Sunday, December 30, 2018

Best Books of 2018

Time for me to figure out the best of the books I read in the past year.  Goodreads tells me that I read just about 180 books this year (at least, it says 179, but I know I can finish one in the next couple of days!).  I looked over my list, and I read a lot of good stuff this year, but not many things stand out to me as fabulous, memorable reads that I was really thrilled about -- just one or two, which you'll find at the end of the post.  Still, there was plenty of good material, and here are my favorites:

Miss Mackenzie, by Anthony Trollope:  Miss Mackenzie is not your average novelistic heroine.  She is thirty-five, not particularly beautiful or educated...  I love Trollope, and this novel did not disappoint.

Jim Henson, the Biography, by Brian Jay Jones: Henson did a lot of inventing all the time, right from the beginning, and developed lots of things that became television standards -- or stretched the boundaries so far that they didn't quite work yet.  He was forever seeing possibilities that wouldn't really be feasible for years....  What a nice biography of a wonderful genius of a man.

Towers in the Mist, by Elizabeth GoudgeThe house is almost as much a character as the rest of the family, and apparently it was Goudge's actual home while her father worked at Oxford.  She seems to have populated her lonely house with plenty of company! ...I think this might be the story where Goudge allows herself to have the most fun in an adult novel.   An enchanting historical novel.

The Infernal Library: On Dictators, the Books They Wrote, and Other Catastrophes of Literacy, by Daniel Kalder: a tour of the terrible, awful literary productions of 20th century dictators, from Lenin on down.  The material is no fun, but he helps the reader survive with a large dose of wit... This one was pretty irresistible.

The Dawning, by Milka Bajic-Poderegin...Poderegin shows a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society in which people mostly get along most of the time. There is some strife, especially when conditions are uncertain, and everybody has their flaws, but there is a quiet insistence that it's better to be courteous, friendly, and to live together under the conditions that nobody around here created anyway...  I loved this captivating novel about a historical period that we Westerners don't usually know anything about.

Constellation Myths, by Eratosthanes and Hyginus,  with Aratus' Phaenomena:   For the most part it was all seen as a fun game of appealing stories, and not as proper religious history.....And the stories are so old that not everything is quite as we now know it yet... I was so grateful for the chance to learn more about the origin of stories I've known all my life, but only in children's versions.

Dragon Ascending, by Amy BeattyHis plan was to find his long-missing king and rescue him.  Instead, he's broken and imprisoned, and so are his friends -- except the one lying dead on the table, being dissected...   This was my best new fantasy author of the year, and she has another book out now, Dancing With the Viper, that I'm looking forward to reading.

My two favorite books of the year are both non-fiction:

Danubia, by Simon Winder:  From an American perspective, it's interesting and fun to read dubious legends about Magyar descent from the Huns.  All too easily, however, all this folklore and poetry and longing for the beautiful motherland tips into ethnic rivalry and calls for national autonomy (and of course, the obligatory anti-Semitism).  And incredibly soon, that turns into war, pogroms, ethnic cleansing, and genocide....  Entertaining travel book, and thoughtful commentary on the dangers of nationalism; how can you lose?

Meetings With Remarkable Manuscripts: Twelve Journeys Into the Medieval World, by Christopher de Hamel:    He's really trying to give the reader some impression of what it's really like to sit and study the actual manuscript, and in fact he often exhorts us to go out, find whatever old books are locally available, and figure out some reason to request a real viewing....there are loads of fascinating manuscripts around and we don't need to read about the same 8 books all the time.   I absolutely loved this wonderful book.

I think 2018 was a pretty good year, reading-wise, even if real life was often pretty rough.  Here's hoping that 2019 will bring more good books and better times for all, too.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

The Giant 2018 Challenge Wrapup Post

I'm running out of time to wrap up this year, so here are the results of my 2018 challenges!

Back to the Classics: FINISHED 12/12

1.  A 19th Century Classic -- Miss Mackenzie, by Anthony Trollope
2.  A 20th Century Classic -- The Third Policeman, by Flann O'Brien
3.  A Classic by a Woman Author And So Flows History, by Hahn Moo-Sook
4.  A Classic in Translation.-- The Dawning, by Milka Bajic Poderegin
5.  A children's classic.  -- The Wonderful Garden, by E. Nesbit
A classic crime story, fiction or non-fiction.  -- Greenmantle, by John Buchan
A classic travel or journey narrative, fiction or non-fiction. -- Rasselas, by Samuel Johnson
A classic with a single-word title.  -- Walpurgisnacht, by Gustav Meyrink
A classic with a color in the title. --
The White Devil, by John Webster
A classic by an author that's new to you. -- Pan Tadeusz, by Adam Mickiewicz
A classic that scares you. --
Glass Bead Game, by Hermann Hesse
Re-read a favorite classic. 
-- Keep the Aspidistra Flying, by George Orwell

Adam's TBR Challenge: FINISHED 12 +1/12
  1. Early Christian Writings (a collection)
  2. Rasselas, by Samuel Johnson
  3. Pan Tadeusz, by Adam Mickiewicz 
  4. Individualism and Economic Order, by F. A. Hayek
  5. Lectures on Russian Literature, by Nabokov
  6. Memoirs of the Crusades
  7. Confronting the Classics, by Mary Beard
  8. 800 Years of Women's Letters (a collection)
  9. Danubia, by Simon Winder
  10. Home and Exile by Chinua Achebe
  11. The Sea and Poison, by Shusaku Endo
  12. Libraries in the Ancient World, by Lionel Casson
  13. Fire in the Bones, by Wilcox (a biography of Tyndale)
  14. The Story of Science, by Susan Wise Bauer (my guru!)

