Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Greek Classics: July Wrapup

Heigh ho, Greeklings, it's a little hot to be reading tragedies and philosophy at the moment, and I didn't get much reading of any kind done in July.  But if you were more industrious and literary than I was, link up your Greek literature reading here!

Greek landscape
It's hot in Greece too.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Victorian Celebration Wrapup

July is about over, and that means the end of Allie's Victorian Celebration.  It's been quite an event, with giveaways and quizzes and all sorts of blogging fun.  So, thanks, everybody!

Here's what I read:

Framley Parsonage, by Anthony Trollope.  Quite an enjoyable read, and apparently one of Trollope's big hits.  It's the fourth Chronicle of Barsetshire (Allie says that Penguin is publishing all 6 in its pretty new English Classics series.  That might be hard to resist).

Mystery of a Hansom Cab, by Fergus Hume.  One of the great early mysteries, set in Melbourne.

Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert.  I got to participate in a readalong for this beautifully-written novel.  It was great stuff!

Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott.  This was also a July selection for the Feminist Classics blog.  It was nice to revisit the March girls.

Bleak House, by Charles Dickens.  I've never read as much Dickens as I ought to, and now I'm starting to have a better appreciation for him. 

The Leavenworth Case, by Anna Katherina Green.  Another classic genre-shaping mystery!  This one is American.

A couple of small pieces by William Morris--one influential essay, one strange poem.

The Communist Manifesto, by Marx and Engels--hugely important and eventually world-changing, but awfully difficult to understand for a modern.

The Log Cabin Lady--an anonymous memoir focused on the difficulties of a sudden transition from frontier life to high society.  Very touching, and I mean that in a nice way.

I read more titles than I expected to, but not all of the titles that I actually intended to read.  Quo Vadis had to go back to the library before I got very far into it, and The Last of the Mohicans is still sitting there on my TBR pile.  But it was fun to read a couple of mysteries.  I'm especially glad to have been able to read Madame Bovary and Bleak House!

Road trip!

I've been trying to decide what books to take on my trip.  We'll be doing a whole lot of driving, so I figure I'll be able to do some reading, but it always works out that you don't read as much as you expect, right?  And it will be my job to keep the driver awake (I won't be doing any of the driving myself, because my co-pilot gets carsick if not actually doing the driving).

Anyway, I haven't read anything Greek lately.  I'd like to take Herodotus but the book is too huge for a road trip.  Euripedes is on my shelf, but in a library book.  Therefore I've decided to take Plato and Aristotle along for company.  Here they are, arguing away.

You can see that Plato is the older one pointing upwards.  Plato believed that ultimate reality was found in ideals, or Forms, that could not be found on earth.  We have the imperfect reflections of Forms here, but somewhere there is an ultimate reality which contains ideal trees and people and furniture.  Aristotle, the younger fellow, disagrees with his tutor and insists that reality exists in material objects that are knowable through experience--so he's gesturing towards the ground.

I have lots of other books I want to take along besides the two of the most foundational philosophers around.  Doctor Zhivago is going along.  I want to take Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence, which is on my Back to the Classics list.  I think I will also take a medieval account kept at the Abbey of Bury St. Edmunds by a monk named Jocelin of Brakelond.  It looks rather friendlier than most such accounts and is a nice small book.

It's a bit silly to take any paper books along at all, since I have tons of good stuff on my tablet!  I thought my tablet was supposed to make a backpack full of books unnecessary on long trips.  I guess I haven't gotten used to that yet.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Log Cabin Lady

This is another title I found listed at the Project Gutenberg Project blog (which is also where I found Bab: a Sub-Deb).  It's a very short book--really more of a pamphlet--written by an anonymous lady for a women's magazine.  This lady grew up in a log cabin with a large family and no luxuries, and then went to the big city to get an education.  There, she met and married her husband, who came from a wealthy society family and who was going into state business.  Suddenly she was living in a whole new world, one filled with social rules she had never been taught.  This little book contains her story and her position that social education should be part of education in every school:

I realized that social amenities are too often neglected in America, and our manners sometimes truthfully called crude. But I told myself with pride that our truly cultivated people will not tolerate a social form that is not based on human, kindly instincts. It was not until the World War flooded Europe with American boys and girls that I realized the glory of our social standards and the great need to have our own people understand those standards...

