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Showing posts from August, 2016

Books by Clarence Day

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God and My Father Life With Father Life With Mother, by Clarence Day A few weeks ago, somebody posted about God and My Father , a sort of memoir about the time Dad turned out not to be baptized.  It was made into a film and everything.  So I wondered if I could get it, and the library obliged with a collection by Clarence Day of his family memories. Clarence Day grew up in upper-middle class New York City in the late 1800s; his family was well-off, but not really wealthy.  Day started off in business like his father, but crippling arthritis forced him into a much quieter life and he did a lot of writing, frequently for magazines, but books too.  These books are really funny, written with great affection and understanding. God and My Father is a real memoir with a plot; it's a comedic story about his father's religious opinions and the family battle over baptism.  Mr. Day was a conventional man who insisted on church attendance, but for the rest he preferred to be le

The Big Green Tent

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The Big Green Tent , by Ludmila Ulitskaya Phew, I wanted to get this very long novel finished in time for the end of Women in Translation month, and I did!  AND this is the second time I've written this post, because Blogger ate the first one.  I hope I can remember what I said. Three schoolboys become friends in post-Stalinist Russia; so do three girls, in a different class.  Their lives are the lattice for the intertwinings of many characters over four decades.  Many of them are involved with underground activities, the samizdat network or political advocacy.  The story moves around in time, following people through years or decades and then turning back again to other stories. Although the book cover's blurb focuses on the three boys, I really felt that Olga's story is the center of the novel; although she does not appear in the beginning or the end, she dominates half the book, to the point that parts of her story are told twice or even three times, with different

Revolutionary Days

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Revolutionary Days , by Julia Cantacuzene I have been reading a lot of Russian stuff lately, so get ready!  This is a book I picked up at the used bookstore, largely because it is part of the Lakeside Classics, which is this odd little series that publishes one volume per year, always a non-fiction title with some connection to American history.  I only have two, and the other one is the Life of Olaudah Equiano .  As soon as I figured out what this one was about, I had to have it! Julia Grant was a granddaughter of President Ulysses S. Grant.  Her father was also an eminent soldier, and later became an ambassador in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  Julia grew up quite privileged and spent her late teenage years in Vienna.  There she met a handsome young Russian prince, Michael Cantacuzene (a direct descendant of the Byzantine emperor and a junior branch, so not in the line of succession at all), and married him in 1899. For nearly twenty years, Julia lived the life of a Russian p

Classics Club: August Meme

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Every month, the Classics Club blog posts a question for us to answer, and I just about never get around to it.  Memes in general, I am not good at them.  But today I think I will do it! What classic piece of literature most intimidates you, and why? (Or, are you intimidated by the classics, and why? And has your view changed at all since you joined our club?) I have gotten a lot less intimidated, that is for sure.  The CC has helped me focus my reading and discover that I can tackle scary books!  But there are still a couple of areas that really make me nervous: French literature.   Nothing is scarier.  Zola?  Balzac?  Hugo?   Proust?   Eeeek, save me! I feel quite proud of the fact that I have now read The Count of Monte Cristo ( 1000 pages of adventure and melodrama ) and Madame Bovary ( fabulous novel which required a readalong to give me courage ).   Now that I'm getting to the end of my CC list, though, I'm thinking I'll need to put Hugo on the next on

The Scholar Adventurers

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The Scholar Adventurers, by Richard Altick I came across this intriguing title while weeding.  At first it didn't look too prepossessing, but the description--"Altick's classic portrayal of scholars on the prowl"--looked kind of fun, so I took it home. Altick describes the travails of the literary scholar (pre-Internet!) who wishes to track down the unpublished, unknown bits and pieces of information.  He starts off with the papers of James Boswell, whose debauched reputation led his Victorian relatives to suppress the masses of letters, diaries, and other writings he had left behind.  The tale of how batches of Boswell papers eventually saw the light of day is a fascinating one! Other chapters ask who Sir Thomas Malory really was, or describe quests for lost papers of Byron or Shelley.  Altick also describes literary forgeries, texts in cipher, and all sorts of fun things.  What has happened when science teamed up with literature to the benefit of both? Sinc

