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Showing posts from 2015

Trigger Warning

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Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances , by Neil Gaiman Fun fact: I am reading two different books titled Trigger Warning at the same time.  The other one is about free speech, and (also) written by a Brit. I'm a Gaiman fan, and there's nothing not to love about this latest collection of short stories with a few scattered poems.  They are just what you want in a Gaiman collection--creepy or unsettling or fun stories.  One is a Doctor Who story; one features an elderly Sherlock Holmes.  One or two or three are takeoffs on familiar fairy tales. They're all good. So, happy new year, everybody!  May 2016 be filled with great books and fun blogging discussions for all of us.  Not to mention peace on earth, good will towards men.  This is also my 6th blogiversary, so I'm entering my 7th year of blogging.  Seven is a lucky number, right?  So I'll aim for a really excellent year. :)

The Statues That Walked

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The Statues That Walked: Unraveling the Mystery of Easter Island, by Terry Hunt and Carl Lipo Short version: this is a fantastically interesting book.  Read it! Easter Island (aka Rapa Nui) is so famous that you would think that exhaustive archaeology work has already been done, and that everybody has a pretty good idea of what Rapanui society was like before the modern era.  NOT SO.  Instead, everybody has been depending on a hodgepodge of a narrative that postulated a society run by power-hungry kings presiding over warring tribes who committed "ecocide" in their insatiable desire for ever more statues, leaving Rapa Nui devastated.  Jared Diamond used this narrative as a dire warning in his famous 2011 book Collapse (which I have not read).  He was also completely wrong. Hunt and Lipo were running some minor archaeological studies in the early 2000s, and they weren't actually after the moai at first; they were looking for some other things, and they expected to

2015 Favorites

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Goodreads has been a big help to me in figuring out what I read this year and what the best parts were.  I'm very good at forgetting these things, but looking at a chart helps.  Here are my highlights of 2015 reading--- New authors: So many!  This year was the first time I read Robert Heinlein.  I met a bunch of Eastern European authors I didn't know: Karel Capek, Bruno Schulz, Bohumil Hrabal.  I read my first Wallace Stegner novel!  I finally read the excellent historian, Anne Applebaum.  I met several others, including Miles Franklin and Thomas Mofolo.  Lots of people, really. I failed at some things this year, too.   I discovered that Henry James' The Wings of the Dove is well-nigh unreadable for me, and that Marxist interpretations of the slave-owning South in Roll, Jordan, Roll are not my cup of tea.  It also turns out that I can't read Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow .  (Funny: I happened upon a Classics Club survey from the end of last year, asking wh

2016 Challenges

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Here's a rundown of my plans for 2016, in which I tried, as always, to not sign up for ten-plus challenges.  I think I mostly succeeded.  I'm going to have to prioritize my Classics Club list!  Looking forward to a fun year of reading with you all as company. :) January Event: Vintage Science Fiction, hosted by the Little Red Reviewer. I've got a pile all ready to go--a couple of Heinlein, an Asimov I haven't read in 20 years, a new translation of Roadside Picnic , and an Ursula K. LeGuin I've never read (I never did get into her books).  Looking forward to it! Classics Club, hosted by The Classics Club I've only got a year and three months left before my deadline, and about 35 books still to go, mostly difficult ones!  Oh no!!  I'm going to try to focus on this one in 2016.  The CC is also hosting a special women's event for 2016. Back to the Classics, hosted by Karen at Books and Chocolate. I haven't chosen any titles to fit t