They are simple customs, and should be taught in every school in America, but I had not learned them....

If any one had told that girl the sacredness of the convention she had ignored, she would have suffered as keenly as I had suffered in my youth. It was such a simple thing to learn; yet who in the middle of a war would think of stopping to run a class in etiquette? The point is that any girl capable of crossing half the world to do a big job and a hard one in a foreign land should have been given the opportunity to learn the rules of social intercourse...

It's really a very nice little book that gives a vivid picture of life in the late Victorian era, and ends up just after World War I.  The author shows so much love and respect for her mother, who worked hard to provide for all her children and never had time or resources to teach them about the niceties of social life.  I really enjoyed this short memoir.

Because the memoir is largely a story of Victorian life, I'm going to count it for the Victorian celebration.

In other news, I'm still studying curriculum, but I've also picked up Doctor Zhivago, which I've really been wanting to read.  So far it's excellent (if a little full of a multiplicity of characters--I don't really have trouble with Russian names but there are an awful lot of them!), but I haven't been able to get too far into it yet.  I'm heading out on another road trip next week, so you probably won't hear from me much for a little while.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

My Life in Literature 2012

Another fun book title meme is making its way around the world.  Adam and Jillian have done it, and now it's my turn.  I'm going to stick with 2012 titles since those are the easiest to look up on my blog--I can never remember everything I want to.

  1. Describe yourself: Out of my Mind
  2. How do you feel: Crossed
  3. Describe where you currently live: The City of Ladies (that's how my husband feels anyway)
  4. If you could go anywhere, where would you go:  I can't decide between Distant View of a Minaret and Nightmare Abbey
  5. Your favorite form of transportation:  Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms
  6. Your best friend is: Archer's Goon
  7. You and your friends are: Divergent
  8. What’s the weather like:  Half of a Yellow Sun (it's hot!)
  9. You fear: Breaking Stalin's Nose
  10. What is the best advice you have to give: Observe Madame Bovary; do the opposite
  11. Thought for the day: The School of Freedom vs. The New Road to Serfdom
  12. How I would like to die: The Graves of Academe
  13. My soul’s present condition: Bollywood Weddings (that is, sparkly dance party time!)

I stole this from Petya.  It's so perfect I want to hang it on my wall.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Magic Half

The Magic Half, by Annie Barrows

I just got this book for my little girl, who loves Barrows' Ivy and Bean series of books.  (In fact we named two of my mom's chickens Ivy and Bean, to go with the other two, Beezus and Ramona.  Our chickens all have literary names.)  And, fun fact: I learned that Annie Barrows is also the author of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which I rather enjoyed for its depiction of Guernsey life under Nazi occupation.

Oh, you wanted to hear about the actual book?  OK.  Miri always feels a little forgotten, sandwiched as she is between two pairs of twins.  When her family moves into a large old farmhouse, she finally gets her own room in the attic, and up there she finds a glass lens that takes her back in time to 1935.  There she meets Molly, who has a rotten time of it as the orphaned niece and household skivvy.  Together they hatch a plan to fix Molly's life...

I thought this was a very nicely written story.  Miri's family and life feel realistic; I love her siblings.  The villain is a truly scary bully!  And the ending is a very nice resolution.  Annie Barrows said that when she was a kid, she always wanted an attic bedroom and to travel to the past (and really, who didn't want those things?) and so she wrote them for herself.

We first heard about this new story when we met Annie Barrows in April.  Here is my little Ivy and Bean fan, excited to meet a favorite author!

I'm still mostly reading curriculum.  I'm 3/4 of the way through chemistry and 10 chapters into algebra, and I went over an entire economics text...but I did start reading an actual book.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Communist Manifesto

As long as I couldn't settle down to read anything, I thought I might as well read the Communist Manifesto.  It's short, it's been on my TBR pile for a long time, and why not?

The Manifesto was written in German by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in 1848 to explain the aims of the Communist Party and distance it from other revolutionary movements of the time.  1848 was a volatile year.  In France, the Orleans monarchy gave way to the Second Republic; in England, Chartists rioted but made no headway; Denmark put limits on its monarchy; and all sorts of unrest was going on all over the world.  (That said, my edition gives the text from 1888 edited and with additional notes from Engles.)

