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Showing posts from 2021

Summerbook #10: Last Hope Island

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  Last Hope Island: Briain, Occupied Europe, and the Brotherhood That Helped Turn the Tide of War, by Lynne Olson In 1939 and '40, as Germany was burning its way across Europe, a lot of people washed up on the shores of the UK.  Escaped soldiers and pilots, exiled government officials, and several royal personages arrived, desperate to continue fighting the Nazis.  Britain became the base of operations for their governments in exile, their efforts to rally their compatriots at home, and their resistance units.  Lynne Olson collects a whole bunch of these stories -- mostly about Norwegians, Czechs, Poles, French, Dutch, and Belgians -- and presents them in chronological order, telling us how these disparate, and often mutually suspicious, people found ways to work together to win the war.  The result is a fascinating narrative. What's really interesting about this book is that Olson, while fair, does not elide over British mistakes.  She is entirely clear that British officers t

Summerbook #9: The Heart of the Hunter

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The Heart of the Hunter: Customs and Myths of the African Bushman, by Laurens van der Post Here's a book I picked up from the donation table because it looked interesting, and because I wanted a Botswana book for my Reading All Around the World project.  Laurens van der Post seems to have had the most amazingly varied and interesting life, to the point that I'm going to have to make a list. Born 1906 in Orange River Colony (South Africa) 1926: wrote a satirical, anti-colonialism magazine  Argued against apartheid and openly said that the future would be mixed-race Hung out with the Bloomsbury circle and published a novel WWII, went as an officer with a force to restore the throne of Haile Selassie Taken prisoner by the Japanese, organized a 'camp university' Hung out with Carl Jung Spent a whole lot of time publicizing the plight of the San, then known pretty much only as the Bushmen.  Made films, collected folklore, argued for their protection, since they were being s

Summerbook #8: The Lady of Godey's

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 The Lady of Godey's: Sarah Josepha Hale, by Ruth E. Finley  I had never really heard of Sarah Josepha Hale, but was recommended this 1931 biography some time ago -- and what a great decision that was!  Anybody interested in women's history (or even American history) would do well to read this, because Hale should be far better known as a hero of American feminism. Born in 1788 in a tiny New Hampshire village, Hale was extremely fortunate in having a literate mother who believed in education for girls as well as boys.  At this time, fewer than half of American women could read and write.  When she married at 21, her husband encouraged her literary pursuits, and they loved to read aloud together in the evenings.  Mr. Hale died young, leaving a widow with five children to support, and so Mrs. Hale decided to make a living at what she did best.  She produced a novel and a good deal of poetry, and then she got a job offer: to edit and produce the first women's magazine in the

And the Spin number is...

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 The dice have been rolled, and the number is...SIX. My #6, terrifyingly, is the Popol Vuh , which I am very excited about reading, but also...boy are there a lot of explanatory notes!  I read a few pages of the introduction last night though, and excitement is the predominant emotion here.  The Popol Vuh is the sacred book of the Mayan people, and contains the story of creation, the deeds of Hunahpú and Xbalanqué -- twins who venture to the underworld and eventually become the gods of the Moon and Sun -- and a chronicle of the Quiché people.  The Quiché still live in Guatemala today.  After the Spanish conquest of the area, most of the stories and texts were lost, but a friar, Father Ximenez, transcribed and translated this text.  The transcription of the phonetically-written Quiché is still in existence, so it can be studied and better interpreted, and the introduction part that I read talks about difficult passages that are better elucidated. So wish me luck!  I intend to be enthr

Summerbook #7: The White Witch

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  The White Witch, by Elizabeth Goudge I've been saving this for a treat.  I read it several years ago, when I was just getting started with Goudge, but I didn't remember anything about it, and I bought my own copy so I just put it on the TBR shelf.  I'm trying to collect Goudge books, but the ones I don't have are the ones that are hard to get and expensive. Elizabeth Goudge must have had a thing about the 17th century.  Quite a few of her historical novels are about Charles I or II -- a set of kings that I personally haven't got much interest in.  But anyway, this story is set at the start of the English Civil War.  Charles I is just starting to fight it out with the Parliamentarians, and Oliver Cromwell isn't even running his side yet. We have several interconnected people: the Haslewood family -- Robert has joined the Puritan side -- his sort of cousins, a group of Romany that habitually camp nearby, and Froniga, the half-Romany white witch of the title -- F

Time for the Classics Club Spin #27!