2015 Challenges Wrapup

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So how did I do this year with my challenges?  Let's take a look. The Classics Club: I read something around 27 titles from my CC list!  But I have 35 left to go. o's Reading England 2015 Challenge : I read 25 books in 23 counties. Pretty good! The Journey Through Wales and Description of Wales, by Gerald of Wales (Herefordshire) Agnes Grey , by Anne Bronte (Yorkshire) Sister of the Angels , by Elizabeth Goudge (Somerset) To Say Nothing of the Dog, by Connie Willis (Warwickshire)  Three Men in a Boat, by Jerome K. Jerome (Berkshire)  Little Dorrit, by Charles Dickens (London)  The Last Chronicle of Barset, by Anthony Trollope (Wiltshire)  King Lear, by William Shakespeare (Gloucestershire) Henry V, by William Shakespeare (Hampshire) Dr. Wortle's School, by Anthony Trollope (Northamptonshire) The Dean's Watch, by Elizabeth Goudge (Cambridgeshire) Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope (Rutland)  Poetry by Wordsworth (Cumberland) 

Mini-reviews!

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 OK, I still have four books on my pile and no time, so I declare a mini-review post.   The Old Wives' Club , by Arnold Bennett Two sisters, young in the mid-Victorian era--their lives diverge for many years.  One stays at home, marries the assistant, and has a small family.  The other makes a runaway marriage and lives in Paris for 30 years.  In their later years, they reunite. Lots of realism here--Bennett was an Edwardian with no interest in conveying a message or finding meaning in his novel.  The sisters live their lives and wonder what it was all for. I do like this novel for its mention of fancy clothing for children!  What we now call heirloom sewing--a hobby of mine, and a particularly oddball one--gets a whole page pointing out that it is really kind of ludicrous.  I cannot disagree; in fact, the first time I saw an heirloom sewing magazine, my thought was "how incredibly impractical!"--and then I got hooked anyway. This book is set in Staffordshire!

Reading England 2016

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O at Behold the Stars is continuing her Reading England Challenge next year, with some new twists and twiddles added.  Head on over there to check out the options and the rules--it's so long that I'm not going to quote her. I've enjoyed participating this year, but I probably read too many--over 20 titles!  I'm going to pull back and only read a few books this time, and I'll try to find ones from counties I haven't already done. PS I still wish somebody would do this with another country!

The First Book of Calamity Leek

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The First Book of Calamity Leek , by Paula Lichtarowicz This YA novel was published in the UK a couple of years ago, and only in the UK.  I really really wanted to read it, so a little while ago we took advantage of AbeBooks and got a copy for just a few dollars.  Then I found out that it's coming out in the US in April next year, so you can read it too. The reason I wanted to read it was the completely bizarre title.  Leek is my maiden name (I still use it officially) and Calamity Leek is such a weird name for a girl that I wanted to find out what the deal was.  If you're a Leek, then obviously you've got to read about this kid! Calamity and her sixteen sisters live together in the Garden, kept safe by the Wall.  Outside is extremely dangerous, so they must never look; they are being trained for a special mission, which will be fulfilled soon.  Meanwhile, Aunty keeps them safe and the Divine Mother watches over them.  It sounds, at first, like a book set in a dystop

The Absolute at Large

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The Absolute at Large, by Karel Č apek It's Karel Č apek's first novel!  Printed in 1922, two years after the play R. U. R ., this is another science-fiction premise, and--at least at first--it's a bit comedic. It a futuristic 1943, an engineer comes up with a machine (the Karburator) that produces power by annihilating matter completely; the energy contained in each atom is liberated and consumed, thus providing practically infinite power from tiny amounts of fuel.  Unfortunately, it turns out that matter has two parts.  There is the physical part, which produces the atomic energy, and there is also the spiritual component, which, when destroyed, releases the Absolute into the air.  If you conceive of God being present in all matter, well, now it's free and floating around.  Anyone who gets near a Karburator experiences religious ecstasy.  They perform miracles and healings, or give away all their goods to the poor, or start preaching, or perhaps even levitat