Luckily, my little copy had some explanatory information which outlined Marxist theory and history.  Even though I know the basics of Marxism, I had a hard time making sense of the actual Manifesto.  Quite a bit of it is dedicated to explaining how other 19th-century revolutionary groups--mostly various flavors of Socialism--are completely wrong.  Other parts review history from the Communist point of view, and I must say it's the first time in my whole life that I've seen the rise of the middle class (in the medieval era) described as a bad thing.  But I often found it difficult to understand quite what the authors were driving at.

The points, as far as I can tell, were:
  1. Property must be abolished.
  2. The middle and upper classes (the dreaded bourgeoisie) are pretty much always bad and must be abolished.
  3. The proletariat must rise up and take control of the state with a violent revolution.  This is inevitable, but we need to hurry it up, but the proletariat must be ready or it will fail.
  4. (Implied) We will eventually form a state with no money and no property where everything works.

I suppose really I ought to read Das Kapital in order to understand what they were talking about, but it's apparently 3 volumes long--a daunting prospect.

I got really tired of the word bourgeois. 

My copy of the book dates from 1955, and is part of a series of very cheap paperback classics.  It's blue, not red!  I even found a picture of it, and here it is.  I have 3 or 4 books from this series that I picked up in used bookstores.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

What I'm Reading

Nothing!  I'm kind of reading nothing right now, which is a very weird feeling.  I never read nothing.  But I got back from my trip and plunged into a frenzy of homeschool planning, so all my time has been spent in typing up reading lists that match our history (we are doing early modern history this year, 1600-1850), studying the chemistry book and kit to find out what supplies we need, and going over writing programs to make sure I understand what we're going to be doing.  I've been reading over the relevant bits in my favorite book on homeschooling, which I nearly have memorized anyway (it's The Well-Trained Mind, by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise--they are my homeschooling gurus).

This cute kindergartener is now going into 4th grade!

Here is what I still have to do: read over the chemistry book to make sure I understand everything, practice my algebra quite a lot, put together history instructions, and wrestle with this new planning software I'm trying out.  I think it will be great after the kinks are worked out of it, but so far there are too many kinks for it to be really useful, and I'm thinking I'll stick with paper and pencil for now.  Oh, and of course I haven't bought any composition books or binders or other school supplies yet. 

The schoolroom is a gigantic mess at the moment because the girls have been very artistic lately, which means very messy, and my younger one is working on a quilt top.  We hope to finish it today, but in the meantime it's been spread out on the schoolroom floor for the past couple of weeks.

Anyway, the result is that I haven't been able to settle down to an actual reading book.  I have lots of lovely things to read, but little concentration on anything that isn't curriculum-related for the moment.  I'm sure I'll get over it soon though!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Two Short Things by William Morris

While I was on my trip I read a couple of short William Morris pieces on my tablet.

The Defence of Guenevere is a poem containing Guenevere's speech at the moment when she is about to be burned for adultery.  She tells the story of her relationship with Lancelot, from the moment she first saw him.  At the same time she repeats over and over:

Nevertheless you, O Sir Gauwaine, lie, 
Whatever happened on through all those years, 
God knows I speak truth, saying that you lie.

I also read a paper titled The Ideal Book, which contains Morris' ideas about how books should be printed: their layout, spacing and typography, the kind of paper that ought to be used, the size, and how illustrations or ornaments ought to look.  It's quite short and rather interesting, especially when he goes off on a bit of a tangent about the need for a really good English Black-Letter type that would be both easy to read and artistically tolerable.

The funny thing about this little essay was that it had been set and printed as a learning exercise (I presume from the inscription) at an arts and crafts college.  As far as I can tell from reading a digital scan of the original, the student carefully followed Morris' rules as best he could.  I can't say I really think the result is artistically wonderful.  Oh well.

I have also started reading The Well at the World's End, a knightly adventure which will probably take me quite a long time.  It's written in a Victorian pseudo-medieval style that goes rather slowly.  Also Morris named his young hero Ralph, which does not sound very heroic or knightly to the modern American ear.  This really bugs my Russian sister-in-law, who thinks that Ralf is a very nice name (and I must say that using an F instead of a PH really helps!), but I can't help having grown up watching Happy Days all the time.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Bab: a Sub-Deb

Bab: a Sub-Deb, by Mary Roberts Rinehart

I downloaded and read this book (free) from Amazon after seeing Aarti's review.  And now I have a problem: I absolutely loved it!  But I can't figure out how to tell you about it without saying everything Aarti already said better.  So go read her post, and forgive me for my less-than-adequate words here.

