Sunday, May 26, 2013

Det caribiske mysterium

I feel so cool!  For the first time in about 20 years, I read a novel in Danish.  It was "Det caribiske mysterium," or The Caribbean Mystery, by Agatha Christie.

At first it was quite slow going; I almost had to read aloud in my head to make sure I was paying enough attention to each sentence and not skimming.  But it wasn't too long before I was doing much better and reading a little bit faster and much more comfortably.  The Danish part of my brain responded to a good workout (and presented me with several weird dreams in Danish, which happens anyway sometimes, but not usually so many at a time).

The funny part was that I am so familiar with how Agatha Christie wrote in English that I almost always knew exactly what the original would have said.  That may have helped me understand the story, I don't know.  I would like to try a non-English author to see--I don't have a large collection of Danish books, but I did find the book I was originally looking for, "Stjernen uden himmel" (The Star Without a Sky, about a Jewish boy in WWII), which I rather think was originally written in German.  The only really Danish books I have are Literature--Niels Lyhne, Den Afrikanske farm, that sort of thing.

Now comes the tricky bit--I'm supposed to read a book in Russian.  A very very easy book, but still.  Eep!

Friday, May 24, 2013

A Spoonful of Sugar

A Spoonful of Sugar: A Nanny's Story, by Brenda Ashford

I was seeing this book all over the blogs recently, and I promptly wanted to read it.  Happily for me, Bev at My Reader's Block had a giveaway and I got the lucky number!  So thank you to Bev and Doubleday.

Brenda Ashford is--as far as anyone can figure out--Britain's longest-serving professional nanny, with a career that spanned 62 years and a whole lot of children.  She trained at the eminent Norland Institute, which is the place for children's nurses (they didn't really like you to call them nannies) to train.  Norland nannies wore a particular uniform with a special cape, so everyone knew that you had the best possible nanny.

Nurse Brenda tells her story right from the start, describing a loving family home and especially the birth of her baby brother.  It was then that her love for small children really got started, though she was only nine herself.  By the time she was 18 and entered Norland, she knew that caring for children was her calling in life.  Her training was hard work--and very interesting to read about (I was particularly pleased to learn that she was taught to smock and embroider so she could sew nice children's clothing) and she graduated in 1939, just in time for the war to turn everything upside down.

From then on Brenda mainly talks about the different children she knew, the homes she went to, and all that she learned.  It's great stuff.  You can learn a lot about caring for little children here, and her story is fascinating anyway.  She met some very odd families!  After the war and several long stints with families, she made a change and for years and years, she traveled around to different families, doing the wonderful and beneficent job of helping exhausted new mothers cope with running a household, caring for older children, recovering from giving birth and caring for a newborn baby.

The really nice thing about the book is that Nurse Brenda has all the British virtues that one associates with British nannies.  It was a bit of an antidote to the sort of depressing feeling I got from Watching the English.  Brenda talks about what to do when misfortune strikes (get back up, brush yourself off and keep on going) and gives general advice about life, all of which is solid.  She is cheerful and firm and loving and understands children, and says things like "A happy mother makes a happy baby," and "Little children deserve a childhood that's full of fun."

The title, of course, compares Nurse Brenda to Mary Poppins, since everyone knows that Mary Poppins is the ideal British nanny.  This is inevitable, but I think a bit of a shame.  The book has no relation to Mary Poppins in any other way, and if you've ever actually read the books, you know that Mary Poppins is cross, vain, secretive, and generally a wonderful story character but not actually the sort of person you would actually want caring for your tots--which Nurse Brenda is.  She herself never says a word about Mary Poppins; it's all in the publisher's blurb, so don't expect any of that kind of thing.

A very good read if you're interested in social history or children.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Echoing Green

The Echoing Green: Memories of Victorian Youth, by Gillian Avery

 This is a great book!  Gillian Avery collected the life stories of nearly 20 people who grew up during the Victorian era, and put them together here.  There is a really nice variety; children of all classes and circumstances and locations are mixed together so that the reader gets an impression of the conditions all over the UK.  A few include:

a girl from a strict Quaker family,
a boy who lived in a workhouse (makes Oliver Twist look cheery),
a boy who worked as a navvy at the start of the railway era,
a Northern Irish Catholic boy,
a Scottish girl who was wealthy until her father squandered it all,
a miner boy,
one of Queen Victoria's choirboys,
a 'ragged school' boy who was shipwrecked,
an emigrant to America.

