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Showing posts from April, 2012

The Oxford Book of English Detective Stories

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Oxford Book of English Detective Stories , ed. Patricia Craig I requested this book at the library because it was the only title in the system with a story by Edmund Crispin, who I saw mentioned on another blog as a good mystery author.  That didn't work out entirely as I planned, since the story was very very short and written in collaboration with another author, so it didn't give me much to go on.  But this is a really nice selection of detective stories from the past 150 years or so, with something from all of your favorite English mystery writers and a few unexpected names--I was pleased to see Christianna Brand included!  (I didn't know that she'd written any mysteries; I know her as the author of the Nurse Matilda books and a cousin of one of my favorite illustrators, Edward Ardizzone.) Maybe I'll find an Edmund Crispin book some other time... In other news, I've finally gotten around to trying out the new Blogger software.  I don't hate it!

Fire & Hemlock

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Fire & Hemlock , by Diana Wynne Jones Kristen at We Be Reading is hosting the Fire & Hemlock discussion today! Drop by and participate. This post will try not to have any spoilers in it, but the discussion will have plenty. Polly is packing up her things to go back to college when she runs across an old paperback book of stories. But surely the stories were different before? Polly realizes that she has double memories about her life, but how could they be true? This is my favorite of all DWJ's books, and one of the most complex. I don't know if anyone fully understands the ending. Fire & Hemlock pulls material from the old ballads 'Tam Lin' and 'Thomas the Rhymer' about the Fairy Queen's habit of ensnaring young men--for sacrifice, or for consuming. Polly is Janet, trying to save her love from the Queen, but Janet's methods won't work this time. Other elements of the story are taken from T. S. Eliot's Wasteland poem, w

Breaking Stalin's Nose

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Breaking Stalin's Nose , by Eugene Yelchin This was such an unusual book! My mom brought it along on our road trip and read it aloud as we drove. It recently won a Newbery Honor. Sasha lives in the USSR in about 1950, under Stalin. He is a true believer in the Communist dream; he loves and admires Stalin and feels lucky to be a Soviet. Most of all, he admires his dad, who is a Communist hero sweeping the land clean of spies--a KGB agent. All his life, Sasha has looked forward to the day he would become a Young Pioneer, but on that day, his life is shattered. As he starts to understand what has happened to him, he also begins to realize that maybe he doesn't live in such a paradise as he thought. This is such a well-written story. It's not long, and it has many pencil illustrations that evoke Sasha's feelings. It contains layers of difficult issues--you don't normally see many historical fiction stories for children like this, and it's probably the ge

Thomas the Rhymer

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Thomas the Rhymer , by Ellen Kushner In preparation for the Fire & Hemlock read-along and discussion (coming up this Friday!), I did a little pre-reading. I opened up my Child's Ballads and found the stories for Thomas the Rhymer and Tam Lin. And I picked up Ellen Kushner's version of the ballad/legend of Thomas the Rhymer . In the stories, Thomas is a bard who is picked up by the Fairy Queen and kept in Elfland for seven years. Upon his return to the human world, he has the power of truth-telling or prophecy. This retelling was part of the "Fairy Tales" series of books published in the early 90's. I had most of them! They all have the same vaguely Celtic/Art Nouveau cover art by Thomas Canty, which was quite stylish at the time. (Pamela Dean's version of Tam Lin was also part of this series, but I didn't feel the need to read it again for this project.) Some of the stories-- Tam Lin and Briar Rose , for example--were put into modern set

The Tempest

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My daughter and I finished The Tempest just before our trip. It's a lovely play, but it would have been much easier to understand if we'd had a performance to watch! All those Italian courtiers are too difficult to tell apart without being able to see them. The witty banter was a bit tricky for me to follow, so I'm sure my daughter missed a lot of it (though in the case of the more vulgar jokes, I don't mind so much). She did enjoy the story, though. This was my selected play for the Back to the Classics Challenge! Next we're going to read Much Ado About Nothing, and I do have the Branagh/Thompson production of that play.