Sister Pelagia and the White Bulldog

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Sister Pelagia and the White Bulldog , by Boris Akunin I like Russian stories, and I like mysteries, so I should have started reading Akunin years ago.  I did start this one several years back, but I made the mistake of trying to read it on a BART train, and when I failed to get into it, I put it aside and meant to try again sometime.  I finally did, and it was an enjoyable read! Bishop Mitrofanii, spiritual leader of a country province, has a reputation for solving tricky mysteries.  In fact, it's the unobtrusive Sister Pelagia who does the detecting, and when the bishop's elderly aunt writes to him about the violent killing of her beloved white bulldog, he sends Pelagia off to deal with the problem.  It doesn't seem too important, but Pelagia meets a motley and unusual group of residents at the aunt's estate, and soon realizes that there is a lot at stake.  More dogs are killed, and then people.  The nineteenth-century setting is wonderful.  Akunin excels at cre

The Death of Vishnu

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The Death of Vishnu , by Manil Suri For some reason, I thought this was a post-apocalyptic SF novel.  It is absolutely not.  It is the first in Suri's "Hindu Myths" series, which so far has three volumes; they are unconnected except that they use mythology as their inspiration and symbolic language. Vishnu is the errand ganga for a block of apartments; he therefore sleeps on the stair landing and lives on a system of tips and perks, but now he is dying.  As he lies there, waiting to die, he (mentally?  symbolically?) ascends the stairs, considering the life stories of each tenant, and possibly attaining godhood along the way. We get to know each family and personal drama.  The Pathaks and the Asranis constantly quarrel over every little thing, especially over who should pay for Vishnu's ambulance.  Kavita plans to elope with her upstairs neighbor, Salim, but really she just wants to live in a Bollywood movie--her feelings have very little to do with Salim.  Mr.

Kubo and the Two Strings

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Hey everyone!  We've been starting school and such, so I haven't written much in the last week.  And it's only going to get busier from here, as I start back to work, but I've got some great books to tell you about, so stay tuned.  Meanwhile, we went to see a fantastic movie this weekend, and I want to tell you about it, because it's not getting nearly as much attention as it deserves! Kubo and the Two Strings is a Laika production; they do stop-motion animation, and you might remember Coraline , which was also fantastic. The 3D they do is some of the best we have seen (and for once, doesn't hurt my eyes). Kubo is an original story, inspired by Japanese mythology....look, just watch the trailer: It's gorgeous, it's a great story, it's an amazing, creative, unusual movie, it's...not produced by a big studio, and so it's just not getting the attention.  I'm telling you now, it's worth every penny and minute, and I hope you

Last Tales

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Last Tales, by Isak Dinesen/Karen Blixen I always enjoy reading Isak Dinesen, and I have just about everything on the bookshelf because I took a course in college that was almost nothing but Dinesen (I did a good bit of Scandinavian literature).  She was an odd duck in her day, and reading her now is almost surreal; the stories are so strange to our sensibilities, especially in this last collection.  She did her level best to write as though she lived in the 18th century, or possibly earlier, and nobody thought more of aristocracy, nobility, or the mysterious power of femininity than she did. I remember once my instructor showed us a photo of her standing on a stage with Betty Friedan.  Two more dissimilar women could hardly be imagined, and I have to wonder if they'd ever read each other's works (probably not) or if they could possibly have had anything to say to one another.  Karen Blixen was tall, slim, elderly, elegant and proud.  She'd probably put belladonna in h

Grave Goods

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Grave Goods: Essays of a Peculiar Nature , by John P. O'Grady This is an odd little collection of essays on topics that literary academics don't write essays on.  Some of the stories have ghosts, or witches, or strange happenings.  There's a lady who makes and sells magic mirrors, and another one who is a psychic consulted by police (really?  I am skeptical).  In one essay, a country beekeeper announces that the bees are gone because he didn't give them the news properly--this is an old belief, that you have to give the bees the news respectfully--and so they go on a bee hunt and instead find a stone marker of Rip Van Winkle's sleeping spot.  Things like that. The essays are all about events within the United States, and they often feature natural settings--O'Grady is an environmental writer.  They're things he says happened to him, or to friends of his, or at least that he knows of. The last essay features a guy who was the night watchman at a San

Baba Yaga Laid an Egg

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Baba Yaga Laid an Egg , by Dubravka Ugrešić I couldn't resist this title!  I've had it on the pile for a little while now, and the Women in Translation event this month gave me an opportunity to pick it up.  It's post-modern and odd, not exactly a reworking of the Baba Yaga stories, but more finding her in modern life--an unusual story about women getting old.  There are three distinct parts, which makes it not quite a novel to my mind.  The first part is narrated by an unnamed writer/academic whose elderly mother just wants to die, but meanwhile keeps her apartment obsessively clean.  The writer goes to Bulgaria (her mother's birthplace) to take photos, but a younger academic, Aba, attaches herself and just won't leave. Then we go to a spa, where three older ladies have come for a vacation.  Pupa is very elderly and keeps her feet in a fur boot for warmth.  Beba works in a hospital and misses her son, and Kukla is a serial widow who secretly writes.  Their li

Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue

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Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: the Untold History of English , by John McWhorter Somebody, probably my mother, mentioned McWhorter's name while we were on our UK trip, and then when I got home and went to work weeding the library collection, I came upon this book, so I took it home. There are a zillion books out there that will tell you about the history of the English language, but McWhorter feels that they're inadequate and do not properly address the why of how the language evolved.  Why, for example, do we say "I'm driving to the park" instead of "I drive to the park" like every other Germanic speaker?  (I have often wondered this myself.)  Why do we say do all the time when it doesn't actually mean anything much? Well, McWhorter is here to tell you why.  He's got some very strong opinions, and in fact he's rather given to ranting--I think about half of this book is dedicated to rants about linguists who disagree with him and w

The Conference of the Birds

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The Conference of the Birds, by Farid ud-Din Attar, with Rafiq Abdulla It was only after I read this book--introduction and all--that I figured out that it's really selections from a longer poem.  It's only mentioned in one spot that I nearly missed!  So now I feel kind of dumb, but I did enjoy the poetry and maybe someday I'll find the whole thing.  I have no idea how long it is. The Conference of the Birds is a Sufi poem, a sort of allegory of humanity's journey to God.  All the birds of the world meet together, and the hoopoe encourages them all to look for the Simurgh, the King of Birds--that is, God.  The hoopoe is their spiritual leader, wiser than the rest, and he tells them that the journey is long and difficult, but nothing else is worthwhile. The birds are at first happy enough to look for the Simurgh, but when they realize how arduous the quest will be, they start dropping out and giving excuses.  The sparrow is afraid, the owl doesn't have the e

Faerie Queene Readalong Book III, Part I

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I think we have all slowed down just a bit with the Faerie Queene project, but I did keep going!  I decided that I want to post for each half-book instead of waiting to finish an entire book at a time.  I finished the first half of Book III not too long after I got home from the UK, but then I had to get around to writing the post....so after I finish this I'll go back to Book III and see what Britomart gets up to. Book III's theme is Chastity , with Britomart its champion.  That doesn't mean that she is never going to get married!  In fact, the whole theme of the book is Britomart's love for her knight (Sir Artegall, who represents Justice ).  Britomart has never met him yet, but she's in love and has to learn to control her passions in order to find a true, chaste married love, which is holy, ordered, and fruitful.  She starts off a somewhat clueless teenage girl....but let's take this in order. Canto I starts with Arthur and Guyon resting at Alma's

The Fair of St. James

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The Fair of St. James , by Eleanor Farjeon It's hard for me to describe exactly what it was that Eleanor Farjeon did.  She's a little odd.  She wrote fairy tales, really; mostly for children, but sometimes for grownups.  And they're fairy tales with a particular light and airy quality; usually English, but with a French flair.  A few times, she mentions Watteau in her stories, and I think that's a clue--she wrote stories that could be painted by Watteau.  She also loves to put stories within stories, and sometimes will produce a book structured like the Decameron or Canterbury Tales . Pilgrimage to Cythera, 1717, by Watteau The Fair of St. James is certainly a fairy tale for grownups.  Laura and her husband Jimmy are touring France, and they stop in an enchanting country town.  A nearby deserted field has a gate that says "Foire St. Jacques," and that evening, Laura enters the Fair -- which hasn't existed for years -- and also searches for Jacque

UK Trip XIV: Winchester and Chawton

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Our final day was a bonus, because we hadn't expected to have all day to drive in.  Our plan was to get from Salisbury to Heathrow by late afternoon, so we could stay at a large motel right by the airport and not have to worry about getting to our flight.  We debated what to do and settled on visiting Winchester and then Chawton.  They were good choices! Arriving in Winchester, we parked at a teeny little lot fairly close to the cathedral, mostly because of Fiona the sat-nav.  Winchester is quite tricky to drive in and I think we might have passed the large statue of Alfred the Great more than once!  We thought we would just pop into the cathedral and not stay very long, because we had seen at least one church per day and honestly, we were pretty cathedraled out, despite being pretty dedicated fans.  Two hours later, we exited the cathedral, exclaiming over what a fascinating place it is! Winchester Cathedral was first founded in 642; that old building is known as the Old Mi