Chaka

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Chaka,  by Thomas Mofolo I have here on my desk a pile of seven books to post about.  With most of them, I want to discuss things and talk at length!  But, with everything going on, I might have to do a mini-review roundup.  We shall see.  But for the moment, let us talk about Chaka . Chaka was written in the Sesotho language in 1909, but not published until 1925 (with some revisions).  It was translated into English in 1931.  It is a fictionalized account of the life of Chaka, the chieftain that united the Zulu tribes through conquest, and then went on to conquer quite a bit of South Africa, in the early 19th century.  Despite the more adulatory legends around his name, Chaka was a brutal warlord who killed an awful lot of people, his own as well as those he conquered, and he was pretty good at the whole thought-policing thing too.  Mofolo writes a story about Chaka that brings in quite a lot of...not symbolism...more like he puts elements into the story to illustrate things abo

TBR Challenge Wrapup

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I'm done with Adam's TBR Challenge, and sadly this is the last one he will host; he's retiring it.  But, excelsior!  Onward and upward to better things, right?  OK, so I'm happy to have finished this list.  I put some real toughies on it, and I wasn't at all sure I would be able to finish.  In fact, I must admit to have failed with TWO titles, but luckily we get two alternates for just that problem!  Here's my list, with links to posts:   The White Goddess , by Robert Graves The Travels, by Marco Polo Roll, Jordan, Roll , by Eugene Genovese * (DNF fail) Muhammad: Prophet of God , by Daniel Peterson (this is a secular biography) The Makioka Sisters , by Junichio Tanizaki * The Gulag Archipelago (abridged), by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn * The History of the Renaissance World , by Susan Wise Bauer Little Dorrit , by Charles Dickens * The Secret History , by Procopius Eight Pieces of Empire , by Lawrence Scott Sheets The Brothers Karamazov , by Fyo

The Travels of Marco Polo

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The Travels of Marco Polo In 1271, a young Marco Polo traveled to China with his father and uncle, and he spent almost the next twenty years traveling around the East--China, India, Indonesia, even Zanzibar.  He is said to have worked for Kubilai Khan as a diplomat.  He returned to the West in 1295 and some time later was captured as a prisoner of war.  In prison, he met Rustichello of Pisa, who wrote down his stories, and together they produced The Travels , written in Old French with quite a bit of Italian mixed in.  It was a massive popular success even during Polo's lifetime, though right from the beginning people questioned Polo's veracity.  Even now it makes for exciting reading. Polo starts off by describing the route to China, skipping most of the places already well-known to Westerners, so that he spends a limited amount of time in the Middle East.  When he gets to Persia, he describes Parsi believers, saying that the Magi were from here and identifying their indiv

Back to the Classics Challege

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Karen is hosting again, and I'm joining again.  Who can resist the Back to the Classics Challenge?    Karen says: The challenge will be exactly the same as last year, 12 classic books, but with slightly different categories. You do not have to read 12 books to participate in this challenge! Complete six categories, and you get one entry in the drawing Complete nine categories, and you get two entries in the drawing Complete all twelve categories, and you get three entries in the drawing And here are the categories for the 2016 Back to the Classics Challenge: 1.   A 19th Century Classic - any book published between 1800 and 1899. 2.   A 20th Century Classic - any book published between 1900 and 1966. Just like last year, all books MUST have been published at least 50 years ago to qualify. The only exception is books written at least 50 years ago, but published later. 3.   A classic by a woman author .  4.   A classic in translation .  Any book originally

Women and Appletrees

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Nobody in the novel is this well-dressed. Women and Appletrees, by Moa Martinson Moa Martinson (born Helga Maria Swarts) was a Swedish feminist writer who always worked on behalf of the working class.  Her whole life was given to her ideals, especially for working-class women.  (I seem to recall she was also in favor of free love, but that's left over from a long-ago class and may be somebody else.) Women and Appletrees starts with Mother Sofi and her best friend, Fredericka, and their lives in the 1840s.  They farm, and they shock the village with their scandalous habit of bathing once a week.  Sofi has many children, and two generations later... We follow Sally and Ellen, two of Sofi's descendants, through their lives up to about World War I (both are partial autobiographical portraits of Martinson herself, Sally more so).  Both grow up in slums, enduring hunger, violence, and trauma, and end up meeting in a tiny farming village.  Ellen has reacted to her childhoo

And the Spin number is....

