Friday, May 30, 2014

Let Summer Begin!

I'm now officially done with work for the semester, the kids are done with their schooly stuff (well, on the whole), and it's properly summer in my world.  So I'm going to really, truly start my Language Freak Challenge title, which I've been putting off until after the semester--I've decided to read Niels Lyhne so as to make James Joyce jealous.

I also think I'm going to try to knock off several Classics Club list titles and see if I can get to 75 out of 150 by the end of the summer (I'm at 66), which obviously will put me halfway along.  To be honest that will probably entail reading a bunch of short things like plays and poetry, but I'll get to feel pleased with myself.  Probably next year I should focus on the things I have barely touched, like Latin American literature and really old Asian texts (scary!).

Another blogging goal this summer is to put more energy into writing for Sandbox to Socrates.  I'm the webmistress, but I haven't been writing much because each one takes a lot of concentration and energy, which have been in short supply as I worked extra days and herded my kids through the end of the school year. 

I now have a 6th grader and, officially, a high-schooler.  Ninth grade LOOMS on the horizon, but first we have a busy summer planned!  It turns out that when you are 14 your summer suddenly gets very full, but your mom still has to do a lot of the driving.  Luckily I'm quite looking forward to a road trip.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

If on a winter's night a traveler

If on a winter's night a traveler, by Italo Calvino

Suddenly I'm turning into someone who really likes surrealist post-moderny literature.  How did that happen?

If on a winter's night a traveler is one of the famous landmark postmodern novels.  Start reading it and you find that you're reading about yourself reading If on a winter's night a traveler.  First 'you' settle in to read, and then you get the first chapter of the story, but it breaks off; your book is misprinted.  Back to the bookstore you go in search of a sound copy, where you meet Ludmilla, another reader.  And every time you think you've found a whole copy of a book, it turns out to be the first chapter of a different and completely unrelated novel.  Chapters of your quest to find a whole book alternate with these first chapters, so that the entire reading experience turns into an exercise in frustrated desire (for stories, and, progressively more obviously, for women).

There are some fantastic characters here.  Ludmilla, Calvino's ideal reader, who is constantly coming up with new descriptions of what she wants out of books.  She is mysterious and closed-off, yet allows random strangers in at odd moments.  Her sister, Lotaria (chance?), an annoying grad student who can no longer read for pleasure but only for analysis--finally, she descends to using a computer to read her books.  Ermes Marana, a translator of novels and secret master of a world-wide conspiracy to forge literature!  (How Crying of Lot 49.)  He's like a literary version of his Greek god namesake.

I loved how Calvino put some of his fictional novels into semi-fictional languages.  At one point, 'you' find a novel written in Cimmerian and search out a professor of Cimmerian,* and that leads you to a professor of Cimbrian and a Cimbrian author.  In the story, these languages are related and part of a people who set up an independent republic after World War II (in Europe, presumably somewhere eastern).  In reality, Cimmerians were an ancient tribe north of the Black Sea, squished by the Scythians, and Cimbrian is a German language similar to Bavarian (too dissimilar to be a dialect, apparently, and spoken in very northern Italy).

Later on, we get even further afield.  'You' become embroiled in an international book-censorship scheme between the South American countries of  Ircania and Ataguitania.  Ircania (Hyrcania in English) was once a Persian satrapy.  Ataguitania does actually seem to be a fictional name.

*Speaking of Cimmerian, the professor is named Uzzi-Tuzii.  He's Calvino's jab at stuffy, persnickety professors who devote their lives to one narrow subject--"a dead department of a dead literature in a dead language"--but here's an odd thought I had.  Does anyone else wonder if Uzzi-Tuzii's initials of U-T are a reference to the Biblical Urim and Thummim?  I have probably read too much John Bellairs, but the Urim and Thummim are associated with revelation and divination, right?  The name is supposed to have meant something like lights and perfections, or revelation and truth.  Uzzi-Tuzii is--heck, large sections of the entire book are--just the opposite of that, but in theory a literature professor should be interested in truth.

