Monday, April 30, 2012

The Oxford Book of English Detective Stories

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!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Fire & Hemlock

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, which is also written in four parts. I should really set myself to reading that poem and studying it properly, because the one time I tried, I failed utterly. (Modern poetry is not my strong point. But now it's going on my Classics Club list, so I have to do it.)

I love Jones' Fairy Queen, Laurel. She has so many names, and they all mean something--Lorelei, Mabel, Tatiana, Eudora, Leroy, Perry. She's pretty terrifying; she sucks the life out of everyone around her while maintaining an image of soft, delicate femininity. Going up against Laurel is a losing game. She gives dangerous gifts--Tom's gift is that anything he says will come true and come back to hit him.*

There are little hints sprinkled throughout the story, both to Polly and to the reader, about what is really going on. Most of them are easy to miss (I probably haven't found them all yet), and many are literary. You don't have to be familiar with all the literature mentioned (and some that is not) in Fire & Hemlock to enjoy it, but it does add depth and resonance to the story. DWJ always needs rereading to get everything out of the story, and this story is worth several reads.

*DWJ had something of this "gift" herself, it seems; she often found herself inexplicably living through scenes she had written as stories.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Breaking Stalin's Nose

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 gentlest introduction to this era that you'll find. Sasha has so many illusions that are obvious to the reader, and it's poignant to see them broken. The story also shows how difficult it is to act decently under a totalitarian government; every adult character is corrupted somehow or other by life under Stalinism, and Sasha is pressured to give in too. The ending is very well-done, but I can't give it away.

A fourth-grader could read it easily, but would not understand all the necessary background information, which makes it a very good read-aloud for the middle grades. (My mom, who knows these things, was of the opinion that few children would pick this book up, but it would make an excellent classroom read-aloud.) A parent or teacher will need to do a lot of explaining. Brush up a bit on your Soviet history and read it to your kid.

Eugene Yelchin has a fascinating website dedicated to Breaking Stalin's Nose, with lots of background information on the characters and setting of the book. Be sure to take a good look around!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Thomas the Rhymer

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 settings, but Kushner's story inhabits a timeless, medieval fairy-tale Scotland.

It's not a bad story, but it's also not really my kind of thing now. I had completely forgotten it, though, so it was a nice reminder.

NOW I am going to read Fire & Hemlock!

Edit: Having now read F&H, I realize that Kushner's Lady pales in comparison to Laurel. The Lady is enchantingly beautiful and amoral, of course, but she's pretty benevolent on the whole. Laurel, on the other hand, is greedy and manipulative and vengeful and scary under her beauty.

The Tempest

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

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 dangerous thing." He pontificates and condescends to Huck and Jim, whose earthy common sense rebuttals often leave him confounded--or else stunned into silence.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

As Promised

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 my daughters' reactions were all that I could wish. The new stacks are pretty cool, but I sure miss the old stacks, which were marvelously creepy and very cool. We also looked my mom's book up in the catalog, but since it is housed in the Bancroft Library and the Bancroft (which houses valuable historical materials, as well as the California history collection) was closed to visitors, we couldn't go look at it.

We also got to meet a few admired authors at the children's literature celebration! We had lots of fun, and I plan to make Cal Day an annual event for us. In fact next year I want to make all my friends come too--it's too good to miss, especially if you have a kid to take along. College is such a fuzzy, unreal concept to kids, and it's nice to get a chance to make it both real and fun. If you live anywhere within driving distance of the Bay Area, plan to go next spring!

Sunday, April 22, 2012


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 Herland, but while they have similar setups, Butler had a different aim; Erewhon is a satire upon his Victorian society, and the Erewhonians' strange habits are distorted reflections of what he saw around him. He criticized the Church of England, the English system of education (I particularly liked the 'hypothetical language'), and lots of other institutions.

I did almost no reading this weekend--I was too busy having fun! I'll tell you why as soon as I get some pictures from my mom.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Islam Without Extremes

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 addresses contemporary situations and freedoms, and uses the case of Turkey as an example of a country that is working towards a successful free society--one in which Islam is respected and supported, but neither suppressed (as in the past in Turkey) or imposed by government.

In Akyol's view, freedom of religion, of speech, and of the market are an integral part of a true Islamic philosophy. He supports this with plenty of quotations from the Qu'ran and from Islamic thinkers from every time period. I think it about sums the argument up when Akyol quotes one professor of Islamic law:

"...Heyrettin Karaman...has defended the views that Christians and Jews can be 'saved' in the afterliffe; that apostasy from Islam should not be punishable; that Islam rejects 'an all-powerful state'...; and that the 'un-Islamic beliefs and practices' of non-Muslims should be free even in an Islamic state. He has also...argued that the right Islamic political vision is 'not a world in which everybody is a Muslim, but a world in which Muslims protect all peoples and freedoms.'"