My copy was called "Memories of Victorian Youth," but really it goes right back to Georgian times and the main focus is on the first half of the 19th century.  The Great Exhibition occurs nearly 70% of the way through.  But it does go right up to Victoria's Jubilee and her death.

You see tremendous change in a nutshell; the first few entries describe a land that has hardly changed in centuries for many residents.  Ordinary country people hardly leave their home villages and travel is difficult.  The incredible poverty of early Victorian England--thousands of beggars in the cities, food prices so high that ordinary people routinely went hungry, no work to be had--comes through very clearly.  It's no wonder so many people emigrated; Avery talks about letters from America as describing food with awe, because here was a country where everyone could eat meat every day.

Then as the Industrial Revolution takes hold, everything changes; work is plentiful but dangerous, travel becomes commonplace, and "modern girls" get educations and jobs.

The book is liberally illustrated with pictures from the period that kind of go with the text.  There are no photographs of the people in the book or anything like that; all the pictures are strictly thematic.  They add some very nice touches and I must say I enjoyed the "Railway Alphabet" from some child's library.

It's all very interesting and educational, so do read a copy if you run across it.  It's from about 1973, though, so good luck.

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Red and the Black

The Red and the Black, by Stendhal

I wasn't sure what to expect from this novel, but I've always kind of wanted to find out about it.  Stendhal was the pen name of Marie-Henri Beyle, a French writer of the early 19th century (I have no idea how you would pronounce "Stendhal" in French, though; in my head it sounds Scandinavian).   The Red and the Black was his second novel, written in 1830.  Stendhal was concerned with creating realistic psychological portraits of his characters, and he seems to have been one of the earliest French Realists.  Reading this book did feel quite a lot like reading Madame Bovary that way; there was the same meticulous dissection of motivations and feelings. 

This is the story of Julien Sorel, a country peasant boy who wants something different out of life.  His father and older brothers are carpenters, and they're doing quite well at it, but they all hate weird young Julien, who only wants to read and despises everything about his family--their peasant class, their greed for money, and their anti-intellectualism.  The local priest has taken Julien under his wing and taught him; Julien has a talent for Latin and he can memorize anything.  Secretly he has no faith whatsoever and idolizes Napoleon.  He dreams of military glory and rising to the top of the ranks before he is 30, but there doesn't seem to be any opportunity for a career as an officer in these degenerate Royalist days, so Julien starts off a religious career as a tutor to a wealthy local family.

Julien's main characteristic is his ambition, but he is naive and doesn't understand the high society he wants to join.  He falls into affairs and intrigues through this ambition, usually hiding his true beliefs in order to get ahead, but he really doesn't fit anywhere.  He dreams of "the red"--a military career that he can't have--and chafes at "the black"--the ecclesiastical career he finds himself in.   In the end he can't fit at all.

There is a lot of early 19th century French politics, which I really don't know that much about, so that was a bit of a problem.  Footnotes helped some, but I would have done well to read a little background first.  Now you forewarned if you decide to read about Julien.

It wasn't my favorite book ever--I liked Madame Bovary more--and it moves deliberately slowly, examining every detail, but on the whole I'm glad to have read it.  The psychological dissection is quite interesting, for me particularly when it came to Mathilde de la Mole, a girl of a proud and mercurial temperament.  

In other news, the Classics Spin #2 number came up as 6, so I will be reading Tennessee Williams' play "A Streetcar Named Desire."  I've never read Williams at all, so this will be neat.

