Dreams & Goals for 2017

12.31.2016


Every year is another chance to look back, figure out what went well and what didn't, and think of ways to make the next year even better.  I call my list "dreams and goals," instead of "resolutions."  What I've discovered, especially this past year, is that you don't know what unexpected opportunities may pop up or how you will change as a person.  It's good to dream and plan, and it's also healthy to let yourself be flexible and spontaneous.

A few dreams / goals I met in 2016:
  • Read 25 books.  Some of them were short, and one or two of them were quite long (I'm looking at you, Mack).  It felt great to make a dent in that TBR list!
  • Take photos.  I started learning about photography in earnest.  Will continue this one in 2017.
  • Love my neighbors.  That is, I tried to love the people with whom I interacted in "real life" and online.  As we all have experienced, it's been a contentious year.  More than ever I realized the struggle - and necessity - of being understanding and respectful of others, even if I felt hurt by their words or attitudes.  This is an ongoing goal.
"You never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them."

Some of my dreams and goals for 2017: 
  • Read 15 books.  I'll be setting my Goodreads challenge a bit lower this time, which hopefully will allow me to squeeze in some longer books.
  • Learn to read in French.  My dad has a textbook called French for Reading.  Starting January 1, my goal is to complete a lesson a day and ultimately be able to read at least children's literature by the end of the year.
  • Don't buy new things.  Especially books, right?  ;)
  • Keep a consistent schedule.  Lately I've recognized a need to significantly reduce the level of stress in my life.  If I can identify a schedule that will balance my full-time work and my personal life (i.e. reading!), it will help remove some of that unnecessary stress.
I have so enjoyed getting back into blogging and reading all of you guys' blogs.  Here's to many more bookish adventures in 2017!

The Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge: Full schedule

12.29.2016

In the interests of planning ahead, I thought it might be a good idea to go ahead and post the full schedule for the challenge.  Let me know if you see any typos.
  • There will be weekly check-in posts for each short story, and one post for each 3-week novel.
  • All book formats are welcome (audiobooks, ebooks, translations, etc.)
  • Feel free to drop in at any time!  No blog posts required.  :)
Click on any story to go to the check-in post for that week.

January
Week 1  (Jan 1-7):  "The Gloria Scott"
Week 2:  "The Musgrave Ritual"
Week 3:  A Study in Scarlet
Week 4:  A Study in Scarlet
Week 5 (Jan 29-Feb 4):  A Study in Scarlet.  (Finish by February 4th.)

February
Week 6 (Feb 5-11):  "The Speckled Band"
Week 7:  "The Yellow Face"
Week 8:  "The Red Circle"
Week 9 (Feb 26-Mar 4):  "The Beryl Coronet"

March
Week 10 (Mar 5-11):  "The Resident Patient"
Week 11:  "The Reigate Squires"
Week 12:  "The Second Stain"
Week 13 (Mar 26-Apr 1):  "The Naval Treaty"

April
Week 14 (Apr 2-8): "The Crooked Man"
Week 15:  "The Five Orange Pips"
Week 16:  "The Noble Bachelor"
Week 17:  The Valley of Fear
Week 18 (Apr 30-May 6):  The Valley of Fear

May
Week 19 (May 7-13):  The Valley of Fear
Week 20:  "A Scandal in Bohemia"
Week 21:  "A Case of Identity"
Week 22 (May 28-Jun 3):  "The Greek Interpreter"

June
Week 23 (Jun 4-10):  The Sign of the Four
Week 24:  The Sign of the Four
Week 25:  The Sign of the Four
Week 26 (Jun 25-Jul 1):  "Silver Blaze"

(Full schedule below the cut)

Top Ten Books of 2016

12.27.2016

This week's topic is the Top Ten Best Books of 2016, from The Broke and the Bookish.

My top ten, in approximate order of reading (oldest to most recent):

  1. Works of Love - Soren Kierkegaard
  2. In the Land of White Death - Valerian Albanov
  3. Not Forgotten: The True Story of My Imprisonment in North Korea - Kenneth Bae.  Reading this memoir filled in the blanks of the story of someone who'd been on my prayer list for a long time.  It also shows an emotional, yet undramatized picture of the North Korean people as Bae encountered them.  Despite the fear, guilt, and uncertainty that Bae experienced in his imprisonment, you find a greater sense of hope, for him and for the North Koreans.  I also strongly recommend Jeffrey Donenfeld's blog post Exploring North Korea and Running the Pyongyang Marathon, either by itself or as a companion to this book.  Donenfeld's post and photos give you a poignant context to North Korea as it was just after Kenneth Bae was released.
  4. The Man Who Was Thursday (reread) - G. K. Chesterton
  5. A Prince of Our Disorder - John Mack.  Most interesting, well-sourced biography I've ever read: a gold standard for biographers of any era!
  6. An Artist of the Floating World - Kazuo Ishiguro.  This is a sadly underrated book.  I feel like I will be promoting it for the next ten years at least.
  7. Nutcracker and Mouse King, and The Tale of the Nutcracker - Hoffmann / Dumas
  8. The Picture of Dorian Gray - Oscar Wilde
  9. Three Men in a Boat (reread) - Jerome K. Jerome
  10. The Heart of the Antarctic - Ernest Shackleton