Tom Sawyer's Further Adventures

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Tom Sawyer Abroad and Tom Sawyer, Detective , by Mark Twain I found these at the library when I checked out the original Tom Sawyer story; I had no idea they existed. I thought I'd better read them too. Tom Sawyer Abroad is very Jules-Verne-esque. Tom, Huck, and Jim accidentally get kidnapped on a new kind of airship flown by a peeved eccentric. They have all sorts of wild adventures and it's quite fun (though about as accurate as you'd expect--apparently the Sahara is just teeming with lions and tigers). Tom Sawyer, Detective has Tom and Huck on a steamboat to visit a relative. On the way they meet a thief on the run, and when they get to their destination, Tom is able to solve a mystery and amaze the town--always his favorite activity. The fun thing about these stories is the interaction between Tom, Huck, and Jim. Tom fancies himself to be pretty educated, and indeed he is a smart kid, but he's a living example of Pope's "a little learning is a d

As Promised

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I suppose it wasn't that big a deal, but I am easily entertained, so my weekend away was fancy stuff in my book! My mom and I took my kids down to the Bay Area for UC Berkeley's open campus event, Cal Day. I was a third-generation Cal student, so there were lots of family stories to tell the girls as we walked around. There were way too many cool activities--it's not possible to see them all, but we tried. I mostly dragged the kids around to all the science we could cram into the day, which was only a little bit of everything available. One of the best bits, though, was visiting the Doe Library (the main library)--we went into one of my very favorite places ever, the Morrison Library. It's a reading room expressly for leisure rather than study: And, the amazing thing was that the main stacks were open!! I hadn't been down there since I graduated, and since they were brand new at that point, my mom had never been there. So down we went, and

Erewhon

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Erewhon , by Samuel Butler This is another minor classic that has been sitting on my shelves unread for at least 10 years. I love those Dover Thrift editions and tend to buy them in bulk with the best of intentions. Erewhon tells the story of an intrepid (if misguided in many ways) young man in an unnamed coastal colony. He strikes out for the unexplored interior, hoping to lay claim to some land and make his fortune, but finds the large, prosperous nation of Erewhon. They arrest him, and though his pocketwatch makes them very suspicious, his good health and looks get him another chance. As the months go by, he learns the language and becomes familiar with the strange Erewhonian customs: they treat crime as illness and illness as crime, learn useless things at college, and spend their time at Musical Banks that they don't believe in. Machines are illegal, and once upon a time they made vegetarianism mandatory but ate meat secretly. Erewhon reminded me in many ways of Her

Islam Without Extremes

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Islam Without Extremes: a Muslim Case for Liberty , by Mustafa Akyol Mustafa Akyol is a Turkish writer who has seen a lot of political turbulence in his lifetime. Surveying the history and current climate in many majority-Muslim countries, Akyol asks whether authoritarian government is an intrinsic part of Islam, or whether there are possibilities for faithful Muslims to support free societies as well. This question is answered with a resounding 'yes' as he leads the reader through centuries of Islamic debate about how to build a righteous society and what that would look like. Most of the book is a history of Islam with a focus on the competing philosophical ideas within it. Akyol asserts that ideas about liberty and personal choice have been present in Islam from the beginning, and that the Qu'ran supports them. He traces the history of liberal thought--and why it has not always prevailed--within Islam right up to the present day. In his final chapters, he addre

Murphy's Law

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Murphy's Law , by Rhys Bowen I've become a Rhys Bowen addict. Although I haven't written about every title, I've now read almost every book in the Royal Spyness series, and I just started another series. This one features Molly Murphy, an Irish girl who finds herself on the run and on her way to America under an assumed name. Then a troublemaker gets murdered, and both Molly and her new friend Michael are under suspicion. Bowen has a lot of fun with her setting in 19th-century Manhattan, and I think this is going to be a great series. My library pile of books has gotten much too high lately; I think there are over 20 books on it. I've been trying to read more books that I own from my TBR pile, but I might have to take a break from that and focus on library books!