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 Yay!   It's time for another Spin!  The number will be announced on Sunday, and after that we'll have until the 22nd of August to read the book.  I chose 20 books that are not on my 20 Books of Summer list, and what with that and the other extra books I've been reading, it's anybody's guess as to whether I'll manage to actually read the 20 summer books, but I think I'm doing OK.  It's not like it matters anyway! Here are my selections: Conjure Tales, by Charles Chesnutt Old Norse Women's Poetry   The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas a Kempis  First Love and Other Stories, by Turgenev The Eternal Husband and other stories by Dostoyevsky The Popul Vuh The Witch of Edmonton, a play by Rowley, Dekker, and Ford The Angel of the West Window, by Gustav Meyrink It is Acceptable (Det Gaar An), C. J. L. Almqvist  The Obedience of a Christian Man, by William Tyndale Samguk Yusa (Korean legends) Marriage, by Susan E. Ferrier The Gray Earth, by Galsan Tshinag The

The Wandering Fire and The Darkest Road

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  The Wandering Fire and The Darkest Road (#2 and 3 in The Fionavar Tapestry), by Guy Gavriel Kay I went ahead and finished the Fionavar Tapestry stories.  The trouble, of course, is that if I tell you anything about the plots, it will spoil the whole trilogy, but I'll do my best. We have five people from our own world who have been taken to Fionavar, the original of all the worlds, where they were dragged into the burgeoning war between Maugrim (the dark lord) and pretty much everyone else.  At the end of the first book, they went home, but now, months later, they're back again. I said before that it's pretty Tolkien-esque and that continues.  Many of the story beats are really similar to Lord of the Rings, though there are no hobbits.  Kay adds King Arthur into the mix, which is interesting -- especially as he bears a curse -- and there are other Celtic elements.  And a good deal more sex, of course. Special side note:  There is also a half-god, lieutenant of Maugrim, w

Summerbook #6: The Third Reich in Power

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 The Third Reich in Power: 1933 - 1939, by Richard J. Evans For my summer reading, I wanted to choose one heavy-duty WWII book per month.  This history, which I got sort of accidentally by asking the public library to purchase it and instead they sent me a Zip copy (which is like ILL without a due date), has 28 chapters, and so I set a goal of at least one chapter per day.  Since it's a good 700 pages, that was still on the ambitious side! Evans continues his saga that I started with The Coming of the Third Reich .  Hitler is now in power and in a matter of months, he and his buddies seized a lot of power that they didn't have a right to -- but nobody stopped them, either.  The Nazis made it very clear that they had no respect for the law or for human rights; might made right.  Over the next six years, they:  turned Germany into a police state  used terror on a massive scale to influence elections co-opted nearly all private organizations  persecuted the churches  produced a co

Mom Genes

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 Mom Genes: Inside the New Science of Our Ancient Maternal Instinct, by Abigail Tucker This is a fantastic book, and if you're a mom you'll want to read it.  If you're not a mom, it's probably a good idea to read it anyway, because after all, there are a lot of moms around. Scientists have only recently really started to seriously study the biological changes that come with motherhood.   We've long assumed that adults, on the whole, don't change much .  And it turns out that moms change -- a lot.  Our cells, our genes, our brains...all go through massive reconstruction. Tucker goes through a whole lot of research (she's a journalist, not a science person herself) and combines it with stories from her own life.  She's a mom of four herself and has plenty of relevant experience.  This is definitely a popular science book for laypeople, and it's got a good deal of humor as well. Compared to their rapidly developing infants, moms have a reputation for

Summerbook #5: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

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  A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, by Mark Twain Oh gosh, it is so long since I read this tall tale that I had forgotten everything except that Trina Schart Hyman did wonderful illustrations, and there's a lot about slavery.  So earlier this year I put it on my pile of books to read soon, and it was so much fun.   This story is a bit of a mish-mash, really.  It started as a send-up of romantic medievalist tales after Twain had a dream in which he was a knight-errant himself -- but how do you scratch an itch in armor, much less do your private business?  Where do you keep your hanky?  Don't you clank a lot in church?   So Twain took a downright, hard-headed, democratic-minded mechanical man, Hank Morgan, and imagined how he would modernize Camelot according to his desires.  Surely a man who knows how to manufacture gunpowder and telegraph wire would be able to get up to a lot of mischief!  But then, a modern man also has a lot of political opinions; he would find

A Friend in Need

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 Hey folks, I'm putting this here because if you read my blog, you've seen this person's influence in my life.  She was my favorite professor at Cal, and from her I learned the joys of medieval literature, such as the Quest for the Holy Grail, Lancelot , and Eneas .  She's also just a wonderful person in general, and endlessly kind and patient with worried students (who invariably treat her as a confidant).  Her daughter, who was born just after I graduated from Cal, has just posted a fundraiser, because between chronic health problems, less income in the pandemic, and the insane costs of Bay Area life, she's about to lose their home.  If you happen to have a little bit extra and can put something towards helping somebody I'm very fond of, please do. I don't want to steal the fund picture, so here's an illustration of Sir Eneas in his ship.