Or maybe Calvino just liked the goofy sound of the name.

And then at the end, the titles of all those novels you've been trying to read this whole time join up into a first sentence of their own.  (I did notice this quite soon, but I was thinking of it as a poem.)  All along, there is a preoccupation with beginnings, to the point that a novelist character writes:
I would like to be able to write a book that is only an incipit, that maintains for its whole duration the potentiality of the beginning, the expectation still not focused on an object.  But how could such a book be constructed?  Would it break off after the first paragraph?  Would the preliminaries be prolonged indefinitely?  Would it set the beginning of one tale inside another, as in the Arabian Nights?
And there are some wonderful bits about censorship and repression of literature.  Just endless amounts of fun here.

A very neat novel.  I had a great time reading it and will have to re-visit it someday.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Islands of Chaldea

The Islands of Chaldea, by Diana Wynne Jones

This time, it's really true; I've read my last first DWJ book.  I feel very fortunate to have gotten so many!  The manuscript for this final novel was found in DWJ's papers after her death.  I think she'd written most of it and then had a health crisis, after which she didn't go back to the story.  Her younger sister, Ursula, decided to try to look for the clues of how it would go, and finish it.  She did a fantastic job; from what I hear, no one has been able to pinpoint just where the break is.  I did notice at the end that it wasn't quite DWJ, but it was dang close and only a couple of things.  This is impressive.

Aileen is supposed to be a wise woman when she grows up, but so far she feels like a failure at it.  Her Aunt Beck is the Wise Woman of their island of Skarr, and both of them set off on a journey to fulfill a prophecy that, in theory, will break the magic barrier that cuts off Logra from the other three islands of Chaldea and restore lost family members to their homes.  They head out to collect people from all three islands, but somebody is sabotaging the trip from the beginning, and Aileen feels useless, and it all gets pretty wild.

I enjoyed the twist on the British Isles that DWJ used here.  It's a stand-alone story, not visibly connected to, say, the Magid multiverse (though it could be), but DWJ liked playing around with Great Britain in several of her books.  This time, we have four islands that are somewhat (but not entirely) as if Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and England were each separate.

Of course I'll have to read it several times to catch everything about it.  This is just a first reading.  It was so nice to have it!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A Question of Honor

A Question of Honor, by Charles Todd

I've enjoyed this series of mysteries set in World War I.  Bess Crawford is a nurse, so she gets around, moving from stations at the front to hospitals further back, and often traveling with wounded soldiers on their way to further recuperation.  She also has an Anglo-Indian background, having grown up in India as the daughter of a colonel, and almost the daughter of the entire regiment.  This fifth novel in the series draws on that Indian background for the story, which I thought was neat.

Ten years ago, the Colonel Sahib's regiment was rocked by the sudden desertion of Lieutenant Wade, accused of five brutal murders (including his own parents).  Wade's body was reported as found in the mountains of Afghanistan, but the whole thing left a stain on the honor of the regiment.  Now, in a triage station near the front lines, Bess meets up with a dying Indian soldier who tells her that he has seen Lieutenant Wade alive and well, serving in the war.  Bess starts keeping an eye out for Wade and looking into the murders he was accused of, and she finds that it's all connected with the practice of sending the children of Anglo-Indian officers back to England for their educations. 

It's a pretty good mystery.  Bess is a solid detective character, assertive enough for modern tastes but realistic for a woman living a century ago, so that I don't feel like she's a 21st-century person inserted into a historic setting.  The plot centers around a real part of Anglo-Indian history (Kipling makes an appearance!) and is nicely complex and gripping.