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Four Ages of Poetry

 "The Four Ages of Poetry," by Thomas Love Peacock

I am becoming fond of Thomas Love Peacock.  Besides his unbeatable name, he was a lot of fun.  Peacock was a minor literary figure of the early 19th century; he tried his hand at poetry but mainly succeeded in satire.  I read his short novel Nightmare Abbey last year, but at the time I didn't know that the young hero of the story, Scythrop, was modeled on Peacock's good friend Percy Shelley.  He and Shelley were quite close and Peacock was the executor of Shelley's will.

Thomas Love Peacock
Percy Bysshe Shelley

"The Four Ages of Poetry," a tongue-in-cheek essay on the history and development of poetry, was published in 1820 in a new magazine called Literary Miscellany, which promptly died.  It would probably have been completely obscure and unknown--it nearly is anyway--but for Shelley.  Peacock sent a copy to his friend, who I guess didn't really have much of a sense of humor, because he really got annoyed and promptly sat down to write a rebuttal: the famous "Defense of Poetry."

The essay uses the ancient belief in historical ages, and Peacock spends some time setting up his system all serious-like, just waiting for the payoff at the end.  So: Homer would have said that the oldest ages were the best ones and whatever age we are in now is clearly pretty bad, and Peacock re-orders that for poetry:
POETRY, like the world, may be said to have four ages, but in a different order: the first age of poetry being the age of iron; the second, of gold; the third, of silver; and the fourth, of brass.
The Iron Age of poetry would be that of a pre-literate society, "in which rude bards celebrate in rough numbers the exploits of ruder chiefs." It's all about how many enemies have been slaughtered and how many cows stolen.  But soon this poetry develops into a Golden Age: from Homer down to Euripides, poetry has "attained perfection" and seeks out new forms.  

As these are exhausted, so begins the Silver Age, "or the poetry of civilized life. ... The imitative consists in recasting, and giving an exquisite polish to, the poetry of the age of gold: of this Virgil is the most obvious and striking example. The original is chiefly comic, didactic, or satiric: as in Menander, Aristophanes, Horace, and Juvenal. The poetry of this age is characterized by an exquisite and fastidious selection of words, and a laboured and somewhat monotonous harmony of expression..."  As reason progresses, however, so poetry regresses and loses originality.  A Brass Age starts.

There's a lot more, as Peacock analyzes English poetry according to the four ages.  Medieval poetry is iron (but flavored with classical days), Shakespeare is golden, Pope is silver, and then we get into the serious skewering: Wordsworth, the Lake Poets, and all moderns are definitely Brass.
While the historian and the philosopher are advancing in, and accelerating, the progress of knowledge, the poet is wallowing in the rubbish of departed ignorance, and raking up the ashes of dead savages to find gewgaws and rattles for the grown babies of the age. Mr. Scott digs up the poachers and cattle-stealers of the ancient border. Lord Byron cruizes for thieves and pirates on the shores of the Morea and among the Greek Islands. Mr. Southey wades through ponderous volumes of travels and old chronicles, from which he carefully selects all that is false, useless, and absurd, as being essentially poetical; and when he has a commonplace book full of monstrosities, strings them into an epic. Mr. Wordsworth picks up village legends from old women and sextons; and Mr. Coleridge, to the valuable information acquired from similar sources, superadds the dreams of crazy theologians and the mysticisms of German metaphysics, and favours the world with visions in verse, in which the quadruple elements of sexton, old woman, Jeremy Taylor, and Emanuel Kant, are harmonized into a delicious poetical compound. 
By this time Peacock is gleefully stabbing every poetical ideal of the Romantic era.  (It's pretty fun to read, so do follow my link and take a look.)  He goes on to say that poetry-readers are anti-intellectual degenerates more interested in sensation than in learning, and that since poets have to make the readers happy,
...the poetical audience will not only continually diminish in the proportion of its number to that of the rest of the reading public, but will also sink lower and lower in the comparison of intellectual acquirement: when we consider that the poet must still please his audience, and must therefore continue to sink to their level, while the rest of the community is rising above it...
 And then, as a final touch, he claims that modern man has ascended far above Parnassus, and that politicians and political economists are at the top of the great new civilization that no longer needs new poetry.  No wonder Shelley got a bit hot under the collar.