The Forest Giant (Le Gigantesque)

12.22.2016

Since watching Lawrence of Arabia last year, I've been actively seeking books written by or related to T. E. LawrenceThe Forest Giant, by Adrien Le Corbeau, is one of the more obscure books.
Sequoia sempervirens Big Basin Redwoods State Park 4
Coast Redwood by Allie_Caulfield
[CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Lawrence, for the most part, withdrew from politics after the disappointing Paris Peace Conference.  However, he continued to write books and critique literature - writing was one of the few pieces of his past life that he actually still valued.  His French-to-English translation of a book called Le Gigantesque was published in 1924, and along with Homer's The Odyssey, it is one of the few of his written works that are non-autobiographical.

I seem to recall The Forest Giant has been referred to as a "novel," but it is really a philosophical ramble.  The "giant" referred to is the California redwood, and Corbeau explains his thoughts and questions through the journey of the tree's life.  Lawrence was enthusiastic at the beginning of the book, but by the end of his translation, he was not particularly a fan.
At last this foul work: complete. Please have [it] typed and send [it] down that I may get it off my suffering chest before I burst. Damn Adrien le Corbeau and his rhetoric. The book is a magnificent idea, ruined by jejune bombast. My version is better than his: but dishonest here and there: but my stomach turned. Couldn't help it.
This is just one interesting T. E. quote from the excellent foreword by Jeremy Wilson.  From the foreword, I was also intrigued to learn that Lawrence almost - but not quite - got to translate The Arabian Nights.  (Sad that that project never came to fruition!)

I felt similar to Lawrence by the end of this reading, and I'm not sure if it was due to the translator or Corbeau himself.  Certainly, it wasn't T. E.'s fault that the author inserted a lengthy (though non-graphic) sex scene in the middle of the philosophy...I got an laugh out of that anyway, imagining T. E.'s reaction as he came upon it all of a sudden and had to plough through it.  Thematically, this book has a lot in common with contemporary literature, and I wouldn't be surprised if it gets "rediscovered" and even famous some day.

Sequoia sempervirens foliage Mendocino
Sequoia sempervirens foliage by Naotake Murayama
[CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
On the other hand, some parts of the book are fascinating and almost brilliant.  Corbeau talks about fate, balance, war, time, death, and existentialism...lots of big topics.  He doesn't seem to settle on one conclusion, unless it be the existence of the "circle of life" (my quote, not his), and that all matter is reincarnated after death into just another being or substance.  The subject is depressing; the writing is absolutely gorgeous, some of the most beautiful I've read in a long time.  I think that Lawrence, despite his growing dislike for the book, nevertheless gave it an incredible translation.

There were many quotes I saved along the way.  I'll leave you with one, which maybe is the most introspective, having been written after the first World War. 
How much has been said and thought and written about death!  And without effect.  We should make up our minds that nothing is to be added to what we already know about it.  We continually strain to realise the flavour of death by heaping up a confused mass of ideas, by strange and inordinate imaginings, by deliberately forcing our thought and dealing to a point beyond control.  Yet these are not means and ways by which to learn; for in our wildest dreams, in our most fearful phantasies, or strangest visions, in all that is unfamiliar, runs the thread of life.
-  Chapter 13, "What is Called Death"

Russian Literature Challenge 2017

12.17.2016


Ok - I saw this challenge, hosted by Keely, and decided it was irresistible.  In 2014 I participated in o's Russian Literature challenge, which was awesome, so I'm more than ready for another Russian lit focus!