I found this to be a fascinating book. I don't know much about the history of Islamic thought, so it was mostly all new to me. Mustafa Akyol takes a lot of very complicated stuff and makes it clear and interesting. He has a blog, so I think I'll be subscribing to it. (In fact, he apparently had a book signing in San Francisco this morning. I couldn't have gone anyway, but it's a bit irking to find out right afterwards!)

In other news, I have been reading, but I haven't been finishing. I've been halfway through several books for days! I decided to take a break from my TBR pile and read through the many library books that have accumulated on my shelf. I've been taking a break from Boccaccio too--an endless list of stories about creative ways to commit adultery gets pretty old. Still bashing my way through Herodotus, though! Lots about the Scythians.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Murphy's Law

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!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The World's Last Night

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 arguments for religion. But they will say that they have been deceived first by their own desires and produced the arguments afterwards as a rationalization: that these arguments have never been intrinsically even plausible, but have seemed so because they were secretly weighted by our wishes. Now I do not doubt that this sort of thing happens in thinking about religion as in thinking about other things; but as a general explanation of religious assent it seems to me quite useless. On that issue our wishes may favour either side or both. The assumption that every man would be pleased, and nothing but pleased, if only he could conclude that Christianity is true, appears to me to be simply preposterous."

There were lots of other good bits, but that one was easy to find again. The essay I went looking for, "Lilies That Fester," is about educational and cultural issues and really I got a lot out of it; Lewis made some points about education (especially in literature) that I had not thought of in that way, although some were addressed in Richard Mitchell's Graves of Academe too. I am glad that I hunted that essay down.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Herodotus' Histories: Book III

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!). Here is a portrait of Darius the Great for you.

This book is just chock full of trickery and machinations and general drama in several different countries, so it's quite fun to read, but it's hard to follow because it's a bit scattered. There are also some very far-fetched stories about winged vipers in Arabia, and what is known about the borders of the earth. Herodotus knows that amber comes from the far north (Scandinavia/Baltics?), but does not believe in a river flowing to the northern sea.

Onward and upward to Book IV! (What's Greek for excelsior!-?)

Monday, April 9, 2012

Eugene Onegin

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 for her favors. Tatyana admits that she still loves him, but remains faithful to her husband.

The novel was actually published in separate sections written over a long period of time. One chapter got mostly written before Pushkin refused to publish it and skipped straight to the final chapter, which makes the story confusing because there is no hint that several years have elapsed. I got tripped up by that, but reading the notes will fix it.

I had some doubts about the translation, which imitates the original poetic form exactly: it is put into stanzas of iambic tetrameter with an odd rhyme scheme. The trouble with that is of course that you're still not going to get the real flavor of the original, and it's difficult to do very well. Some of the lines made me giggle, as at the end of stanza 7 in chapter 1, which could have been written by Edward Gorey:

His father listened, frowned, and moaned,
And mortgaged all the land he owned.

Here is a more typical verse from near the end:

How changed Tatyana is! How truly
She knows her role! With none to thank--
Tutored by her own wit--she duly
Bears the proud burden of her rank!
Who, in this cool majestic woman,
The ballroom's ruler, scarcely human,
Would dare to seek that gentle girl?
And he had set her heart awhirl!
When nights were dark and she, forsaken
By Morpheus, her dark eyes would rest
Upon the moon, and her young breast
By virginal desires was shaken,
Then in a dream that naught could dim
She'd walk life's humble road with him.

I did get used to the writing, though, and found it easier to understand than I had expected. I don't suppose I got anywhere near to understanding what it was like in the original Russian, and it makes me wish I could read it properly. But I'm glad to have read it.

This counts as the romance selection for the Back to the Classics Challenge. And it's my 12th TBR title. And April is Russian Authors' Month at the 52 Books Challenge!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

April Classics Discussion: Book Covers

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 cover?

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 ends up muddy and difficult to look at. I would have featured the two elements separately (and not a red title), or perhaps used one of the great lithographs that were included in the text.

I just finished Pushkin's Eugene Onegin in an elderly Penguin Classics edition. I am quite fond of those very old Penguins--the ones that are black, with a plain sans-serif font, though I don't like sans-serif fonts as a rule. I used to have a poster that looked like those old Penguins, with a portrait of (I think) Erasmus and the words "The Library of Every Civilized Person," which I loved even though it's as pretentious as all get-out. This image is of the same illustration on a later Penguin edition--I'm also fond of these ones and have a lot of them since they were being printed when I was in college. They had a color code that was almost entirely mysterious.