(Of course, Peacock didn't think much of political economists, and he did write poetry.)

This was a very cool addition to my essay pile for this year.  I hadn't actually heard of it before; I found it by looking for essays by Shelley online.  When I was in college, for some reason the professor who taught the class I took on 18th and 19th century literature favored prose pieces.  We read Shelley's "To a Skylark" and "Mont Blanc," but his favorite thing was to assign us "On the Necessity of Atheism."  Likewise, practically the only thing we read by Coleridge was parts of the "Biographia Literaria."  And so on.  I thought I might go back and revisit some of those essays, and instead I ran into the Peacock satire.  Which was way more fun anyway, though I still plan to read those as well.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Classics Spin #2!

Since I don't have enough to read this June, the Classics Club is doing another spin.  Same rules as last time, and the number will come up on Monday the 20th.  We will then have until July 1 to finish whatever book lands in our various laps.

My list has 5 books I am nervous about, 5 I'm looking forward to, 5 I feel neutral about, and 5 chosen at random by  I mixed them up this time.  The only thing is that I have made a rule that none of them can be too long, since I'm already reading a 900-page Russian novel.  (Also The Red and the Black is going pretty slowly!)

  1. Home and the World, by R. Tagore
  2. Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, by Poe 
  3. Pensees, by Pascal 
  4. My Antonia, by Willa Cather
  5. The Custom of the Country, by Edith Wharton
  6. A Streetcar Named Desire, by Tennessee Williams
  7. Why We Can't Wait, by MLK Jr. 
  8. Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh
  9. Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
  10. Faustus, by Marlowe
  11. Measure for Measure, by Shakespeare
  12. Frankenstein, by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
  13. Muqaddimah, by Ibn Khaldun 
  14. The Mill on the Floss, by George Eliot
  15. Mrs. Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf
  16.  The Magic Mountain, by Thomas Mann
  17. Faust, by Goethe
  18. Niels Lyhne , by Jens Peter Jacobsen
  19. The Castle, by Kafka
  20. The Stranger, by Camus
So here is my list.  Those random ones will really get you, huh?  The Magic Mountain is longer and more intimidating than I would like for this round, and I don't know one thing about Muqaddimah.  Is it a poem?  Is it long or short? What?  (I just looked it up.  It's a history of life, the universe, and everything from the POV of the Islamic Golden Age.  Such a thing cannot possibly be short.  *faint*)  

Well, I guess it wouldn't be much fun if there was no risk involved!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

On History

Carlyle in 1848
"On History," by Thomas Carlyle

A little while ago I was thinking I would try to read some old, classic-type essays for my Essay Challenge.  I picked out a little Shelley, a little Browning, I'm thinking about Coleridge....and then I thought "Aha!  I will read something by the grand-daddy of them all, the most Victorian writer that ever was: Carlyle."  Carlyle was so respected, so beloved (so controversial!), all those Victorians just thought he was super.  I decided that I would figure this out and read some Carlyle, so I checked a "Selected Works" volume out and picked out a few things to try.

I read a short early essay called "On History," which is about...history.  Why we should study it, who should write it, how excellent it is that history is currently a popular subject of study (in 1830, that is).   History is the most important kind of writing, and yet it is impossible to write an accurate history, because we can't know everything, so we're just picking out certain bits and leaving the rest unknown.

Well.  You know how some authors are super-popular in their own age, and then no one else afterwards can really see the appeal?  Carlyle must be the best example ever of such an author.  As far as I am concerned, he is almost completely impenetrable.  He uses a lot of fancy words and writes a lot of high-flown sentences, but what do they mean?  At best, they are woolly in the extreme.  (At worst, I'm afraid he reminds me of a student trying to pad out an essay.  Sorry.)  Here is a sample from "On History:"
He who should write a proper History of Poetry, would depict for us the successive Revelations which man had obtained of the Spirit of Nature; under what aspects he had caught and endeavored to body forth some glimpse of that unspeakable Beauty, which in its highest clearness is Religion, is the inspiration of a Prophet, yet in one or the other degree must inspire every true Singer, were his theme never so humble. We should see by what steps men had ascended to the Temple; how near they had approached; by what ill-hap they had, for long periods, turned away from it, and grovelled on the plain with no music in the air, or blindly struggled toward other heights.
I could absolutely read and understand Carlyle if I wanted to put in the effort.  I don't.  Sorry Carlyle, as much as I love much of Victorian literature, I do not love you. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Watching the English