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19! Which means I'm going to be reading an early German sort-of novel, Simplicissimus , by Grimmelhausen.  This was recommended to me by my brother, who is a professor of Middle High German.  It was written in 1688 and is an angry satirical adventure of the Thirty Years' War, a vicious war that decimated large swathes of Europe. It's quite long, and as I noted in my Spin list, I actually started it a little while ago.  I'm not very far in yet, and I definitely need some motivation, so this is a good thing.  Wish me luck!

Classics Club Spin #11!

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Hooray, it's time for another Spin!  If you don't know about the Classic Spin, you can find all the information at the link. I am starting to run pretty low on titles!  This is good news, but it does mean that there are really gigantic books on my list that I cannot realistically expect to finish by February 1.  However, here we go, sometimes with comments: William Faulkner,  Light in August . (what was I thinking, putting Faulkner on my CC list?) Pensees , Pascal Mario Benedetti, The Truce   On the Origin of Species , Darwin  Unknown, Japan, 630. The Kojiki Thomas Mann, Germany, 1924. The Magic Mountain . Mario Vargas Llosa, The War at the End of the World . “Our Town,” Thornton Wilder.  (I have never read or seen this play!) Cesar Vallejo, Los Heraldos Negros . Murasaki Shikubu, Japan, ca. 990. The Tale of Genji Picnic At Hanging Rock, by Joan Lindsay Rilke, Malte Laurids Brigge .   John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding Cesar Vallejo

Bible as Literature Challenge

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Adam at Roof Beam Reader is setting up a very ambitious challenge for 2016.   (He's also dropping the TBR Challenge, so we'll have to find others.)  Adam says: About the Event: The Christian bible is one of the most influential texts in western literature. As someone who reads literature for pleasure/edification and who teaches Literature in English at the college level, I frequently re-familiarize myself with many historically rich texts from a variety of mythologies and cultures.... As a special note, I will be reading the bible as literature and crafting my posts as such . This challenge is not specific to nor exclusively meant for Christians; instead, it is for readers who are interested in learning more about a very important text in the western canon. As such, I invite anyone and everyone to participate, regardless of faith or lack thereof. Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Atheist, Hindu, Agnostic, Mormon, Humanist? Come along! What I would love

Fairy Tale as Myth, Myth as Fairy Tale

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Fairy Tale as Myth, Myth as Fairy Tale: lectures by Jack Zipes I was excited about reading these lectures by Jack Zipes, the big academic specialist in fairy tales, especially Grimm's fairy tales.  If you've read or seen the giant Grimm's collection, he's the editor.  I was looking forward to some nice chewy discussions about myth and folklore.  I was disappointed, and when I wasn't bored, I was arguing with Zipes in my head.  Bleh. There are six essays in this volume.  The first is about the origins of the fairy tale, and talks about how French aristocrat ladies would write stories for each other or for girls.  This was the part I liked best, talking about how Madame D'Aulnoy "intended to present a woman's viewpoint with regard to such topics as tender love, fidelity, courtship, honor, and arranged marriages...one must be cautious about labeling her an outspoken critic of patriarchal values or to see feminist leanings in her writings..."   He

Vintage Science Fiction Month

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This will be my third year participating in Little Red Reviewer's annual Vintage Science Fiction Month (not-a-challenge).  I have a Heinlein juvenile title, but am otherwise uncommitted, though I'm thinking about reading some PKD and maybe Simak.  Howabout you--want to read along?  Follow the link to see the details!