Bev's Mount TBR Challenge: FINISHED with over 30/24 titles (post coming soon!)

European Reading Challenge: FINISHED with 10/5 titles, disappointingly low
  1. The Third Policeman, by Flann O'Brien (Ireland)
  2. The Age of Bede (UK)
  3.  I Grew Up in Latvia (Latvia)
  4.  Pan Tadeusz, by Adam Mickiewicz (Poland)
  5. Walpurgisnacht, by Gustav Meyrink (Czechia)
  6. The Dawning, by Milka Bajic Poderegin (Montenegro)
  7. Everything Happens As It Does, by Albena Stambolova (Bulgaria)
  8. The Sibyl, by Par Lagerkvist (Sweden)
  9. The Glass Bead Game, by Hermann Hesse (Germany)
  10.  Memoirs of the Crusades (France)
Update on Reading All Around the World (started January 2017): I'm at 42 countries -- almost 25%.

Update on Classics Club, List II (started March 2017): 53 titles out of almost 200. 

Friday, December 28, 2018

2019 Chunkster Challenge

I think this is my last one...really!  I haven't done a chunkster challenge in a while, and I have quite a few piled up around here, so here we go.  Becky at Becky's Book Reviews is hosting, and I'm putting all the rules here so I don't forget, because there's a whole system!

2019 Chunkster Challenge
Host: Becky's Book Reviews (sign up here)
Duration: December 2018 - December 2019
# of books: Ultimately up to you

The mission: see how many points you can earn reading chunksters in 2019. Can you earn 100 points and get that A+?

Each book will have a point value attached to it. Bonus points are possible so you can earn extra credit to help you get that perfect grade.

E-books do count if their print counterparts are over 450 pages.
Audio books, if unabridged, DO count if their print counterparts are over 450 pages. 
If a book is over 450 in large print, but NOT over 450 in regular print, then it doesn't count. 

Point System


  • Middle Grade and Young Adult Novels over 450 pages -- 3 points
  • Middle Grade and Young Adult Novels over 700 pages -- 5 points
  • Adult Novels over 450 pages -- 5 points
  • Adult Novels over 825 pages -- 10 points
  • Nonfiction over 450 pages, any age audience -- 5 points
  • Anthologies (short stories, plays, essays, sermons, poetry) over 450 pages, any audience, 3 points*
  • Omnibus edition of an author's work over 450 pages, 3 points**
  • If you complete an entire series and each of the books in the series qualifies as a chunkster, you earn an additional bonus point. 
  • If you read four or more (series OR non-series books) by the same author--each one qualifying as a chunkster--you earn an additional bonus point.
  • If you read a chunkster that has been translated into English, you earn an additional bonus point. 
  • If you read two or more new-to-you authors, you earn an additional bonus point.
  • For every chunkster classic you read that was published before 1800, you earn an extra two points.
  • For every chunkster classic you read that was published before 1900, you earn an extra one point. 
  • If you choose to make a list, you can give yourself an extra point every time you finish a book from the list. 

I don't think I can earn 100 points, but I can see how it goes.  Excelsior!

Thursday, December 27, 2018

TBR Challenge 2019

Yes, I already have one TBR challenge, but this is a different one, and I like both.  Adam at Roof Beam Reader has different rules, which are:

The Goal: To finally read 12 books from your “to be read” pile (within 12 months). Specifics: 1. Each of these 12 books must have been on your bookshelf or “To Be Read” list for AT LEAST one full year. This means the book cannot have a publication date of 1/1/2018 or later (any book published in the year 2017 or earlier qualifies, as long as it has been on your TBR pile). Caveat: Two (2) alternates are allowed, just in case one or two of the books end up in the “can’t get through” pile. 2. To be eligible, you must sign-up with the Mr. Linky below. Link to your list (so create it ahead of time!) and add updated links to each book’s review. Books must be read and must be reviewed (doesn’t have to be too fancy) in order to count as completed.
...and so on.  Head over there for more details!

So, here's my list!
  1.  Undine and Other Stories, by Friedrich de la Motte Fouquée
  2.  Black Earth: the Holocaust as History and Warning, by Timothy Snyder
  3. The Book of Red Hanrahan. by W. B. Yeats
  4. The Claverings, by Anthony Trollope
  5. Kappa, by Ryunosuke Akutagawa
  6. Roderick Random, by Tobias Smollett
  7. Individualism and Economic Order, by F. A. Hayek
  8. Elizabeth and Her German Garden, by Elizabeth von Arnim
  9. A House Full of Females, by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
  10. Our Mutual Friend, by Charles Dickens
  11. Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloan
  12. Jerusalem: the Eternal City, by Galbraith Ogden Skinner
  1. The Death of the Grown-Up, by Diana West
  2. The Obedience of a Christian Man, by William Tyndale

Wish me luck!  This year I didn't manage one title -- the Hayek one that is back on the list -- though I have completed the challenge.  I shall conquer Hayek in 2019!