The picture is a painting done for the poem, but it's an incident from the very end, so I spent the whole time wondering what it was supposed to be. While I like the cover, I don't think it works all that well for that reason. I wonder if any other pictures were done by the same artist?

All those Shakespear
e plays I've been reading with my daughter lately are from the same set--my beloved Yale Shakespeare. I have the whole set, which makes me very happy! I used to buy the odd volume in college, but about 10 years ago I was lucky to get the whole thing when someone donated it to the library book sale and I got there first. They don't have any pictures on the cover or anything; they're just plain blue. They have reproductions of cover pages from early printings inside, and are set in 50's type.

I think I prefer the lack of cover art on these anyway; cover art is so easy to get wrong and so difficult to get right! Sometimes you don't need it much.

Nowadays classic covers very often feature a painting of some kind. That's fine with me, but I like the painting to plausibly match the book. I don't like it when the time periods clearly don't go together--say, a Regency girl on the cover of a mid-Victorian novel, or when they just slap a random pre-Raphaelite painting on there.

While I'm quite happy to read modern paperbacks, I think I love old books better--as long as they're not falling apart so they're unreadable.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Archer's Goon

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.

Friday, April 6, 2012


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 without a few outgoing folks to liven things up, the quiet becomes deafening.

I learned in this book that IBM used to have a company song! When I mentioned it to my dad, he promptly started singing it. He used to work for IBM and apparently they tried to make him into a sales guy at one point.

It's a very interesting book that really tries to share the message that both kinds of people are important; we can't really do without either one. But we also need to try harder to understand, respect, and use the introverts around us, because they have a lot to contribute.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

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 his lack of scientific accuracy, because they relied on a faulty translation and never bothered to check the original French, which is as accurate as any fanatic could wish it to be. The editor was, in fact, kind of obsessed with this point, and really hammered it home at great length.

The inhabitants of the amazing Nautilus submarine travel all over the world. They visit tropical islands and the South Pole, with plenty of adventure. They also kill a lot of animals. I know they're Victorians and don't have the same ethics, but it's still a bit jarring to read something like "we found this amazing, beautiful bird which is very rare, so we ate it." Or even "maybe we shouldn't kill this dugong, since they're being hunted to extinction, but...what the heck." (Come to think of it, this is a funny quirk of mine. I'm mostly just fine with reading horrifically sexist antique literature; that's part of the deal if you read old books. The animal-killing bugs me more--and I don't even like interacting with animals much.)

The other thing I learned was about the "20,000 leagues" part. Somehow I'd always assumed that the title was a poetic exaggeration of the depth to which the Nautilus plunged, but in fact the story is a chronicle of a journey 20,000 leagues long that takes place under the sea. I gather that this is not an uncommon error, and so, if you thought that too, now you know. Or maybe I'm the only one and I'm just not very clever.

I can't say that rip-roaring adventure in the Verne style is exactly my favorite sort of thing, so I don't know that I'll read more, but it was a good story and I'm happy to have broadened my literary horizons a bit.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Bollywood Weddings

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 special effort to describe how, most of the time, emphasizing an Indian heritage also strengthens an American identity.

It's an academic work and so a little less exciting than I would have liked, and a little repetitive (because it conforms to academic norms). Had it been a more mainstream work, there would have been more photographs--in color!--and more emotional engagement with the various couples' stories. I enjoyed reading it and learning more about how modern Indian-Americans tend to get married.

Now, this book focused exclusively on wealthy families who could afford lavish, stylish weddings and (in most cases) trips to India just for wedding shopping. It's not about more ordinary middle-class folks, so don't expect to see anything that mirrors your own wedding unless you spent over $15,000. It continually surprised me to see practices like ice sculptures, strapless wedding gowns, and hired DJs described as traditional and expected elements of any normal American wedding. But ordinary middle-class people is not what this book is about.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Something to watch for

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

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

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

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: I've read 6 out of 9 and am in the middle of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I've never read Jules Verne before! 6.5/9

Mixing It Up Challenge: There are 16 categories, and I've read a slightly ridiculous 12 books so far. I'm currently reading The Old Curiosity Shop (though I haven't touched it for a week, I'm enjoying it fine). 12.5/16

Mount TBR: Bev already required a post on progress, and I've read 11/12 and moved up to the next goal of 25. 11.2/25

150+ Challenge: So far this year I've read 62 books. I've never in my life actually counted how many books I read before. 62/150

World War I Challenge: Just the one so far: 1/3

How are you doing on your reading?