Summerbook #4: Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?

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 Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? by Frans de Waal For most of the 20th century, Western scientists stubbornly denied the possibility that animals could have anything approaching consciousness or intelligence.  Surely they could not truly learn, have memories, make deductions or plans, or have real social networks.  Anything that looked like that must really be instinct, blind chance, or in the behaviorist category of learning to do a simple action for an immediate reward.  There was a distinct demarcation between human and animal, and humans have something that animals never have. Well, Frans de Waal is here to tell you all about what he thinks of that nonsense.  After decades of working with animals and studying their intelligences, he has collected lots of research from many biologists, and he's going to teach you about animal cognition -- which we're only getting started with. It makes sense that if you're going to test an animal's intelligence, y

The Library of the Dead

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 The Library of the Dead, by T. L. Huchu When I first saw somebody post on this title, I wasn't sure I wanted to get into yet another 'supernatural library' type of book, even though I've enjoyed the ones I've read.   But it did sound interesting, and the public library had it...and I'm very glad I gave it a try. In a future desolate Edinburgh, in which nothing seems to function any more, 14-year-old Ropa is the breadwinner for her little family.  She works as a ghostalker; when somebody has a haunting, she can communicate with the ghost and strike a deal.  She can also go into another dimension, the everyThere (there are many other dimensions).  Ropa doesn't do charity -- she needs every penny to pay the rent -- but a newly-dead mother won't stop bothering her to look for her little boy, who went missing just before she died.   Ropa's decision to look into the boy's disappearance sets her on a dangerous road.  Children are going missing, and if

Summerbook #3: A Place to Belong

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I'm back!  We had a great roadtrip, but we didn't really do anything terribly exciting; we went and saw old friends, hung out at the beach, and ate a lot of perfect tri-tip, which is exactly what I wanted out of it.  The drive back home up I-5 was brutal.  Now it's back to life, back to reality. my idea of a perfect day at Pismo Beach -- no hot burny sun   A Place to Belong: Reflections From Modern Latter-day Saint Women, ed. Hollie Rhees Fluhman and Camille Fronk Olson This was my reading on the trip; I couldn't take my giant Nazi history book with me, and that was just as well.  This is a book of essays by LDS women ranging around a general theme of belonging, but covering just about every facet of life: career, children, education, faith. A funny thing I've noticed about LDS women is that we all think we're the odd one out, and feel we don't really belong...somehow or other.  I was lucky to figure this out at 19, when I got together with two high school f

Piranesi

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 Piranesi, by Susanna Clarke I finally got my hands on a copy!  It's been so long now that it's out in paperback, so I'm probably the last person on the block to read it.  Since it's not technically on my summer reading list, it's a bonus; and if I run out of time I'll count it, ha.  In an endless labyrinth of halls and statues, Piranesi wanders and explores, making careful notes.  This is the world and he, as a scientist, is bound to explore it.  Some of the halls are flooded, and the shifting tides are dangerous, but Piranesi understands how to live here.  The Other meets him every few days, and they exchange information -- it is the Other who calls Piranesi that, although it is not his name. This is such an amazing story -- all otherwordly and fascinating, and very worth the wait.  You've just got to read it one of these days.  I loved loved loved it!  It's just wonderful.     What does 'Piranesi' mean, if that's not his name?  Piranesi wa

Summerbook #2: The Midnight Folk

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 The Midnight Folk, by John Masefield I've long wished to read The Box of Delights , but I've never come across a copy (and it's still a few years away from becoming public domain).  I think it's not very well known in the US.  I did find The Midnight Folk , though, and it turns out to be the story that comes first.  So now I'm all ready for the Box if I ever find it. Kay Harker is a nice little orphan boy of maybe ten, living in the care of a boring and fussy governess who doesn't really allow him to do anything.  His beloved toys are gone, he may not play with neighbors...but then the cat Nibbins talks to Kay and leads him into a night-time world of excitement.  Kay's great-grandfather, Captain Harker, comes alive from his portrait and tells his story of woe -- how he was entrusted with a fabulous treasure and lost it at sea.  And there are witches infesting the house!   So Kay embarks on an adventure, tracking down the lost treasure with the Midnight Fol