The Shepherd's Castle

The Shepherd's Castle, by George MacDonald

You may well know of George MacDonald, a Scottish minister who wrote a lot of books and was a great inspiration to C. S. Lewis.  He wrote some children's fairy tales that are real classics, such as At the Back of the North Wind and The Princess and Curdie, and he wrote a couple of fantasy novels, Lilith and Phantastes, that are very strange indeed and must-reads for those interested in pre-Tolkien fantasy literature.  MacDonald also wrote a stack of realistic, romantic novels that have practically disappeared, except for the most well-known, Sir Gibbie.  (I have an old copy that had disappeared, but I just found it again!) 

Well, interesting things come across the donation table, and one was a copy of one of these romantic novels, The Shepherd's Castle, in a 1983 reprint from Bethany House; they published four of these stories.  This one is a companion to Sir Gibbie.  Now that we have all that background...

Donal is a young man from a shepherding background who has been fortunate in obtaining an education, and he's looking for a job.  He becomes a tutor to a little boy, younger son of an earl; a lady cousin, Arctura, owns the estate, but she has always let her uncle run it.  The castle holds secrets!  Ghostly music plays when the wind blows, there's a legend of a lost room, and the earl has a serious drug habit.  Using the power of common sense, Donal, Arctura, and little Davie explore the roofs and find the source of the music.  It's up to Donal to figure out the rest of the mystery and protect Arctura from an increasingly unbalanced and angry earl...

I enjoyed this story a lot; it was really fun, although it comes with an unnecessarily tragic ending.  It's much as though a Three Investigators book were written by a very religious Victorian.  MacDonald must have been an enemy of old-school Scottish Presbyterianism; Donal, an ideal young Scot, teaches Christianity in a very different fashion that raises a lot of hackles.

So, a fun read that put me in the mood to stay in Scotland, literarily speaking.  Maybe it's time to start that Boswell.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

January Event: Vintage SciFi Month

You know I love me a January filled with vintage sci-fi!  Little Red Reviewer is once again holding her traditional January event, and I'm ready.  Here's the deal, in Red's own words:

I’ve been hosting this little party since 2012, by reading and celebrating science fiction and fantasy that is older than I am – that is, created in 1979 or earlier.  Over the years, the party has grown!  it’s grown so big I can’t host it alone anymore.  Red Star Reviews is my fantastic co-host, and we’ll be posting, tweeting, retweeting, insta-ing, tubing, and a bunch of other cool stuff.

Follow us on twitter at , find us on bookstagram, mention us on YouTube, retweet and share what your friends are doing.  January is a wibbly wobbly timey wimey kind of month.

The book donation table makes this easy.  I've been picking things out here and there all year.  I wish more James Tiptree, Jr. would show up, though -- I only have one story.  Here's my current pile, except for the Aldiss books I found the other day and which are in my car which is in the shop.

Somebody must have been an Aldiss fan, I never see his stuff usually.  Anyhow, I hope you'll join me...

Monday, December 24, 2018

2019 European Reading Challenge

Here's another of my traditional challenges: Gilion at Rose City Reader's European Challenge.  I hope this will help me knock out some of the countries in my Reading All Around the World Project!    Here are the basics:
THE GIST: The idea is to read books by European authors or books set in European countries (no matter where the author comes from). The books can be anything – novels, short stories, memoirs, travel guides, cookbooks, biography, poetry, or any other genre. You can participate at different levels, but each book must be by a different author and set in a different country – it's supposed to be a tour. (See note about the UK, below.)
WHAT COUNTS AS "EUROPE"?: We stick with the standard list of 50 sovereign states that fall (at least partially) within the geographic territory of the continent of Europe and/or enjoy membership in international European organizations such as the Council of Europe. This list includes the obvious (the UK, France, Germany, and Italy), the really huge Russia, the tiny Vatican City, and the mixed bag of Baltic, Balkan, and former Soviet states.
Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Macedonia, Romania, Russia, San Marino, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, and Vatican City.
  • FIVE STAR (DELUXE ENTOURAGE): Read at least five books by different European authors or books set in different European countries.
  • FOUR STAR (HONEYMOONER): Read four qualifying books.
  • THREE STAR (BUSINESS TRAVELER): Read three qualifying books.
  • TWO STAR (ADVENTURER): Read two qualifying books.
  • ONE STAR (PENSIONE WEEKENDER): Read just one qualifying book.
I always figure on hitting more than five books. so I'm signing up for the five star level.

Little Book of Hygge

The Little Book of Hygge, by Meik Wiking

It's Christmas Eve, so what better time to talk about a book entirely about coziness?  I'm sure no Howling Frog readers have been able to avoid the hygge trend that swept the English-speaking world a couple of years ago.  I must confess that I mostly rolled my eyes at it, because hygge is a Danish thing, and I spent a year in Denmark, and therefore I already know about things hyggelige and I don't need a lifestyle editor in a magazine telling me about an expensive blanket I need to buy in order to achieve it.  But when this book came across the donation table, I saw that it was by an actual Danish guy and I thought I'd take a peek to find out if I should enjoy it or toss it.

And I enjoyed it.

So here we are.  An entire book about hygge.  And what is that (and how do you pronounce it*), exactly?  As most people have probably already heard, at hygge is to be cozy, relaxed, and friendly all at once.  You can hygge by yourself, but usually you'll do it with your family or best friends.  If you're hanging out with people you know really well, completely relaxed, with a few indulgent goodies on board and a minimum of screens lit up, you're doing fine.  Don't forget the candles!**  Hygge is not formal and it costs no money; if somebody tries to tell you that you need special accessories, they are wrong.