Watching the English: the Hidden Rules of English Behaviour, by Kate Fox

I have finally found people who dislike talking about feelings even more than I do!  At least, if you believe Kate Fox, an anthropologist who spends her life studying her own tribe: the English (not the Welsh or the Scottish or anything but English; that would be a different book again).   Here, she tries to work out a primer for being English--she describes how people behave and develops a list of unspoken rules, ending up with a sort of diagram describing the central characteristics of Englishness.  She's doing this for an English audience, not for others, and as a result she doesn't try to play up good points of being English, which makes me feel kind of weird about writing this post.  I would really like to live in the UK for a year or so myself, so English people, do not blame me for the content of this book!

This was my last ILL of the year before school is over and it turned out to be about twice as long as I expected--over 400 pages, with tiny print.  So I read fast.  Fox describes, at length, various aspects of English life; there are sections on talking about the weather, pub behavior, work, romance, leisure, rites of passage and so on.  English humor and class consciousness are so thoroughly ingrained into every aspect of life that they don't really get chapters; they are just everywhere.  She is sometimes a bit repetitive, and often funny (being English and all).

She explains why English people talk about the weather all the time, treat their pets like royalty, and are really good at queueing by taking apart behaviors and figuring out the underlying reasons.  Weather is a good topic to smooth over greetings, lulls in conversation, and any awkward spots, for example.  Queueing is an illustration of a concern for fairness at all times.  Her theory is that the central characteristic of English people is "social dis-ease"--that is, not being terribly comfortable with social situations and a lack of skills to negotiate them smoothly.  (This seems less than flattering to me, but don't blame me, I didn't say it!)  From this spring the other major characteristics of Englishness: a use of humor at all times and in all places, an insistence on fair play, an obsessive need for privacy, a preference for the unspoken and indirect, and several other characteristics.

Fox can get a bit exasperated by some of these traits, while simultaneously acknowledging them in herself.  She sometimes wonders why she can't be straightforward for once, without the constant use of humor as a shield.  She points out that the English dislike for money-talk can be a bit self-defeating in a business context, and that the famous self-effacement and modesty is often a roundabout way of making sure that people know your accomplishments and how modest you are about them.

By the end I was resolving to be more straightforward and direct about my feelings. It's an interesting book and pretty entertaining, but since I've never lived in England I'm not sure how correct it is.  English people will have to let me know their opinions.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Driving the Saudis

Driving the Saudis, A Chauffeur's Tale of the World's Richest Princesses (plus their servants, nannies, and one royal hairdresser)

Monday, May 6, 2013

It's May, and...

...summer reading is already out of control!  People keep posting all these neat things to do.  I have now started In the First Circle, so there's that, plus the EBB/RB letters, and then:

I've picked a book for Ekaterina's Summer Language Freak Challenge--I'll be reading Det caribiske mysterium, otherwise known as The Caribbean Mystery, by Agatha Christie.  In English, I can knock out a Miss Marple mystery in 2 hours.  In Danish...I'm aiming for a chapter a day, or two if they are very short.  I'm on chapter 4 now.  I can understand most of it pretty easily, but I cannot read fast.  It is slow.  And it is far too easy to skim and not realize that I didn't pay proper attention to that sentence.

Adam at Roof Beam Reader is hosting an event: The Beats of Summer, in which everyone will read something by a Beat poet.  He mentions a couple of intriguing titles by women involved with the movement, and I might grab one.  I will plan to read On the Road for sure.