The World's Last Night

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The World's Last Night : essays by C. S. Lewis A couple of weeks ago I was listening to a talk on reading good books that mentioned the essay "Lilies That Fester," by C. S. Lewis. I thought I had read that essay before but could not find it in my books, and ended up downloading this book on to my tablet. It's a collection of several essays, and only one of them was one I was familiar with. Bonus! Most of the essays were on topics relating to Christianity, such as prayer, evidence (or not) for belief, the doctrine of the Second Coming, and so on. One of my favorite lines was from the essay "On Obstinacy in Belief," in which he addresses the common idea that belief in Christianity or other religions is simply a matter of wish-fulfillment: "...There are of course people in our own day to whom the whole situation seems altered by the doctrine of the concealed wish. They will admit that men, otherwise apparently rational, have been deceived by the a

Herodotus' Histories: Book III

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I finally finished Book III! It was actually really interesting; it just took me a long time. Life keeps getting in the way. I've had an exciting week--last week I did a bunch of prep for National Library Week (and today I got to see my lovely displays out), my brother and his family came for the weekend, and Easter became our least favorite Easter ever when my older daughter accidentally met a peanut-butter egg disguised as a Cadbury egg. She was sick for most of the rest of the day, but she's fine now. Anyway. Book III is all over the place compared with Books I and II. There is conflict between the Persian Empire and Egypt, Persian maneuvers to make war with Greece or Babylon or Arabia, and most of all, how the Magi staged a coup for the Persian throne, putting Darius in charge. This is the Darius known as Darius the Great; he also gets a friendly mention in the Bible because he let the Jews start rebuilding the temple (but there are three different Dariuses!). He

Eugene Onegin

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I've been meaning to read Pushkin's famous verse novel for years. I don't even know how long it's been on my shelf, but probably since I took Russian in college. That was the first time I even heard of Pushkin. (The students in my textbook always seemed to be staggering about, mourning his early death. No, really!) I picked up a copy of Eugene Onegin at Black Oak Books, and then failed to read it for a good 15 years. Silly me. The story concerns Eugene Onegin ( Евгений Онегин, which I must say sounds much better in Russian--it's pronounced Yevgenii), a young and selfish fop. He becomes so world-weary and jaded that very little interests him. Tatyana naively falls in love with him , but he is unable to return her feelings and dismisses her. Onegin's arrogance and selfishness lead him to disastrous events, while Tatyana breaks her heart and ends up marrying an old and wealthy nobleman. When they meet again, Onegin realizes what he has lost and asks fo

April Classics Discussion: Book Covers

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Katherine at November's Autumn hosts a monthly classics discussion. This month is on book covers, and here are the ones I've been reading lately. ...I love so many Classic book covers, they usually have a beautiful painting or portrait on the cover. This month's focus is the Book Cover The old and worn adage of never judging a book by its cover is partly true but a book cover tells the reader a lot about what's inside you can usually tell what genre it is or what time period it takes place in. Level 1 What are your first impressions as you look at the c over? Level 2 Does the book cover have an aspect that reflects the character, setting, or plot of the novel? Level 3 If you could have designed the book cover what would you have chosen? The cover for 20, 000 Leagues Under the Sea is rather disappointing. It has this very nice painting of the characters exploring underwater, but that is hardly visible under the giant red type. The whole thing

Archer's Goon

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Archer's Goon , by Diana Wynne Jones As we all know, Diana Wynne Jones is my favorite. Since the Fire and Hemlock read-along is coming up, and my older daughter has been reading a few new-to-her titles, it put me in a mood to read one now. My daughter asked to read Archer's Goon , and since my old paperback copy is close to falling apart, I checked it out of the library for her and promptly read it myself. Archer's Goon has always been one of my favorite DWJ titles. I just love the loopy plot, and Awful has got to be one of the all-time best characters in the history of children's literature. DWJ was always very good at sibling relationships, and this story is full of great siblings fighting or learning how to handle each other. It's too bad it hasn't been reprinted for a long time--somebody, reprint this great book! This cover is not the one I have, and anyway I've never seen a really good one.