Wiking is the head of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, so he's put a lot of thought into this.  He's ready to prove, with statistics and charts, that periodically shutting the world out and focusing on simple pleasures with people we love is good for us.  Thus there are recipes, suggestions, and defenses of Danish home-decorating preferences.

Hygge can happen at any time of year, but winter is the absolute prime season.  Spending a day playing in the snow and then the evening relaxing with a book while a storm rages outside is pretty well the epitome of hygge, and Christmas (jul) is the most hyggeligt season of them all.  I got to feel pretty smug about the jul chapter, since I can weave julehjerter with the best of them and always have my own julekalenderlys.  Plus I can sing all the words to all the songs in the greatest TV Christmas countdown TV show ever made, Nissebanden i Grønland (Christmas Elves in Greenland).

julekalenderlys -- an advent calendar in meltable form

julehjerter -- woven pretties

So, yes, probably the thing I liked most about this book was the familiarity and nostalgia.  Wiking even mentioned that his favorite TV show of all time is the universally known drama Matador, which I now want to see again.  It's set 1929 - 1947 and follows people in a small town, where a new guy shows up and wants to start a business.  The town elites don't want to let him in, so he decides to crush them all -- though the next generation has different ideas.  Wiking notes that everybody in Denmark can quote this show, which must be true, because even I can.  You can watch it here but there are no subtitles available, so that's not very useful to anybody who doesn't speak Danish.

However, we can all remember to slow down, light a candle or two, and enjoy our people while we have them.  Which is really what Wiking is aiming for.  I decided to remember to have more candles and to freak out less.

And so, have a lovely Christmas, en glædelig jul, and I'll see you afterwards.


*Pronunciation: the best I've been able to come up with is to pronounce the y as you do the eu in Teuton; it's not an oo sound but kind of tighter.  Put your tongue up near the roof of your mouth and purse your lips up so there's a little rectangle open.  The e on the end is pronounced as a sort of schwa.  There.  Hygge.

** A note on candles: Danes like candles more than anybody, and consider them a necessity.  But they don't like scented candles at all.  Should you wish to indulge in candles in a Danish style, the cheapest box of tea lights will do just fine.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Virtual Mount TBR 2019

Bev is starting a corollary to her Mount TBR Challenge; the Virtual challenge, where you read books you've been meaning to read but don't actually own.  Like...library books!  Do you know how long my list of library books to read is?  (I don't.  It's really long.)  So, I haven't put all the rules here, but here are the basics:
This year, I decided to create a Virtual Mount TBR Reading Challenge Books for all those folks with mile-long "wish-list" of TBRs who would like a chance to climb as well. The strategy and general set-up is the same--except you don't have to own the books. Heard about a great book from a friend, took note of the title, and then never got around to reading it? Saw a book online that you thought sounded intriguing but you keep putting off ordering it up from the library? You borrowed a book from somebody and need an extra push to read it and return it? This is the place for you!
 Challenge Levels:
Mount Rum Doodle: Read 12 books

Mount Crumpit: Read 24 books 
Mount Munch: Read 36 books
White Plume Mountain: Read 48 books 
Stormness Head: Read 60 books 
Mount Mindolluin: Read 75 books 
Mount Seleya: Read 100 books
Mount Olympus: Read 150+ books 

    [In keeping with the virtual nature of the challenge, all mountains are fictional (references in comment below). How many do you recognize? The only one shared by both TBR challenges is Olympus--both fictional and on Mars. However, since I don't know actual heights, I have arbitrarily assigned the levels.]

 ~[UPDATE] Just to be clear: this challenge is only for books you do not own. They may be borrowed from the library, a friend, found on a free e-book site (like Project Gutenberg), or anywhere else that allows you to temporarily checkout the book. Also--unlike Mount TBR, there is no date limit on your wish list. If you see a book online that strikes your fancy after January 1 and you just have to go get it from the library, then it absolutely counts.

My library-books bookshelf is just as stuffed as my TBR bookshelf, so this will be good for me.  I am pretty much going to limit myself to books from the library that I've been meaning to read since before Jan. 1, 2019.  That is a lot of books.  I'll aim for Mount Crumpit, 24 books.  Also, I think the image for this challenge is great!

Malgudi Days

Malgudi Days, by R. K. Narayan

Here's one I've been wanting to read for a long time.  R. K. Narayan used to relax by writing short stories about the imaginary town of Malgudi.  It's an average town somewhere in southern India, full of just ordinary people  -- who all have compelling stories of their own.  These stories were written over 40 years.

Most of the stories are quite short, and tell about one particular person: a gardener, a retired official, a street vendor, a knife-sharpener.  Some of the more humorous tales are told by 'the Talkative Man,' who always has an odd episode to narrate, like the time he won a road engine at a fair, and the terrible consequences.  (A road engine appears to be something like a steamroller or a small locomotive; it's mechanical, huge, and takes skill to drive.)   A good number of the stories have ironic finishes, but not so many that it's tiresome.  They're often comments on Indian governance or culture.

I particularly remember stories about:

a little girl and a father who long to spend time together, but he has to work such long hours that he hardly gets to see her,
a stray dog that attaches itself to a blind beggar, who is able to earn a better living...but turns the dog into a slave,
a boy whose father deserts him, leaving their cobra and monkey behind,
an overly worried mother and her slacker son...

It's a lovely collection of stories, and I enjoyed it so much.  It presents a kaleidoscope of average, interesting, unique people that adds up to a portrait of India.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Mount TBR 2019

Naturally, even though I've read 30 or so books from my TBR pile in 2018, the pile seems to be bigger than ever.  Much of this can be blamed on my donated-book-sorting gig, since the books are free and I can just put them back on the table afterwards.  It's practically ideal; the only problems are to find time to read them, and space to hold them until I'm done!