Summerbook #1: The Summer Tree

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 The Summer Tree: Book One of the Fionavar Tapestry, by Guy Gavriel Kay  Some time ago I found this trilogy on the donation table.  Having never heard of the Fionavar Tapestry, I was intrigued enough to take it home.  (Does that cover look like 1980 or what?  Though it was in fact published in 1984.) So: five Toronto college students go to a lecture by a famous professor, who turns out to have another identity; he is Loren Silvercloak, a mage of Fionavar, and he's looking for some earthly guests to visit his world for the occasion of the High King of Brennin's 50th anniversary.  Sure, why not, they say, and so he whisks them off -- but Dave, who didn't really want to in the first place, jerks away in the middle of the transfer.  Four guests arrive in Brennin, and Dave is...somewhere around. Fionavar, the original of all the worlds, is very Tolkienesque indeed, with touches of Frazer and Celtic mythology.  There are elves (lios alfar and svart alfar), Dwarves, maiar, valar a

Minutes of Glory

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 Minutes of Glory and Other Stories, by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o  I've wanted to read Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o for a long time, but when I tried A Grain of Wheat , I just couldn't get into it.  I ran into this short story collection and thought that would be a great way to try him out. This is a selected collection of short stories, originally published in 1975 but now put into a second edition with some new stories added.  So most of them are from much earlier in Ngũgĩ's career.  I really liked those early stories; the first three are grouped together as being about 'mothers and children,' so of course I liked those.    Some of the middle group ('fighters and martyrs') were up my alley too, though not all of them.  One, "The Martyr," reminded me of Isak Dinesen's Out of Africa -- if you told it from the other side.  (It's not that the stories are at all similar, and in fact I haven't read Out of Africa since 1994, so I don't remember m

The Book Smugglers

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  The Book Smugglers: Partisans, Poets, and the Race to Save Jewish Treasures From the Nazis: The True Story of the Paper Brigade of Vilna, by David E. Fishman Vilna, in Lithuania, was once "the Jerusalem of Europe" -- the intellectual and cultural hub of European Judaism.   The Nazis tried to destroy it -- not entirely successfully -- and the Soviets just about finished the job.  Fishman gives us a detailed and fascinating history of the Jewish writers, rabbis, and librarians who generated and took care of the books and cultural materials and were then forced to cull through them and decide what should be shipped out and what should be destroyed. Fishman gives us an entire cast of characters, most memorably a duo of poets, Shmerke and Sutzkever, situated in a detailed context of pre-war Vilna.  Communism, fascism, and Zionism are all in the air.  At invasion, the Nazis establish two small ghettos for Vilna's large Jewish population, and choose workers to sort the invalua

A Civil Contract

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A Civil Contract, by Georgette Heyer  When I run into a Georgette Heyer novel I haven't read, I usually grab it and put it on the shelf for when I want a light, relaxing read.  I wasn't necessarily going to write a post about this story, but it turned out to be unusual for a Heyer Regency novel, and very interesting. Captain Adam Deveril has been off fighting Napoleon in the Peninsular War, but upon the sudden death of his father, he becomes Viscount Lynton, owner of a landed estate and a truly astounding amount of debt.  His father, an optimist and big spender, has left everything neglected and heavily mortgaged too.  Adam needs to provide for his sisters and get his mother settled somewhere affordable, and it looks like he'll have to sell all of the family property to do it.  He and the enchanting Julia Oversley are madly in love, but their marriage is now out of the question.  Adam is left with a choice: he can sell everything (rendering his relatives miserable), or he c

Season of Migration to the North

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 Season of Migration to the North, by Tayeb Salih Here's my Spin title!  This novel was chosen as "the most important Arab novel of the 20th century."  I....am not entirely sure why, as it didn't blow me away, but it did have a lot of subtle things to say about colonialism. Our narrator, who is nameless, is a Sudanese man who has spent years studying in Europe.  Now he is back in a newly-independent Sudan, ready to work hard in Khartoum for the advancement of his people.  He visits his home village on the Nile,* where he meets all the people he has known all his life -- an a newcomer, Mustafa Sa'eed, who lives as an ordinary resident of the village with a wife and two sons. Sa'eed, however, is not an ordinary villager at all, and tells our narrator (who has heard of him) his story.  He lived in London for many years, and was a prominent economist.  He was semi-adopted by an English couple, married an Englishwoman, and had endless clandestine affairs with more