Bab is 17 and a 'sub-deb'--she's stuck at school until her older sister is married off and Bab can come out herself.  Bab is not about to let that stop her, though--she's got things to do!  Like concentrating on her Career.  Or falling in love and worrying over whether this is The Real Thing.  Or, mostly, getting out of the  horrifying scrapes she is constantly getting into.

The whole book is written as Bab's essays or diary, complete with constant misspellings.  Don't let that stop you from reading a great book!  Bab is over-the-top hilarious, but she's also a real teenage girl you'll recognize.  And the spelling is often part of the joke.

I laughed so much while reading this; I'm sure I'll go back and read it again often.  I kept reading bits out loud to whoever was nearest.  Aarti already quoted all the bits I would have quoted, but I'll give you one:

When she had gone out I tried to think of some one to hang a love affair to. But there seemed to be nobody. They knew perfectly well that the dancing master had one eye and three children, and that the clergyman at school was elderly, with two wives. One dead.

I searched my Past, but it was blameless. It was empty and bare, and as I looked back and saw how little there had been in it but imbibing wisdom and playing basket-ball and tennis, and typhoid fever when I was fourteen and almost having to have my head shaved, a great wave of bitterness agatated me. 

"Never again," I observed to myself with firmness. "Never again, If I have to invent a member of the Other Sex."

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Amy at Book Musings tagged me for this award, the rules of which are as follows: You're tagged if you have under 200 followers and do a good job blogging. Those who are tagged then share 11 random facts about themselves, answer 11 questions posted by the person that tagged them, and then create their own set of 11 questions for others to answer.  Thanks, Amy!

11 Random Things About Me (I'm running out of Random Things)
  1. I've lived in California almost my entire life, but I've never actually felt an earthquake.  I always seem to be on the wrong end of the state. 
  2. Confession: My kids really want a pet and I don't want one.  I can't keep up with life as it is.
  3. I just finished a neat embroidery project that was also a series of lessons in different techniques.  I'm quite proud of myself.  (If you're into embroidery at all, read Mary Corbet's Needle 'n Thread blog, which is where I took the class.)
  4. Tomorrow is my oldest daughter's 12th birthday!  She is very happy to finally be 12.  Secret: her friends are planning to heart attack the yard tonight.
  5. I'm a Facebook addict, but dislike Twitter.  I'm afraid to try Pinterest.
  6. I wish I could learn more languages.  I'd pick Greek, Hindi, and relearning Russian.  I like different alphabets...
  7. Here is what I want to sew next.  I'll give it to a niece.
  8. My favorite fruits are nectarines and strawberries.
  9. I took June completely off from homeschooling, but now I'm getting the planning bug again.  My chemistry book is calling me.
  10. When I was a kid I liked to build things out of paper, like castles or houses.  I still think it's neat, but somehow don't seem to have as much time for it.  BUT I do have this really great paper Unseen University book.  At the very least I should make the library, right?
  11. It is really super-hot outside right now, and I'm hiding in the air conditioning.  In my opinion air conditioning is one of the great advances of modern civilization, like hot running water and good dentistry.
Amy's Questions

1. How do you feel about the reading you were assigned in school? Dislike? Appreciate?

Actually a lot of it was not bad.  I remember my sophomore year, which featured Fahrenheit 451 and The Good Earth.  I skipped out on my junior year (which should have been American Lit) and spent it abroad, but my senior year had Beowulf, Macbeth, and the poetry of William Blake and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, among others.  I went to a pretty bad high school, but they did try to have us read actual literature.

I was a literature major in college and appreciated a lot of what I read. 

2. Is there a book you have read so many times you almost have it memorized?

Quite a few.  Fire and Hemlock, and other DWJ books.  Certain mysteries I read when I'm not feeling well.  When I was a teen I knew lots of second-rate fantasy almost by heart, but that's mostly gone now.

3. What's your favorite non-fiction genre?

History?  Social issues?  Education and child development?  It's hard to pick.

4. Do you listen to many audiobooks? Why or why not?

I don't like audiobooks.  They go too slowly and I get impatient.  I do like to listen to lectures on audio, especially history or religion in history.  So I have some podcasts I subscribe to, but if it was meant to be read I prefer to read it.

5. What's your favorite movie based on a novel?

Hm, hard to say, especially since I forget them quickly.  Some favorites are the Sullivan Anne of Green Gables movies (not 3, which as we all know doesn't exist), the BBC Pride and Prejudice, Twelfth Night even though it's not a novel (the one with Helena Bonham Carter), Persuasion (the one that ends with the parade in the background)...if I could only pick one to keep forever I guess it would be P&P.  But I'd be very sad to lose Anne (and Gilbert).

6. Do you talk books with anyone in real life? Who? Or is your blog your only avenue?

I am a librarian, like my mother before me, so my mom and I talk books and frequently loan them back and forth.  Mom's house is a treasure-trove of books (and larger than my house).  I also have a good friend and we sometimes talk books, but she has more kids and less time to read.  My other booky friend started law school last year--and she is a superstar!--and has had to forsake literature for the time being.

7. Is there any book you associate strongly with a particular place or time in your life?

Lots of them!  Many of my books make me think of a particular spot or time period.

8. Where and when do you do most of your reading?

If I'm not reading while wandering around the house, I'm probably on the couch or on my bed.  Or the floor in the schoolroom.  And, I read whenever I can!  I'm good at grabbing moments; sustained reading time is not something I get much of.

9. What period in history have you read the most about (either fiction or non-fiction)?

Either the Middle Ages or the Victorians, not sure which.  The UK in any case.

10. What kind of poetry (if any) do you read?

I try to like poetry, but I mostly fail at it.  This year of course it's mostly translations from ancient Greek, but otherwise, Elizabethan I suppose.  I have been slowly reading my way through the Oxford Book of English Verse (the Quiller-Couch one) and Walter de la Mare's collection Come Hither.  For a long time now, because I really meant it when I said slowly.  I want to enjoy T. S. Eliot, and Spenser and Henry Vaughan, but I have my doubts that it will ever happen.

11. What is the funniest book you've ever read?

Another difficult choice.  Connie Willis' To Say Nothing of the Dog is wonderful.  P. G. Wodehouse is a comic genius.  I just read a really funny book from about 1917 called Bab: a Sub-Deb, by Mary Roberts Rinehart of all people, and I loved it (review coming soon!).  When I was a kid I loved Lois Lowry's Anastasia books--I read them over and over and laughed too much every time.  One of my all-time favorite funny bits is from Fire and Hemlock--the letter Polly gets after writing a story that is largely sentimental drivel.

Questions from Me

  1. Do you quit reading books you don't like, or do you grit your teeth and finish no matter what?
  2. What is a literary genre or time period that you avoid if at all possible?
  3. How on earth do y'all think up piles of random questions?  I do not know how people do it.
  4. List 3 of your favorite things about the place where you live.
  5. List 3 all-time favorite non-fiction books.
  6. Do you play a musical instrument or do other musical stuff?
  7. Tell about the last historical place you visited.
  8. List 2 favorite classic novels.
  9. What, besides reading, do you do for fun?
  10. What holiday could you really do without?
  11. Worst book ever?

I'd love to see anyone's answers, but I'm only going to tag one person and she probably won't take the bait.  I tag my MOM at goldfields.  Ha!  (But go take a look at her cool blog.)

Twenty Years a-Growing

Twenty Years a-Growing, by Maurice O'Sullivan

I've read several memoirs of growing up in Ireland, but I've never read one quite like Maurice O'Sullivan's memoir of his youth.  O'Sullivan, born in 1904, was part of just about the last generation to grow up on Great Blasket Island off the west coast of Ireland.  They lived a kind of life that was little changed from that of centuries before, and earned a living through fishing.  But as the fishing got less, virtually all the young folk had to leave the Blasket and go elsewhere.  Most of O'Sullivan's friends and relatives went to America, but he ended up in Connemara, where he eventually wrote his story down in his native Irish just for the enjoyment of the people he knew.

O'Sullivan's childhood sounds idyllic for a little boy.  He spends his time avoiding school as much as possible, hunting for wildlife (for dinner), chasing sheep, and getting up to a bit of mischief.  Quite a lot of it is hair-raising, as he learns to hunt puffins by climbing down cliffs!  He tells about the life and customs of the island: fishing, hospitality, wakes, weddings, and dancing.