And so I must once again sign up for Bev's Mount TBR Challenge.  The deal is almost (but not quite) the same as before, and the basics are as follows:
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

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. 

*REVISED REREAD RULE: Any reread may count, regardless of how long you've owned it prior to 2019, provided you have not read it in last five years (my arbitrary time limit) and have not counted it for a previous Mount TBR Challenge.

As I've done the last couple of years, I'll be aiming at Mount Blanc: 24 books.  Let's hope I can manage that many!  I sure need to; check out this bookshelf.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Back to the Classics 2019

It's about time I started signing up for 2019 challenges!  I am pretty sure that I will not be able to read as much as I want to in, at least, the spring semester of 2019 (I will be working a good deal more), so I'm going to try to go pretty easy.  That means that I'll still sign up for things, but I'll sign up for lower levels and not expect too much of myself.

That said, here's a perennial favorite of mine: Back to the Classics, hosted by Karen of Books and Chocolate.  Karen says:

  • Complete six categories, and you'll get one entry in the drawing; 
  • Complete nine categories, and you'll get two entries in the drawing; 
  • Complete all twelve categories, and you'll get three entries in the drawing

1. 19th Century Classic. Any classic book originally published between 1800 and 1899.

2. 20th Century Classic. Any classic book originally published between 1900 and 1969. All books in this category must have been published at least 50 years ago. The only exceptions are books that were published posthumously but were written at least 50 years ago. 

3. Classic by a Female Author.

4. Classic in Translation. Any classic originally written in a novel other than your native language. You may read the book in your native language, or its original language (or a third language for all you polyglots!) Modern translations are acceptable, as long as the book was originally published at least 50 years ago. Books in translation are acceptable in all other categories as well.

5. Classic Comedy. Any comedy or humorous work. Humor is very subjective, so if you think Crime and Punishment is hilarious, go ahead and use it, but if it's a work that's traditionally not considered humorous, please tell us why in your post. 

6. Classic Tragedy. Tragedies traditionally have a sad ending, but just like the comedies, this is up for the reader to interpret. 

7. Very Long Classic. Any classic single work 500 pages or longer, not including introductions or end notes. Omnibus editions of multiple works do not count. Since page counts can vary depending on the edition, average the page count of various editions to determine the length.

8. Classic Novella. Any work of narrative fiction shorter than 250 pages. 

9. Classic From the Americas (includes the Caribbean). Includes classic set in either continent or the Caribbean, or by an author originally from one of those countries. Examples include Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (United States); Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys (Jamaica); or One Hundred Years of Solitude (Columbia/South America). 

10. Classic From Africa, Asia, or Oceania (includes Australia). Any classic set in one of those contents or islands, or by an author from these countries. Examples include Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz (Egypt); The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki (Japan); On the Beach by Nevile Shute (Australia); Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (Nigeria). 

11. Classic From a Place You've Lived. Read locally! Any classic set in a city, county, state or country in which you've lived. Choices for me include Giant by Edna Ferber (Texas); Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser (Chicago); and Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann (Germany). 

12. Classic Play. Any play written or performed at least 50 years ago. Plays are eligible for this category only.

Some of these are tricky!  I'll have to find a tragedy and a comedy that are not plays, and I might have to read some Steinbeck for that 'place I've lived' category.  (Are there any classics set in Berkeley?  Chico?  Hmmm)

As usual, I won't be picking out books ahead of time, and I may wind up only hitting six or nine rather than all twelve as has been my habit.

Monday, December 17, 2018

2019 Georgian Reading Challenge

Here's one I've never done before: a Georgian Reading Challenge, hosted by Becky at Becky's Book Reviews.  Becky says:

Duration: December 1, 2018 - December 31, 2019
# of books: minimum four

Georgian Era can be defined as either 1714-1830 OR 1744-1837. You may choose how you want to define it in terms of the reading challenge. It covers the reigns of George I, George II, George III, and George IV of England. (If you go with the later definition, it also includes the oh-so-brief reign of William IV.) This includes the REGENCY PERIOD but is more inclusive.

There will be seven check-in posts. February 16, 2019; April 6, 2019; May 18, 2019; July 6, 2019; September 7, 2019; November 2, 2019. December 28, 2019.

"Official" theme song: Born 2 Rule (The Four Georges)

What counts:

  • Novels, poems, plays, short stories, novellas, letters, diaries, essays, nonfiction published in Great Britain (or its colonies) during the Georgian era. 
  • Nonfiction books published about the Georgian era. Including, of course, biographies on the royal family. 
  • Historical fiction set during the Georgian era. 
  • Books, e-books, audio books.  
  • Movies and television series set during this period--if you review them--can count. But try to keep things balanced.
You may make a list if you want to plan ahead...or read according to your whimsy.
I have a couple of Georgian novels on my TBR pile and maybe this will help me get to them!  A minimum of FOUR is a little daunting, I must say.  I don't think I can read four Georgian novels.  But Boswell's Journey to the Hebrides would count too, and I could read a history book or some Rambler essays.  The 18th century isn't one of my big favorites, but perhaps it will become such.

I declare my Georgian Era to be 1714 - 1830.  I shall eschew all things Williamite!  Sorry, William.