Quiet

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Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking , by Susan Cain Susan Cain has been generating quite a bit of buzz lately with her TED talk about how it's not bad to be an introvert. I hadn't meant to read the book right away, but I ran into it so I thought I might as well. It's quite interesting! Cain talks about what we know now about the various elements of personality and the spectrum of extro/introversion. For about a century now, Americans have admired extroversion and deplored introversion, and the results have not always been good--we need to understand and respect both viewpoints. Cain goes around and visits various locations and events; she heads out to Saddleback Church to learn about how Christian evangelism admires extroversion and unintentionally makes the quieter folks unhappy. She goes to a Tony Robbins seminar, which sounds an awful lot like hell. Then she visits a weekend retreat for highly-sensitive folks and realizes that wi

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

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20,000 Leagues Under the Sea , by Jules Verne I've never read Jules Verne before, so the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Challenge was a good chance to get around to trying one out. It was pretty enjoyable; I was slow to get into it, but after a while I was very interested. What a story! I read a different version than most people see. Back in the early 90's, the Naval Institute Press came out with a new translation, complete with annotations and plenty of nice lithograph illustrations. It's a big book, and a bit unwieldy. The important thing was the new translation, which is much more exact and includes all the original material. I was surprised to learn that the usual English version of 20,000 Leagues is about 75% as long as it ought to be. Much of the technical and descriptive material was just left out or skimmed over. The notes of my edition were pretty ticked off about this, and had a lot to say about how scholars have criticized Verne over and over for

Bollywood Weddings

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Bollywood Weddings: Dating, Engagement, and Marriage in Hindu America , by Kavita Ramdya I ran across this short academic book at work, and promptly had to take it home, since anything Indian or Bollywood always catches my eye. I guess you could call it an ethnography of how Hindu Indian immigrant communities in the US have worked out a pattern for how to get married that blends Indian and American ideas and identities, drawing upon the "third culture" of Bollywood movies for inspiration. When the older immigrant generation is used to arranged marriages, and the younger American-born generation wants more autonomy, how do you compromise? Ramdya chronicles a pattern that often blends the two cultures and affirms both. She studied 20 different couples, all from the wealthier section of the immigrant community, and how they met, dated, and got engaged and married. She points out where older Hindu practices have been dropped and where they have been preserved, and makes a

Something to watch for

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This morning I was kind of sad to find out that I MISSED a special March-long reading project in remembrance of Diana Wynne Jones, who died just a year ago. However! There is still one more DWJ treat in store; We Be Reading is hosting a read-along of Fire and Hemlock , starting on April 12th--the day that a bunch of new editions of DWJ books are coming out, with covers that look like this one here. Fire and Hemlock is one of my very favorite DWJ books and certainly one of the most complex. If you've never read her before, I recommend that you work your way up to this one. If you'd like to join in with the read-along, keep an eye on We Be Reading. You still have time to get the book from your library or purchase it or borrow it from a friend. I will certainly be participating!

My brief moment in the spotlight is over

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With the end of March, the discussion at the Year of Feminist Classics blog on Christine de Pizan's Book of the City of Ladies is wrapping up . My problem with this book is that I like it too much and can't think of much to say about it except that. Head on over if you'd like to express an opinion, or just admire my lovely picture of the Virgin Mary being welcomed into the City of Ladies.

Greek Classics: March Wrapup

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So, fellow Greeklings, what have you been reading? March has been a little slow for me, as I've only read two of the nine books in Herodotus' Histories . I have learned lots of Persian history, and lots of kinda-fictional Egyptian information. I'd better focus on getting more read, or I won't get anywhere! I do love the Landmark book, but it is heavy and unwieldy; not easy to carry around with me or hold in one hand while I stir the soup. Link up your posts here!

1st Quarter Challenge Update

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Since it's the end of the first quarter of the year, everyone is posting about their progress in their reading challenges. I suppose I'd better report too. Here we go: Greek Literature Challenge : in my very own challenge, I slowed down a bit this month. I meant to read all of Herodotus by the end of March, not two books out of nine! I have completed 4 works, plus the Herodotus, so I'll give myself a 4.2/12 . Medieval Literature Challenge : I have exactly the same score! I have read 4 works, and I've finished 2 days of Boccaccio's Decameron , so 4.2/12 . Back to the Classics Challenge : There are 9 books to read in this challenge and I've read 3 so far. I'm also in the middle of Eugene Onegin and The Tempest, which both go towards this one. 3.5/9 A Classics Challenge : I've posted 3 not-terribly-profound discussions for this one, and failed to complete one that I meant to do. The goal is for 7. 3/7 League of Extraordinary Gentlemen :