And o has completely thrown a monkey wrench into my plans by announcing The 18th Century English Literature Event for June.  Go check out her post!  I'm signing up now but I'm not sure what to read.  I'm leaning towards Pamela--I've read Clarissa and Sir Richard Grandison, so I ought to round things off, right?  Then I could read Joseph Andrews, because I love Fielding, and that would be fun.  OR I could read Tristram Shandy!  I read A Sentimental Journey in college, and boy was it weird.  Plus I own a copy of TS, so I wouldn't have to go looking for one.

I hope nobody expects me to do anything this summer besides swim and read.

Friday, May 3, 2013

House of Mirth

The House of Mirth, by Edith Wharton

I've been reading this along with the WEM Ladies.  I only discovered Edith Wharton last year, and I was happy to get another one to read.  I've got The Custom of the Country waiting, too!

This is the story of Lily Bart--beautiful, graceful, and socially talented.  She has been brought up to ornament New York high society, but she has no money of her own; she lives with an aunt and makes herself useful to her friends in order to keep up appearances.  She needs to marry a rich man, and somehow she never quite does.  Now that she is 29 the case is becoming urgent.

Lily is honestly pretty hard for me to like.  She is confident that she deserves to be rich, which is never an attractive quality to me.  All of her life is spent pleasing wealthy people so that she can be in on their society.  She has every intention of selling her soul---her saving grace is that she can't quite do it.  She also can't stop trying.  Imprisoned by her love of luxury and her conviction that she deserves to be rich, she can't imagine or tolerate any other existence. 

The interesting thing is that the high society she longs to rule--the group of people she spends all her energy on--is almost entirely awful.  When I read Vanity Fair a while back, I said:
Thackeray sets [Becky Sharp] in company with leering old men and jealous women, most of whom are in nearly as much debt as she is. The ton of England is satirized as Vanity Fair, a constant tussle of people who care for nothing but money and appearances, trying to cheat anyone they can.
This is exactly what Wharton does with Lily and New York society.  The men are nearly all horrible; the married ones are greedy, repulsive, and salacious, while the younger ones are quickly becoming corrupted.  The women are mostly backbiting and selfish.   High society is Vanity Fair, empty, valueless, and even dull.  Lily spends a lot of money (that she doesn't have) and works very hard to live there.

The exceptions to this rule for the men is Lawrence Selden, who is as moral a man as exists in this world.  He is not wealthy, and he loves Lily--sort of, but he's useless.  Every time he has a chance to help Lily when she is in trouble, he chooses to believe the worst of her and disappears instead of giving her the aid she truly needs.  He never gives her an opportunity to tell him the truth about herself.

Gerty Farish is the best of a few decent women in the story.  She is an independent New York girl, earning her own living--which is pretty meager, but she truly loves Lily (despite being given every reason not to) and is the only person who sticks by her.  Gerty is the real heroine of the story

I came to think of the title House of Mirth as another term for Vanity Fair, and when I looked it up, I found that it comes from Ecclesiastes 7:4: The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.  Or we might also call it the great and spacious building without a foundation.  Or Babylon.   Every time, it's about a society that cares only for appearance, money, and amusement instead of things that really matter.

Classics Club: May Meme

The question for the Classics Club monthly meme is:

Tell us about the classic book(s) you’re reading this month. You can post about what you’re looking forward to reading in May, or post thoughts-in-progress on your current read(s).

Right now I'm reading Stendhal's The Red and the Black, which I chose for the readalong.  It's quite interesting, although it also features yet another rich and pretty young wife who falls into adultery.  (Emma Bovary has got plenty of literary company; I imagine them all hanging out together in the Bookworld.)  The focus of the story, however, is the young and poor student Julien, who has plenty of ambition but a difficult time deciding where to focus it--the red of the military or the black of the clergy?

It's not an easy read and I've been going a bit too slowly after the Dewey readathon, but I'll focus a bit more this weekend.  I've got some other books going too and I took a mental break with a couple of Agatha Christies (my daughter is a zealous Whovian and she watched the Christie episode a few weeks ago, so I got her Death in the Clouds the other day to see if she would get hooked on the books.  Challenge complete!)

My classics pile is hugely tempting, it's just that I can't read as much or as fast as I would like.  Now that school is almost over, I want to get into one of my super-chunksters--either A Suitable Boy or In the First Circle.  So that will be next on the list, plus I'm going to be participating in Jenny's readalong of the Barrett/Browning letters, plus Adam is doing a Beat event and really I can't think of a better time to read On the Road than summertime, plus he lists a couple of women writers and that's interesting.  (Sounds like a raw deal to me, being a woman involved with those Beat guys.)

Bodies in a Bookshop

Bodies in a Bookshop, by R. T. Campbell

This is a fun mystery from the Golden Age of British mystery.  R. T. Campbell wrote several mysteries during WWII, and I'm not sure if they all feature Max Boyle and the Professor, but certainly it sounds like this is part of a series.  They are an oddball little team, orthodoxly eccentric amateur detectives and pretty funny.

Max Boyle is a botanist, assistant to Professor John Stubbs.  The professor loves a good mystery, and for some reason the local Chief Inspector invites him along on his investigations and even asks his opinions.  (Sounds legit.) 

Anyway, Max is the sort any bookish blogger can love, and one day while he's browsing in a favorite bookshop, he finds the owner and a stranger mysteriously dead in the back room.  Max, the professor, and Inspector Bishop are promptly vaulted into a puzzle that winds through many a back room of a bookshop or print gallery.  It's a very fun mystery.

One detail about the author made me laugh; his real name was Ruthven Campbell Todd, and under the name Ruthven Todd he was familiar to me in a different literary form.  When my daughter was little, she used to love to read Space Cat stories, which date from the 1950s and are complete cheeseball science fiction for kids.  So here's a Space Cat picture for you.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Mere Christianity

Mere Christianity, by C. S. Lewis

I've read this book several times, but this time I got it on Kindle for cheap.  My own copy is an ancient paperback, and it was nice to get an ebook version with type that is easier to focus on.  I enjoyed reading it very much.  Isn't it funny how reading a book in a different edition or format can bring new details out?  I have often felt like I was reading a whole new book when I got a new version of an old one.

Every time I read Mere Christianity I enjoy Lewis' insights. Of course that doesn't mean that I agree with him in every particular, but in the main there are few writers who can open a window into human nature the way he does.

Narrative Poem Challenge Check-In

I'm supposed to do a check-in for Lemon Tree's Narrative Poem Reading Challenge.  So it's a good thing that I finally got around to reading one the other day!  (Although I then realized that I read "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" aloud with my daughter a month ago.  Too late now, oh well.)  Lemon Tree asks:

  • Have you enjoyed any narrative poem this year? Which one?
I'm not sure I enjoyed the chapter of The Trail  that I read.  It was interesting, it was well worth reading, but it was also difficult and unhappy poetry.
  • How's your progress through the challenge?
I planned to read four poems, and I've read one, so I'm pretty good I think.
  • Do you have any plan to read any narrative poem in the near future?
I haven't picked another one yet.  So many possibilities!  I think I'm going to have to do some Spenser.  Or should I try Milton?

Sorry Lemon Tree, it's not much of a check-in. :)

The English Teacher

The English Teacher, by R. K. Narayan

Time to catch up on my book pile!  I have actually read plenty lately, but the blogging energy has been low.  So here we go.

The English Teacher turns out to be the third in a trilogy, but it didn't matter as much as you would think.  It's an "informal" trilogy, I gather.  The whole thing follows Krishna throughout his life from boyhood to adulthood, and this third book is about his life as a teacher of English literature at the same school that he attended as a boy.  He is even living in the same room, even though he is married and has a child; his wife and baby live with her parents.  It's high time that he get a house and bring his family to live with him, but he's nervous about that.

Happily it all works out and living with his wife, Susila, and their baby Leela is wonderful.  Krishna is happier than he had thought he could be.  I loved this part of the story; it's just a portrait of two happy young people, and it's a beautiful one.

But as we know all too well, happy marriages do not a novel make.  Susila becomes ill and dies.  How Krishna survives her death and deals with his grief and with caring for his daughter is the second half of the story.  Honestly it gets a little odd.   But it's a lovely novel, well worth reading if you want a modern Indian classic.