Family Letters: Parents and Children

The only image on the whole web!
The Marginalia Book of Family Letters: Parents and Children, ed. by Jan Fielden

A while back, I read a book of women's letters that had been sitting on my shelf forever and realized that I mostly don't like books of letters.  Which was a problem, since I had another epistolary collection on the shelf.  I considered just donating it without trying to read it, but I figured I'd give it a go first.  And I'm glad I did, because I liked this one a lot better.

This is a collection of letters specifically between parents and children.  It's arranged chronologically, pretty much, starting with a few Greek and Roman letters and ending up with the Vietnam War.  There are fascinating medieval letters about estate management, quite a few epistles from famous composers and writers (Mozart, Goethe, Joyce, all the way down to Lawrence Durrell), letters from soldiers at various fronts, and just ordinary letters.  There's a good mixture of famous people, eminent but forgotten people, and just ordinary folks.

Why did I like this collection better?  Well for one thing, it didn't have little introductory essays for each section; that helped.  It just said who the writers were and didn't try to generalize.  I preferred the chronological order over topical sections.  This collection didn't try to pretend to be global (I was really put off by the inclusion of fictional African letters in the last one, even though I love the novel they're from), but was almost entirely focused just on Europe.  There were hardly any letters even from the US.  And I felt that the selection was just more interesting and varied. 

I probably won't read ANY more collections of historical letters, but I'm not sorry I read this one before getting rid of it.

This book was published in 1995 and apparently sank without a ripple; it's practically unlisted, but when it is, it's worth about a buck fifty.  There is just one quite bad photo of it on the entire internet.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Challenge Quilt 2018

About a month ago I wrote a little newsy post in which I mentioned I was finishing up a challenge quilt for my guild, and that the quilt had a connection with my blog here too.  The other night, we had our December meeting and showed off all the quilts, and it was quite fun.  So now I can show you all too!

The rules were that it had to be 24" square or less, and feature an animal.  Well, for years I'd been meaning to embroider my blog motto, "To be literate is to possess the cow of plenty."  I wanted to embroider a cow of plenty, but obviously it had to be an Indian cow of plenty, and when I first thought of it, line drawings of Indian cows were hard to come by.  Since then, mehndi and coloring books have both become popular, and so I was able to find several Indian cows, which I sort of melded into a cow I liked.  I bought silk dupioni with the intent of using a classic Indian color combination: blue, peacock, pink, and orange.  And so here is my cow of plenty:

The green is really peacock, not pine.
I don't think the quilt's full splendor can be appreciated with a not-very-good photo, but you can sort of see.  It certainly is an odd little quilt, isn't it? 

There's been other guild news too; quilt donations poured in for fire victims, and so the guild has been giving quilts away.  They kind of ran out yesterday, in fact, but more are coming, and we hope to continue for a few months.  Other post-fire news....well, we got a lot of rain and had some flooding.  Now everybody is scrambling for housing and it's a real mess of a problem.  FEMA is supposed to be bringing in trailers but there are far too many people for just one solution to work.  Things are getting sorted out, slowly.

Today was the last day of my semester.  My kid survived the first semester of college!  I wrote a bunch of citation guides!  And now I'm ready to start getting ready for Christmas.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

The Child From the Sea

The Child From the Sea, by Elizabeth Goudge

I picked this up (I've been saving it) because I thought I'd like a lift, and Goudge novels are generally guaranteed to produce some nice feelings.  I have to say, this one is a bit different!  It doesn't have a happy ending, there's a lot of tragedy, it's more of a tough read than I expected.  It is, after all, historical fiction based on a real person's life and that person had a tough time.

In the novel, we meet Lucy as a small child living on the Welsh coast in an old and battered, but mostly functioning, castle in about 1636.  She loves her home and her family, which is beautifully evoked, but there are also shadows at the edges, as English politics are becoming divided between Puritans for the Parliament and Cavaliers for the royal family.  Charles I is on the throne.  As Lucy grows up, she meets other children in influential families, and even becomes a little acquainted with  Charles, the Prince of Wales.

Lucy's family breaks up, and so does her castle home, which is ruined in a battle when the Puritans take over the area.  In her mid-teens, she meets up with Charles again, and they fall deeply in love.  He spends a lot of his time in traveling or hiding, but eventually they meet again and, rather than the affair Charles expects, they are secretly married.  Charles stays for only a few days, and then he goes into hiding for two years.

Lucy occupies herself with caring for her parents (seperately), and then goes to Holland in hopes of meeting Charles.  For the next ten years, she is known publicly as Charles' mistress, sees him only rarely, bears two children, and lives an extremely difficult life as everyone else hopes to prove the marriage invalid.

It's a tearjerker of a novel and after the first, sunny half, did not cheer me up one bit.  It is, however, beautifully written and full of Goudge's trademark insight and love of beauty.

I did wonder how historically accurate it could be.  Set against the Stuart court and the English Civil War, Lucy appears improbably lovely of character.  I looked up a sketch of the real Lucy Walter's life, and wow, most of what I found was highly judgy.  Goudge did play fast and loose with some historical detail, especially the nature of the marriage (history says that if it existed at all, it was performed by a particular minister, while Goudge has a whole subplot of two characters and renders the wedding certificate truly invalid).  Everything else was difficult to ascertain, since the biographical sketches characterized her in terms just as unlikely, but opposite in character to how Goudge drew her, and not much is known for certain anyhow.