It reminded me quite a lot of the only other story I know about island life in the west of Ireland, which is a children's book, The Secret of Ron Mor Skerry, which was made into the film The Secret of Roan Inish.  The film spends a lot of time recalling a similar mode of life.

It's a lovely memoir and I think if you're interested in Irish history and culture, it's a must-read.  Apparently there are very few accounts of this kind of life, so we are lucky to have this one.

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Leavenworth Case

The Leavenworth Case, by Anna Katherina Green

Here we have another tremendously popular and influential early mystery story--and again, it isn't British.  It's an American story--and here I'd been under the impression that Victorian mysteries were mostly an English phenomenon!  The Leavenworth Case was Anna Katherina Green's first mystery, published in 1878 (she turned to popular fiction after her poetry didn't sell too well).  Wikipedia says that Green was the first to come up with the idea of a detective that appeared in a whole series of stories.  She also invented the girl detective, paving the way for Nancy Drew, and the nosy, intelligent  lady amateur.   Although Green was a prominent woman in a field dominated by men, she appears to have disliked the feminist movement and was against women's suffrage.

The Leavenworth Case is interesting for its lack of sensationalism.  In an age when mysteries were practically always penny-dreadful-type stories filled with wildly improbable incidents, Green wrote a story that is reasonably plausible and which sometimes turns on fine points of law.

The action is narrated by a young lawyer assisting the series detective Mr. Gryce (who hardly appears).  It's a locked-room mystery; Mr. Leavenworth is found shot dead in his library, and clues point all over the place.  Two cousins are the main suspects--could it be the beautiful, self-controlled Eleanore, or the slightly less beautiful, materialistic Mary?

Mr. Young Lawyer is absolutely convinced that Eleanore is innocent despite all appearances that point to her guilt, but his main reason for his belief seems to be Eleanore's noble beauty, nothing else.  It's a little weird, though he does at least realize that it's weird.  The story is quite interesting, with several twists and turns.  If you enjoy early mysteries, this is an important part of the development of the mystery novel and is well worth a read.

PS: this book was read for the Victorian Celebration, not to mention the Classic Bribe 2012!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

I'm back!

I had a great vacation visiting family members and my best friend (hi Jen!).  I drove around half of California.  And now I'm really, really tired.  I have a few books to tell you about but I think it will have to wait until tomorrow.

I got lucky with the timing and missed a bad heatwave in my own town.  It's still going on, but I missed the part that included smoke from wildfires too.  I had forgotten how cool my hometown is and I was cold half the time!  It was very nice though.  Also, no one here cooks tri-tip so that it tastes right.  I ate more yummy tri-tip than was strictly good for me!

Here is where we spent a day.  Can you guess where it is?  I rented wetsuits for the girls, but even so my younger girl got thoroughly chilled.  My oldest's ambition is to be a beach bum and she had to be dragged away.

We also went to this beach and amusement park for an afternoon and Dollar Night.  Here you see a favorite ride.  We still have a small dead jellyfish in a Tupperware box full of seawater as a souvenir.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Bleak House

Bleak House, by Charles Dickens

Zowie, I read a gigantic Victorian novel!  It's pretty much Allie's fault because of her Victorian celebration.  I actually knew very, very little of the plot before starting; I mean, everyone knows that Mr. Murdstone is in David Copperfield and Miss Havisham is in Great Expectations whether they've read them or not, but I didn't know a thing about Bleak House except that it sounded depressing and there was a BBC adaptation a couple of years ago (which I didn't want to watch because I hadn't read the book--now I would like to!).

It's a huge novel with a cast of thousands, but the center of the story revolves around Esther Summerson, one of Dickens' most virtuous pattern females.  Esther is the most humbly grateful person you'll ever read about, and if I hadn't known Dickens' love of improbably virtuous women characters, I would have thought she was going to turn out to be the secret villainess.

Esther observes the effects of Jarndyce and Jarndyce, a legal case that has dragged on for years.  It blights the lives of everyone involved.   Meanwhile there are some secrets about Esther's own past that come to light.  Everything is quite a tangle of suspicions, maneuvers, and forlorn hopes, and it's all quite interesting, though the legal critiques can get overlong.

The fun bit about Bleak House is, of course, the characters--their names, their foibles, all that Dickensian stuff.  Mr. Guppy and his over-formal language, the famous Mrs. Jellyby, Mr. Turveydrop with his Deportment, and all the others.  Mr. Skimpole is the one I'd really like to biff over the head.  There are an incredible number of characters, and they are nearly all interesting and individual.

These characters die quite often, and they pick the most amazing methods of dying.  I don't wish to spoil the story so I won't describe anything, but few of them die of anything you or I would recognize as a real thing that people die of.

I enjoyed it quite a bit and often had a hard time putting the book down--which is unusual for me when a novel is so long.  I'm impatient.  Now I would quite like to see the film adaptation and critique the characters and costumes!

I'm on a roadtrip for the next several days, so you won't see much from me.  Amy at Book Musings just gave me an award, which was a nice thing for her to do, and I'll get to that when I can.  Meanwhile I'm trying to read my WWI history book, but it's a lot easier to read a Victorian thriller on my tablet when hyper kids are running around and we're planning to shoot off fireworks and all kinds of things.  Happy Independence Day to my American friends!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Reading Challenges Check-in

We're halfway through the year, but am I halfway through the challenges I've set myself?

Greek Classics: Not quite halfway: 5.5/12  Need to finish Herodotus, read poetry, and start Euripides.

Medieval Literature: 6/12, halfway!  I've started The Golden Legend and Piers Plowman, too.

Back to the Classics 2012: 7/9.  Just two to go: The Age of Innocence and Slaughterhouse Five.

November's Autumn Classics Challenge: 5/7 discussions posted.

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: 9/9 Finished!  That was a fun one; I would never have read some of those books otherwise.

Mixing It Up: 14/16.  I have the history book picked out, but the food selection?  Stumped.

Mount TBR: 15/25. Not bad.  Considering the size of my pile, it could be better.

150+ Challenge: I'm on something like #115, so no worries there.

World War I Challenge: 2/3.  Still need to read the Keegan history.

Hm.  Well, that's a bit ironic; the only challenge I'm behind on is my very own.

Greek Classics: June Wrap-up

Hey students of Greek literature, we're halfway through the year!  How are you all doing with your challenges?  Are you happy with your progress or are you wishing you hadn't signed up for so much?

What Greek classics have you read this month?  I finished up Aristophanes, and I've been reading a selection of poetry, but I must confess that I've been paying more attention to Bleak House than to Euripides.  I'm not really quite halfway through my challenge, so I'd better step up!

Leave your links at the widget below; you know what to do.  And have a very happy Fourth of July (should that apply to you)!

Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms

Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms, by Lissa Evans

It's been a while since I had a children's book here--I've been in the mood to read lots of Serious Literature, I guess.  But I saw this at the bookstore and promptly wanted to read it, and happily the library had a copy.

Stuart Horten, age 10, is in a funk because his family has moved to a new town right at the beginning of summer, and now there are these nosy girls chasing him for their newspaper.  But it's not long before he finds a mystery to solve; 50 years ago, his great-uncle disappeared and was never seen again.  Stuart's dad ignored the clues Tony left behind for him to follow, but Stuart is going to figure out what happened!  Only things have changed an awful lot in 50 years;  things are changed or missing, memories have faded, and a very greedy person is on his trail.

I enjoyed the story quite a bit; it has a really nice atmosphere and mystery to solve.  It was very fun to read--I laughed out loud several times, and certain elements of the story reminded me of my beloved John Bellairs books (though there are no terrifying ghoulies).

One problem I had with this story is that it's set in the UK and it's not very British-sounding.  The American publishers edited it to make it more American, the way they did with Harry Potter books.  That always annoys me so much; it makes the flavor wrong, and it's condescending.  Publishers figure that American kids won't understand British-speak, but how will they learn to unless they read unedited British books?  It's not like it's terribly difficult or anything.

An example for you: Stuart ducks into a phone booth to hide, though they're called phone boxes in the UK.  But that didn't catch my eye much; it was the lady who yells at him "Because there's a line, you know!" that grabbed me, because a British person would say that there's a queue.  (I did actually find an online preview of the UK edition of the book, and sure enough, many changes have been made.  Boo.)