The cover bugs me, though.  Here we have a picture of a woman in Edwardian dress at the Golden Temple of Amritsar, the center of Sikh worship.  Bess' father's regiment is indeed stationed in northwest India, but there is no mention of Amritsar or Sikhs or anything like that in the story (and the Amritsar Massacre is still in the future for Bess' world).  The cover led me to expect something about Amritsar, so it was annoying to be disappointed in that.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Summer Reading Plans

Everybody is thinking about their summer reading plans.  I am too.  In fact, I've been checking books out from work like mad, because I won't be in over the summer and what if I want to read a selection from German classical drama?  What if I suddenly need to read Thomas Pynchon or something?  I must be prepared!

As a result, I have a pretty weird assortment of books ready for summer reading.

I have some serious ambitions:
  1. August 1914 (currently underway)
  2. Niels Lyhne in Danish
  3. two versions of Tristan
  4. WWI material, such as poetry and Tuchman's Guns of August
  5. I've been feeling a hankering to give Thomas Pynchon's V. a try
And some more fun things:
  1. A WWII thriller by Follett my work friend gave me
  2.  A new book about free speech
  3.  I don't even know, stuff
Then there's my TBR pile o' goodness--I'm thinking it's about time I pick up Tristram Shandy, and there's this amazing travel book by V. H. Morton about Palestine (in about 1920).  I'd like to knock out some of my Classics Club titles.  I've been following so many nice little rabbit trails of great literature that I have sort of neglected the original CC list a bit.   There are so many good books to read...

Clearly I won't lack for reading over the summer.  My problem is quite the opposite!


Slaughterhouse-Five, or, the Children's Crusade: a Duty-Dance With Death, by Kurt Vonnegut

Yay for modernist surreally literature!  I had an excellent time reading (re-reading?  not sure about that) Slaughterhouse-Five, and it put me in the mood for more.  I had been thinking about trying out some more Thomas Pynchon and this book put me over the edge, so I now have a copy of V. for summer reading.

This is one of the books that many people who Don't Like Classics have read and loved and called their favorite.  And ha, joke's on you there, it's a modern classic.  All a classic is, is a book a lot of people have called a life-changing favorite.

But that also means that everyone already knows what happens and a summary from me is kind of redundant.  Here goes: Billy Pilgrim, near-washout in World War II, POW in Dresden, then an optometrist, husband and father, has come unstuck in time.  He time-travels, at random, to various points in his own life.  This is because Billy has also been abducted by aliens, the Tralfamadoreans who see all of time at once and put him in a zoo for a while, but return him to the same time he left.  He never tells anyone about all this until quite a bit later.

The firebombing of Dresden is both a central event in the book and almost not there at all.  Vonnegut was in fact present as a POW at the time (he puts himself in as a minor character and then hangs a big neon sign on it), so he's speaking from experience.  It's referenced all throughout the story, but it doesn't actually happen until near the end, and of course they spend the time down in a deep basement, which is how they survive.  Dresden is this empty hole in the middle of the story--you could even think of it as a black hole, something you can't see but that exerts its force on everything else. 

Fantastic book. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The King in Yellow

The King in Yellow, by R. W. Chambers

I'd never heard of this book until a couple of months ago, when I saw it mentioned in some article about a film (what film? what article?  who knows?), which claimed that lots of filmmakers like to drop allusions to The King in Yellow, and called it a sort of underground cult favorite.  Clearly this called for investigation!  I'd never heard of this book, so what is it?  What's it about?  What's so great about it?

The King in Yellow is a collection of short stories published in 1895.  The first five or six are weird tales, most of which contain some allusion to a fictional play titled "The King in Yellow," which, if read all the way through, will send the reader mad.  The last four stories are set in Paris: three about bohemian art students, and one about the Siege of Paris during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870.

H. P. Lovecraft liked the stories.  He took some style pointers from Chambers and dropped many allusions to The King in Yellow into his stories, thus ensuring the 'underground cult favorite' status it now has.  The play must be one of the more famous fictional works of literature, along with The Higher Common Sense and the actual Hitchhiker's Guide.