It's a really good novel, but a tearjerker.  It's very enjoyable historical fiction, in that Goudge is excellent at producing an atmosphere with wonderful detail that feels more authentic (to this nitpicky reader) than historical fiction usually does.  But as far as the actual details of Lucy's life go, I think they were somewhat beautified and changed for artistry.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Memoirs of the Crusades

Memoirs of the Crusades, by Geoffroy de Villehardouin and Jean de Joinville

I've had this kind of ancient Everyman paperback book on my shelves forever, and it's high time I got around to reading it.  The trouble is, while I love medieval literature, I find war stories -- that is, accounts of battles -- to be fairly boring, so it was hard to pick up.  But really, these memoirs were pretty fun to read and contained some entertaining moments amid the incredible misery of Crusader life.  Neither Villehardouin nor de Joinville are all that interested in recounting miseries; they skim over a lot of that.  Being in charge probably helped that part too.

Both of these men were French (Franks, in their terms), and highly placed in their homelands and in the crusading hierarchies.  They served in different crusades and went to completely different locations, and neither of their crusades accomplished the stated goal of conquering Jerusalem (again).

Villehardouin was Marshal of Champagne, and served as an ambassador to Venice at the start of the Fourth Crusade, joining at the very start in 1199.  Off he went to Venice to commission a fleet of ships, and all went well until a zillion Crusaders showed up and couldn't pay the agreed price for the fleet.  The Venetians proposed a solution: get Zara (A Croatian city they were always fighting over) for us and we'll call it even.  So off most of the Crusaders went to conquer Zara, which wasn't exactly Crusading but it seemed like a good idea at the time (well, the Pope didn't agree and excommunicated them all, but never mind).  And then they started for Jerusalem.

But!  On the way, young Alexios, crown prince of Constantinople, showed up asking for help.  His uncle had usurped the throne, blinded the king, and thrown him in jail.  Alexios offered a deal: help me get my father back on the throne, and we'll pay you back with supplies and money for the Crusade.  Well, this seemed like a fine plan and very righteous, since God doesn't approve of usurpers, so off they went to Constantinople, where they promptly got mired into an utter mess of local politics.  Alexios got the throne but didn't want to pay, there was a popular uprising, the Crusders decided to just conquer the place....and they never did get past Constantinople. 

The whole story reads like one of those quest video games where you can get caught in endless side quests until you forget what exactly it was you were going to do.  Villehardouin spent years and years at all this; the Fourth Crusade lasted (officially) 1202 - 1204, but this story covers much more time than that, and I don't think Villehardouin ever went home, though he lived until at least 1209.

Joinville is really writing a biography of his king, Saint Louis (Louis IX of France), but much of it takes place during the Seventh Crusade (1248 - 1254).  Joinville served as seneschal of Champagne, and was a close advisor to the king during the crusade.  Louis was extremely pious, and seems to have been about the only king who wanted to go crusading that year, so he got it all together himself and simply poured money into the venture.  A Crusade was the money pit to rule all other money pits, and would eat every bit of treasure anybody had.

First they went to winter on Cyprus and talk with other eastern leaders about what to do.  Everybody wanted help -- Templars in Syria, Latins in Acre, and so on -- but Louis, confusingly, wanted to go to Babylon in Egypt.  Babylon is what the crusaders called Cairo.  Louis figured that once they had Babylon, with all that grain and wealth, it would be a good place to launch to Jerusalem.

Naturally, it all turned into a muddle.  Fighting with the Saracens (Egyptians), allying with Mamluks, mostly getting taken prisoner or getting very sick.  The best Louis could manage was to garrison Acre a bit.

All that is not really the focus of the story, though, which is all about how great Louis is, plus Joinville's personal experiences.  Joinville got taken prisoner, and there are various stories about inside politics or family matters, and some local color too:
[about the Nile and where spices come from]    Before the river enters into Egypt, people who are accustomed so to do, cast their nets out-spread into the river, at night; and when morning comes they find in their nets such goods as are sold by weight, and brought into the land,  viz., ginger, rhubarb, wood of aloes and cinnamon. And it is said that these things come from the earthly paradise; for the wind blows down the trees in paradise, just as the wind blows down the dry wood in the forests of our own land; and the dry wood of the trees in paradise  that thus falls into the river is sold to us by the merchants. The water of the river is of such a nature, that when we had put it into white earthenware pots that are made in the land, and hung it to the ropes of our pavilions, it became, in the heat of the day, as cold as if drawn from a well. 

The food they [Saracens] gave us was fritters of cheese roasted in the sun so that worms should not come therein, and hard-boiled eggs cooked four or five days before; and these, in our honour, had been painted outside with divers colours.

While the king was at Sayette they brought him a stone that broke in flakes, the most marvellous stone in the world; and when you scaled off one of the flakes, you found, between the two stones, the form of a sea-fish. The fish was of stone; but it wanted nothing in form, eyes, bones, nor colour, nor anything else, to make it otherwise than if it were alive. The king gave me one of these stones, and I found therein a tench, brown of colour, and of such fashion as a tench ought to be.
I also found out a little more than I wanted to know about Louis' health, as he insisted upon going out with his men in this condition:
...because of the condition of his body, which was afflicted by several diseases, for he had a double tertian fever, and a very sore dysentery, and the special sickness of the host in his mouth and legs.  [Tertian fever seems to be malaria, but I don't know what 'sickness of the host' means.]