Mount TBR 2016

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And I'm back to the Mount TBR Challenge to keep myself reading those books!  Bev at My Reader's Block is the host .  Bev says: Challenge Levels: Pike's Peak : Read 12 books from your TBR pile/s Mount Blanc : Read 24 books from your TBR pile/s Mt. Vancouver : Read 36 books from your TBR pile/s Mt. Ararat : Read 48 books from your TBR piles/s Mt. Kilimanjaro : Read 60 books from your TBR pile/s El Toro : Read 75 books from your TBR pile/s Mt. Everest : Read 100 books from your TBR pile/s Mount Olympus (Mars) : Read 150+ books from your TBR pile/s And the rules: *Once you choose your challenge level, you are locked in for at least that many books. If you find that you're on a mountain-climbing roll and want to tackle a taller mountain, then you are certainly welcome to upgrade.  All books counted for lower mountains carry over towards the new peak.  There's lots more, so follow the link and check it out if you want to join too.  I've done Mount TBR a fe

Hard Core Re-Reading Challenge 2016

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Well, this is handy.  There are some books that I want to re-read, but that are kind of on the heavy side, so I was thinking a nice little re-reading challenge would be just the thing to encourage me to pick up Hayek again.  And what do you know, Lois at You, Me, and a Cup of Tea is hosting the perfect challenge!    She says: Rules (And when I say rules please realize I'm one of the most flexible people in existence) First off, this challenge is for EVERYBODY! That means YOU! I want anyone and everyone to join in on the fun! I suggest you make a list of books that you want to re-read for 2015 and post it with your sign up post. You are welcome to add to it as the year goes on and you definitely don't have to read them all. I recommend it be a suggested list and you can just chose books off of it as you go along. The challenge officially runs from January 1, 2016 to December 31, 2016. ONLY books started AND finished in that time frame will count.... Lev

Zuleika Dobson

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Zuleika Dobson , by Max Beerbohm I really didn't know what to expect from Zuleika Dobson , except that I had heard it was witty.  The cover of the edition I checked out at work (see below) is so hideous that you would never know it's a comedy, would you?  I found you a nicer cover too.  I'm pretty sure my copy qualifies as one of the ugliest book covers ever produced.  If you can top this, I'll buy you lunch. Zuleika--who makes her living by conjuring--arrives in Oxford to visit her grandfather, the Warden of Judas College.  She is so charming and bewitching that every young man who sees her promptly falls in love with her.  She is used to this and takes it as her due, but she can never fall in love with anyone who throws himself at her feet so easily.  When the impeccable dandy the Duke of Dorset actually ignores her for an entire dinner, she falls in love for the first time--only to fall out again when he confesses that he also loves her.  In despair, the Duke

The Castle

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The Castle, by Franz Kafka This unfinished novel is one of Kafka's longer works, and it's, well, Kafka-esque.  So much so that I had kind of a hard time with it; 400 solid pages of never getting anywhere got pretty difficult to take. K. arrives at a village to take up a job as a land-surveyor at the Castle that overlooks the little town.  Everyone there either works for the Castle or wants to land a job there, but K. is not allowed to go there.  Nor can he meet with Castle officials.  There doesn't seem to be any land-surveying to do, but he is assigned two assistants, who do nothing to help him but do bother him a lot.  He makes friends with a messenger who isn't quite a messenger, and he meets a girl and becomes engaged, but that doesn't last long.  All his efforts lead nowhere. All the conversations K. has with people in the village are the same; long, long monologues about village/Castle relations that meander around, contradict themselves with almost e

My Brilliant Career

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My Brilliant Career, by Miles Franklin It's AusNovember, and I read one of the really obvious classics, this novel by Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin, who wrote it for friends when she was only a teenager, It was published in 1901, when she was about 22.  It was a hit, but Franklin was upset by some reactions--I think an awful lot of people assumed it was more biographical than it was, or than she wished them to think it was--and she withdrew it for decades.  It discouraged her from writing more novels for a long time. Sybylla is an imaginative, intelligent, discontented girl living in near-poverty on her family's station.  Once her father owned beautiful farmland, but his bad business decisions landed them all on a desolate station, and he has become a useless, tragic drunk.  Mother and children work hard and earn little, and it is with relief that her mother sends Sybylla to live with her grandmother at Caddagat.  There Sybylla blossoms, but not without bumps in the r