The weird tales are the sort of thing I quite like: strange and atmospheric, but weird and unsettling rather than horrifying.   I thought they were pretty great.  The bohemian art students stories were fine, and quite good in spots, but almost skippable.  Not quite skippable, (you'd want to pick up some of the details) but almost.

"The Restorer of Reputations" is the first tale and the strangest.  Set in a future 1920 America that sounds on the dystopian side, the narrator plots to become the rightful heir to the royal line.  This story contains the most information about the play that will take away your sanity, and calls for a lot of questioning of everything you've read so far.

We also get:
an artist who has developed a chemical that will turn any living thing to beautiful marble;
a man terrified of the watchman to the churchyard next door;
and a ghost (or time-travel?) romance.

Good stuff.

There is a free Kindle copy on Amazon, which is what I read.  I think the first digital copy I tried was from Google or, someplace anyway, but the OCR was too badly screwed up; it was just about unreadable.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Notes From the Underground

Notes From the Underground, by Fyodor Dostoevsky

This was such a strange book that I'm not very sure where to begin.  So I put off writing about it until I forgot some things...

Anyway, Dostoevsky wrote Notes from the Underground as a response to Chernyshevsky's What is to be Done?, which made him really mad.   From what I hear, Russians usually read the two together, but in the English-speaking world Chernyshevsky is practically unknown.  That must make Underground far more difficult to understand, because an awful lot of it is a direct reaction to a book most people have not read.

The first part of the book is a rant written by the Underground Man, the narrator, who is about 40 and has left a life in civil service to hide from the world.  In his disconnected, skewed sort of way, he is raging against the machine, and especially against the idea of a rationalist utopia such as Chernyshevsky and other radicals envisioned.  To the Underground Man (and, as he points out, to all of us), such a society would be a hell.  People aren't rational and don't fit into perfectly planned lives that way.  People are contrary and would destroy a planned, rational society simply because they would have to assert themselves as individuals with free will; if they were forced to be good they would have to be wicked in retaliation.  The Underground Man himself asserts--almost proudly--that he is a wicked and sick man, but as such he is just like any of us. 

The second part of the book is the longer part, and is the Underground Man's story of an earlier part of his life, when he was just starting off in his civil service job.  We get to know him as someone who has never, ever been comfortable in his own skin or in his society.  He wants to be popular, yet he dislikes everyone he knows and feels contempt for them.  He quarrels with all the people he wants to be friends with, insults them, and sabotages himself at every turn, then wishes he could make amends but just quarrels again when he tries.  He meets a young girl who has just entered a life of prostitution, spends hours convincing her that she can yet leave and be happy (as if he's in a position to save anybody), and treats her savagely when she tells him she wants to get out.  He can't manage to be honest, or good, or brave, or anything like that; he just has to do the opposite.

Dostoevsky was horrified by the vision of a rationalist utopia, where everyone would would be good and happy (because they would have to be?).  He seems to have spotted the pitfalls in such a vision when few others did, but I'm not sure anyone heard what he was trying to say.  I think he's putting his message in the mouth of a really unlikable person to point out that even social misfits are human beings, and what is a rationalist utopia supposed to do with them?  And aren't we all social misfits to some extent?  I'm not sure about that though.

He was particularly ticked off that Chernyshevsky used the image of a crystal palace as a symbol for his rationalist utopia, where everyone lives in buildings made of glass and aluminum.  They happily work in the fields under giant movable shade canopies, and in their copious free time they sing and live elegantly.  (The children do all the housekeeping, which they enjoy.  Remember how I said Chernyshevsky didn't know anything about running a house?)   Everybody also, by the way, lives much further south than cold ol' Moscow, because Russia has expanded into the Central Asian countries and turned them into bucolic paradises.  No word on how the Kazakhs and Uzbeks feel about that; they don't seem to be around.  Chernyshevsky picked up this crystal palace image from the real-life Crystal Palace and the Great Exhibition of 1851, but he may not have realized that Dostoevsky had used it first.

While Chernyshevsky and his fellow progressives thought the Crystal Palace was a wonderful symbol of a new, materialist, rationalist, scientific way of life, Dostoevsky was appalled by it.  He thought that materialism, rationalism, and the worship of science-as-philosophy ignored the real complexity and depth of human nature, and he was particularly convinced that educated Russians were far too enamored of all things Western European--they scorned and dismissed the true Russian values he saw embodied in the lives of ordinary Russians.  Dostoevsky used the Crystal Palace as a symbol of all of that, and then Chernyshevsky used it to venerate the very same things!  How annoying.

Wow, I wound up writing a lot more than I thought I would.  It's all very interesting.  Next, after I finish August 1914 which I am really truly actually reading now, I'm going to read Nabokov's The Gift, which references all this too.  Oh boy, won't that be fun? :)

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Kaffir Boy

Kaffir Boy: The True Story of a Black Youth's Coming of Age in Apartheid South Africa, by Mark Mathabane

I first ran into this book when I started doing Banned Books Week at work, so when the Classics Club got started I put it on the list.  I've actually had it sitting around for some time now, waiting to be read, but it's difficult to find many books that describe more awful brutality and misery than this memoir of life in a black ghetto under apartheid, so it was kind of hard to get started.

It's also an amazing description of a kind of life that is almost never documented by the people who live it, because they are nearly all too poor, illiterate, and desperate for survival to sit around writing about their lives.  It's important to read, but also really difficult to stomach.

Johannes/Mark Mathabane grew up in one of the worst black ghettos in South Africa, and yet everyone there was desperate to stay.  The government actually wanted all the inhabitants to go and live in "tribal lands" (allotted deserts with almost no means of survival) or, if they had passes to work, in single-sex barracks.  In the ghetto, families lived together, albeit while starving in filthy conditions.  The paperwork required of blacks for employment or school was deliberately impossibly labyrinthine and Kafka-esque.

Johannes was lucky to have a mother who was determined to get her children educated.  She surmounted the obstacles to his schooling and made him attend.  He was also lucky that his grandmother worked for an English lady who didn't agree with apartheid and passed on books and clothing to him.  In pretty well every other way, getting an education was an incredible struggle.  They were always hungry, always in danger from police and criminals, and always subject to their father's drunken threats.  Nevertheless, Johannes stuck to his schooling, and found another potential way out of the ghetto--tennis.

Tennis seemed to me an unlikely means of escape, but Mathabane describes it as the way for him to get out of South Africa.  Enough education could get him a good job in South Africa, but only sports could get him out.  This was the age of Arthur Ashe, who inspired him to play ambitiously.  He started playing on black courts, but the facilities were awful.  Somehow he started visiting a tennis ranch where he met Germans and other foreign whites who were interested in befriending and coaching him so he could play competitively.  Years of interminable work and struggle later, mixed with anti-apartheid protesting, danger, and personal study, it finally paid off.

Really impressive book, really hard to read because of the level of misery involved.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A Beautiful Place to Die

A Beautiful Place to Die, by Malla Nunn

I was intrigued by the description of this mystery set in 1950s South Africa.  A lone detective is sent to deal with the murder of the small town's biggest landowner, a Boer and captain who kept a tight hold on the town and had a reputation for strict rectitude.  His sons are demanding an arrest yesterday, and then the secret police show up...

The setting was fantastic.  Loved that part.  The detective I wasn't such a fan of; I didn't like him much and he was portrayed as puzzlingly unracist.  He sounds modern, in a book that is set 60 years ago in a country that set up one of the most racist societies ever. There is an explanation of that at the end of the story, but I don't really buy it; it doesn't seem much of a reason that he's the only non-racist guy in all of 1952 South Africa.

Now that sets up an interesting question for me.  Let's say you have the excellent intention of writing a story set in a society guaranteed to offend virtually any modern person--South Africa.  The usual two options for a detective are an official of the police or a meddling amateur; both come with pitfalls in this scenario.  An official, in order to be able to poke around and have enough rank, will have to be pretty white.  At the same time, he's your protagonist and needs to be reasonably sympathetic.  Is it possible to write a realistic, yet sympathetic, protagonist in this situation?  Maybe not.  As much as I dislike to read characters who are modern people dressed in historical costume, I might have to give a pass on this one.

The mystery  I didn't care for certain things, and they overshadowed the rest of it for me.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Classics Club May Meme

The Classics Club question for May is:
Which classic work has caused you to become a master in avoidance? It’s not necessarily because you’re intimidated but maybe there are works out there that just cause you to have the Dracula reaction: cape-covered arm up in front of face with a step back reaction?

You know, I think it might be Ulysses, by James Joyce.  I'm planning to read lots of things someday, including Proust and Les Miserables and so on---I'm no longer nervous about any of those.  Solzhenitsyn can't scare me any more, and I might even read Moby Dick sometime, though American literature is not my big favorite.   But I have no desire whatsoever to read Ulysses.  Just none. 

Or maybe Clarissa.  I did it once, I don't need to do it again.  At the time, I really got into it, and so did my roommate.  Clarissa kind of hypnotized us, in that we got immersed in it and the premises of Clarissa's behavior made total sense at the time.  It was only a few days afterwards that we sort of came out of it and realized how crazy the whole thing is.  I didn't do that with Pamela last year, which is another book I shall never read again.

Just a cartoon I like, by Wallace Tripp


Arthuriad, by Charles Williams (Taliessin Through Logres, The Region of the Summer Stars, and Arthurian Torso)

Charles Williams had a really strange mind, and with it he wrote really strange novels and poetry.  In these two books of poems built on the Arthurian legend, he brings in the legendary Welsh bard, Taliessin, and uses him to...well, to say what he wanted to say about Arthur and about a lot of other things.

To do what he wanted to do, he changed quite a lot about the Arthurian legends.  Here, Logres (an enchanted pre-Britain) is the far end of an enormous empire with the capital at Byzantium--which is a sort of heavenly kingdom of divine order ruled by the Emperor, who is probably God.  The lands between are Gaul and Caucasia, each with a symbolic importance.  Broceliande is an enchanted forest, even stranger that usual.  The antipodes are ruled by forces of chaos.  Logres is meant, under Arthur, to achieve its own divine order, but through the events in the poems, it fails and becomes ordinary Britain.

This partially happens because of Arthur's own fault, which is much more highlighted here than you will usually see.  Arthur falls into idolatry of himself as king, and fails to serve Logres as he ought.  Meanwhile, Guinevere is up to her usual, and Lancelot falls so low that he stops being human.  Palomides
allows his jealousy and lust to eat him up until he has to be changed.

On the good side we see a lot of mirror couples.  Bors and Elayne embody true marriage, and Taliessin is intellectually and chastely 'married' to his counterpart, Perceval's mysterious sister Dindrane/Blanchefleur.  Dindrane, a spiritual queen, seems always to appear with a slave girl (in the process of finding spiritual freedom) somewhere nearby.  Taliessin himself is both a poet and a war leader--and Virgil shows up too, oddly enough.

I read the poems in chronological order (not in the order they are in the books), and I read C. S. Lewis' helpful essay along with them.  I don't think I would have understood one thing without the Lewis help.  I would read a chunk of essay, then the poems he talked about, and then go back to the essay.  If I were able to read it again, I would do it in the book order, but for a dopey beginner like me, the chronology is easier to follow.

Arthurian Torso--and I haven't the faintest idea why it's titled that--is an unfinished collection of chapters or essays on the development of the Arthurian legend, mainly in England.  The Anglo-French come into it, but not the Germans or anything like that.