I'll spare you the rest.  I'm glad I finally got around to reading these interesting (if gory) memoirs.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Back to the Classics 2018: Wrap-up

I've done it!  I was a bit worried about finding that crime classic (what a relief that spy novels count!).  But I've successfully finished all twelve categories for Karen's Back to the Classics Challenge.  I have thus earned three entries in the drawing!  Karen mandates that we include a contact address in the post, so here it is: jkleek at gmail dot com, which is the one on my profile.

The twelve categories and titles are:

1.  A 19th Century Classic -- Miss Mackenzie, by Anthony Trollope
2.  A 20th Century Classic -- The Third Policeman, by Flann O'Brien 3.  A Classic by a Woman Author And So Flows History, by Hahn Moo-Sook
4.  A Classic in Translation.-- The Dawning, by Milka Bajic Poderegin
5.  A children's classic.  -- The Wonderful Garden, by E. Nesbit
A classic crime story, fiction or non-fiction.  -- Greenmantle, by John Buchan
A classic travel or journey narrative, fiction or non-fiction. -- Rasselas, by Samuel Johnson
A classic with a single-word title.  -- Walpurgisnacht, by Gustav Meyrink
A classic with a color in the title. --
The White Devil, by John Webster
A classic by an author that's new to you. -- Pan Tadeusz, by Adam Mickiewicz
A classic that scares you. --
Glass Bead Game, by Hermann Hesse
Re-read a favorite classic. 
-- Keep the Aspidistra Flying, by George Orwell
I'm looking forward to the 2019 challenge!  I always have fun with this one.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Lost At Sea

Lost At Sea: The Jon Ronson Mysteries, by Jon Ronson

Here's the second half of my Jon Ronson spree.  This is a collection of pieces that, as far as I know, all appeared elsewhere before being collected.  They're pretty random; from stories about artificial intelligence to Stanley Kubrick to the injustices home chemists can face, Ronson will follow anyone and chronicle anything interesting.  How about Indigo children?  Sylvia Brown?

The first piece is about the Insane Clown Posse, who I hadn't heard anything about in years, but guess what, they announced some time back that they are devoted Christians!  Foul-mouthed Christians who rap about extreme violence, but Christians nonetheless.  They were disappointed by the reaction they got.

I had fun with a hysterical piece written for Ian Fleming's 100th birthday, in which Ronson talks himself into a sponsored road trip that re-creates James Bond's road trip in Goldfinger.  This is from London to Geneva in an Aston Martin DB3.  Ronson claims to be uninterested in cars, but does eventually realize the joys of effortlessly driving 100mph.  Sadly, he doesn't get to drive the car straight on to an airplane to fly to France, but has to take the ferry.  Also, it turns out that while fictional Bond is capable of eating large amounts of rich food and swilling it down with a truly incredible amount of alcohol while also spending two days sitting in a car, a real person is not.

There's a really strange story about a long-beloved BBC announcer fellow who got a little too into the story he was telling about euthanasia, and confessed to mercy-killing a boyfriend on television despite not actually having done any such thing.  I guess euthanasia was kind of a theme, because much further on, there was a piece about a guy who helps people commit suicide.  Usually they are the people that the mainstream euthanasia advocates won't touch.

North Pole, Alaska, is a town that wants to be known as Santa's home.  It's Christmas all year round at North Pole, which some people love, but it sounds awful to me (and several residents seem to agree).  Ronson wants to understand North Pole, and also to understand why a group of 13-year-olds would hatch a plot to commit a mass shooting.

Did you know that the amount of credit-card junk mail you get is directly based on what kind of person they figure you are?  

One quite long story focused on Jonathan King, who I had never heard of, but who was hugely influential in British pop in the 70s and 80s.  He 'discovered' bands like Genesis and so on.  And he also hung out in discos, doing market research.... and plying teen boys with alcohol and then molesting them.  His trial started in 2001 and it was a big deal in Britain.  The age of consent in the UK is 16, which may be all well and good when it's teens, but also gives a jaw-dropping amount of leeway to adults willing to pressure kids into sex.  Some of the events described in this story are plain rape, but if boys were 16 or older, it didn't seem to matter; those were dropped.  And Ronson spends a dismaying amount of time musing upon whether it's homophobic to put famous men in jail for molesting 14 and 15-year-old boys when famous men get away with sleeping with 15-year-old girls fairly regularly.  (I would suggest that this reflects perhaps not so much homophobia as a total lack of care for teen girls.  It's no excuse that this was written 15 years ago; when I was in high school long before that, the coach who molested a teen athlete went to jail.)  But there's no doubt that King committed the crimes, and so he got a guilty verdict and went to jail.  Gaol, I guess. 

It's a collection packed with interesting and odd stories.  I was gripped, I learned interesting things, I would recommend it.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Wesley the Owl

Wesley the Owl: the Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl, by Stacey O'Brien

In 1985, a young Caltech biologist took home a newborn barn owl with a damaged wing.  He would never be able to live in the wild, so Stacey adopted him.  For the next 19 years, Stacey and Wesley were best friends.

O'Brien describes Wesley's life with great love and with scientific accuracy, introducing the rest of us to the world of barn owls.  It's completely fascinating, and also hilarious, and also tragic.  Wesley communicated in great detail with Stacey, had interesting preferences and a lot of emotions, and eventually helped her get through some extremely rough health problems.

Loved this book, am going to make my kids read it -- anybody who remotely likes animals will love it.  I am not an animal person and I did.  Oh, and Jim Henson studios is making a movie of it, so if you read it now, you'll be right on trend!

Here's a video with some nice pictures and footage: