the liber

The Merchant of Venice

Image
My daughter and I read The Merchant of Venice out loud for her schoolwork. I had never read this play before, so it was a good chance for me. Explaining the history of anti-Semitism to a modern kid is quite a job, I must say, and we had some good discussions. Shylock's complex character was difficult for her to comprehend (and me too); here you have a fairly traditional set of people except for Shylock, who has perhaps sparked more arguments than any other Shakespearean character besides Hamlet. He has good reason to hate Antonio, but his determination to exact revenge eventually destroys him, and his enemies learn nothing. I'm going to count this as the drama selection for the Mixing It Up Challenge! 11 down, 5 to go! But the rest will take longer, since I've chosen a pretty long history book. I don't have a cooking or travel selection yet, so recommendations are welcome. I've just gotten around to watching the final episode of the first season of Downto

I've hit the big time

Image
That's right, I'm blogging a little bit over at A Year of Feminist Classics this year. I suggested Christine de Pizan's Book of the City of Ladies as a reading choice this year, it was selected as the book for March, and now it's my task to host the discussion. Let's hope I do a good job. Check out the introductory post! (It's a little bit embarrassing really, because I had never even heard of the book until JNCL put it in her Medieval Challenge and Eva commented that it was a response to the Romance of the Rose .)