Things I learned: Williams loved ideas about mathematics, geometry, and divine order.  To Williams, accuracy is a heavenly characteristic, and so when he describes something geometrically--which happens often--you have to pay special attention.  He not-very-famously said "Hell is inaccurate."  Also, if you are used to Tolkien's and Lewis' pretty reticent attitudes and expect the same from their fellow Inkling, Williams will come as a bit of a surprise.  He was very interested in the physical aspects of marriage as sacramental and had some fairly peculiar ideas about what he called "Romantic Theology," such as that events in the development of a romantic relationship correlate with events in the life of Christ.  It gets rather more peculiar than that, but I'm no Williams expert and even the experts have a hard time explaining it. 

This book was really, really difficult to read.  I don't claim to have understood very much of it!  But it was quite interesting, in its bizarre way.  I'd recommend it only if you're very interested in Williams' work.  Besides, it's a bit tricky to find, at least if you want all three parts together.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Classics Spin Result

Well, the d20 has been rolled and the number is 1!  I will therefore be reading two plays by Christopher Marlowe: Faustus and one other of my choice.

This is where the universe gets to laugh at me.  When I made my list, James Baldwin's Go Tell It On the Mountain was in the #1 spot.  I was quite hoping to get that one, and thinking (as I do, despite knowing the rules of probability) that 1 never comes up, I moved it.  I will probably still read it over the summer, though.  Meanwhile, you can all point and laugh.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Mill on the Floss

The Mill on the Floss, by George Eliot

I put this book off for far too long.  Once I actually picked it up and got started, I enjoyed it as much as I expected to--I quite like George Eliot and loved Middlemarch when I read it a few years back.  Someday I'll do a re-read of it.

The essay at the end of my copy thinks that Maggie chooses wrongly; that she clings to a useless idea of doing what's right when the damage is already done.  I disagree.  I think Maggie does her best with what she's got, which is very little.  Her determination not to build her happiness on others' misery is, in my opinion, a good course to take.  I do think she should have moved away and started over.  And I think she and the Guest fellow probably could have just been honest in the first place and not done too much damage.  But once Guest pulled his stunt, she chose the right course.

I don't really like Stephen Guest at all, though.  I think Maggie is better off without him, which is possibly a little stubborn of me given that she ends up miserable and then dead.  I think he's shallow and selfish and ridiculously arrogant, but then perhaps most early Victorian young men were!

Tell me what you thought of Maggie and Stephen; I'd like to know.

Monday, May 5, 2014

The XX Factor

The XX Factor: How the Rise of Working Women Has Created a Far Less Equal World, by Alison Wolf

I couldn't pass up the deliberately provocative title.  I meant to only skim the book, but right when I was going to put it down, Wolf produced some chapters that weren't the same old thing, and it turned out to be pretty interesting.

Wolf is British and writes about Americans and Britons here, which gives a nice perspective.  She describes how modern ambitious women are getting the same high-profile jobs as men.  At the top, the gender gap is closing; women work the same jobs and the same hours.  If they marry, they do so later and have few children (unless they are super-rich), depending on cleaners, nannies, and other staff to support a double-income family.  (This would be the highly ambitious business people.  I don't know any IRL, since I don't live in London or NYC.)

But more average women--and men--are not doing all that.  There is quite a gap between these highly-paid women and the rest of the population, and it plays out in interesting ways that we aren't used to yet. 

Wolf goes all over the place--marriage, children, education, charity/welfare, servants, and more.  It's interesting, but I'm not sure what conclusions she draws even though I read the ending.  It's more that she is describing all this stuff and leaving readers to draw conclusions.  Maybe it's too soon to do that at all.

Classics Spin #6!

It's everyone's favorite time again!  The Classics Spin is run by the Classics Club, and they'll publish the lucky number on Monday.  I have to put up a list of 20 books, so here they are:
  1. Marlowe: Faustus and one other play.
  2. Confucius, China, 551-479 BCE. The Analects.
  3. Baldwin, James, 1953,  Go Tell It On the Mountain.
  4. Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five. 
  5. John Donne, Divine Meditations
  6. Murasaki Shikubu, Japan, ca. 990.The Tale of Genji.(abridged)
  7. Lawrence Sterne, Tristram Shandy.
  8. Thomas Mann, Death in Venice.  
  9. Mohandas Gandhi, India, 1928. My Experiments with Truth.
  10. Mario Vargas Llosa, The Time of the Hero (or another work).
  11.  Meshack Asare, Sosu's Call.
  12.  Gunter Grass, The Tin Drum
  13. Anthony Trollope, 1864, The Small House at Allington
  14. Italo Calvino, 1979, If on a winter's night a traveller 
  15. Junichio Tanizaki, Japan, 1943. The Makioka Sisters 
  16. Henry Fielding, Joseph Andrews.
  17. Naguib Mahfouz, The Cairo Trilogy, vol. 1
  18.  Edith Wharton, The Custom of the Country.
  19.  Chaim Potok, 1972, My Name is Asher Lev.
  20.  Thomas Mann, Germany, 1924. The Magic Mountain.
It's like rolling a d20!

Some of these are titles I'm looking forward to, some are scary, and some I know nothing about!  As always, The Makioka Sisters is on the list, which probably guarantees that 15 will not get picked.  I'm just going to keep putting it on there until I read it.

If you are not a CC member, why not join us in a literary game of roulette?  Your odds are way better than they are in Vegas!

Another Little Update

Hello everyone--

I just wanted to throw in a little news before I start on the 3 reviews I have lined up, and the Spin, and some other things...

The other day I said I was starting August 1914 for the CC May Event.  It appears I got things a little mixed up--I thought May was going to be World War I, and that's June.  May is Post-Colonial Month, and I have nothing planned!  (Sure, I have many post-colonial titles on my CC list, I just wasn't thinking about it.)  But maybe this will spur me to finally get serious about reading Kaffir Boy, which I have had checked out from work for a truly embarrassing length of time.  Plus I have this interesting-looking mystery checked out from the public library which is also set in South Africa, so perhaps May will be South Africa month...

AND I really want to read Notes From the Underground as a follow-up to What is to be Done?  I'm thinking I'll take a short break from August 1914 (I'm on chapter 8 and it's pretty good so far) and read that first.  Notes is quite short, while August 1914 is about 700 large hardback pages.

Only 4 weeks to go until summer!  Things are changing up a little at work and it looks like I might get to do some collection development next year, which would be neat.

In blog news, a friend of mine has just started a new project: Chicory Folk Music.  She and her family are steeped in Appalachian folk music, and she will be sharing their talents, AND teaching ways for you to share folk music and history with your kids.  Homeschoolers will want to follow this blog, and anyone who loves music!  Here is a lovely sample for you:

In OTHER blog news, our classical homeschooling blog, Sandbox to Socrates, is growing.  This month we're doing a series on fostering creativity and talking about parents as teachers.  Stop by and take a peek!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Mirror of Flowers

Mirror of Flowers, by Dorothea Eastwood

I am much better at reading about flowers than I am at growing them.  This is a really nice little book of essays about flowers, written in the late 1940s in Britain.  Dorothea Eastwood wanders all over the territory of the amateur botanist and flower-hunter.

Eastwood really has some fun stuff in here.  There is an essay about all the wildflowers she was able to find in urban London (bomb sites are very fruitful territory); one about botany as the first accepted science for young women to study as education became improved; a nice tour through her collection of old and antique volumes of botany; folk magic and folk names as pertaining to flowers; and more about history and the joys of finding the elusive Filmy Fern.

Makes especially good bedside reading.  And it's old enough that there is no photo available online.  My copy is in really good shape, dustjacket and all.