I'll be aiming for a large Level 2 "Chekhov"; these six books:

  1. Forever Flowing - Vasily Grossman.  I heard about Grossman from one of my favorite book bloggers, SRK, and this sounds like a really good novel.
  2. The Letter Killers Club - Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky.  I loved this author's writing style in Memories of the Future.  This book is about a club of story tellers who are committed to writing nothing down.  
  3. Cancer Ward - Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.  This book has been sitting on my shelf for a while, a Powell's splurge.  The Soviet era interests me, for academic and personal reasons, and I'm eager to read more by Solzhenitsyn, since he is one of the most famous Soviet authors.
  4. Five Plays - Anton Chekhov.  One by the man himself!  I haven't read any of these plays, just heard good things about them.
  5. Eugene Onegin - Alexander Pushkin.  Onegin is one of my greatest favorite novels of all time (seriously).  I've read four English translations in the last several years; my personal goal is to read as many translations as I can find!
  6. We - Yevgeny Zamyatin.  My "read" list is woefully lacking most dystopian classics.  This one sounds very interesting, apparently a precursor to 1984.  
 Yes, I know...no Dostoyevsky.  He'll probably sabotage my list, though; he has a way of cutting in front of the line...

2017 Mount TBR Challenge

12.07.2016


This year, I had fun tackling books that had been on my TBR mountain for a while, so I want to do it again in 2017.  Again, it'll be Pike's Peak (12 books) for me, which really is a challenge.  This is my list as of today, subject to change if I happen to acquire more books this month...
  1. Till We Have Faces - C. S. Lewis 
  2. The Children of Hurin - J. R. R. Tolkien    (My siblings bought me this book when it was practically fresh off the printing press in 2008, and I'm sorry to say I've been procrastinating mightily.  No more!)
  3. The Buried Giant - Kazuo Ishiguro  ✓ (did not finish)
  4. The Begum's Millions - Jules Verne 
  5. Nostromo - Joseph Conrad
  6. Felix Mendelssohn: A Life in Letters
  7. The Twentieth Century - Albert Robida
  8. Cancer Ward - Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
  9. Frankenstein - Mary Shelley
  10. Peter Pan - J. M. Barrie
  11. Recollections of Japan - Hendrik Doeff
  12. Highlands and Hollows - Dallas Lore Sharp
  13. Star Trek: Federation - Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens
  14. Optional/alternative:  The Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas (Yes, regardless of whether it wins or loses the book journal poll.  What am I getting myself into??!) 
 I'm not sanguine about completing this list, but I'd be thrilled if it happens!  These books are all sitting conspicuously in the left corner of my top shelf - home of the "haven't read but own" books.

The Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge

12.05.2016

12/29/16 edit: Full schedule here.

Two years ago, I started on a rereading of the Sherlock Holmes series, with the intent of reading the stories in the approximate order that they occur in Holmes's lifetime.  I didn't get very far, but I never abandoned the concept.  It's been about ten years since I first read the complete Sherlock Holmes, and he is my favorite fictional character.  It's time to get serious about this overdue challenge!

So - I'm revamping it in under the wordy title of "The Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge," 2017-2018 edition.  This is a 16-month mission to read all 56 short stories and the four novels.  Of course, the series could be easily read in half a year, but I want to take my time, blog about each tale, and leave room for other reading, too.  If anyone wants to join, I'd love to share the discussion!

The idea is:
  • Read the stories in the order found on this Sherlock Holmes Timeline...with one exception.  I really can't agree on having any stories come between "The Final Problem" and "The Empty House," despite whatever date Watson wrote that comes between them.  Instead, I'll read "Wisteria Lodge" and "Three Gables" after "The Empty House."
  • The pace will be one short story per week, and then three weeks per novel when a novel is encountered.  Though novels and short stories may overlap, I will read consecutively: as soon as a novel is listed on the timeline, I'll complete the whole novel before moving on to the next short. This is a fairly relaxed schedule, and it fits neatly into 16 months.
  • If you wish to join in but use a different schedule, feel free!  Once you start reading this series, it's very, very hard to set aside...
And now, to wait (impatiently) till January.  ;)

More buttons, because I can't get enough of Sidney Paget's illustrations:

Mount TBR 2016 - Recap

12.04.2016

For this recap, something a little different.  I was mighty pleased with the little mountain of to-be-reads I climbed, so everyone's a winner - and they all get awards!  Thanks to Bev for hosting this challenge!


*** The Unexpected New Favorite Award ***
 An Artist of the Floating World - Kazuo Ishiguro

This was a thrift store find I bought on a whim.  I was greatly moved by this fictional historical memoir, written by Ishiguro (of The Remains of the Day fame).  An aging Japanese man realizes his past is not creating the bright legacy he had envisioned.  Subtly written, yet incredible.

*** The Finally, Finally Read It Award ***
The Red Badge of Courage - Stephen Crane

I liked the beginning of this book a lot.  That made the ending somewhat disappointing.  However, I had to admit it is a worthy American classic, with good writing and thought-provoking scenes.

*** The History Is Disturbing Award ***
Evita: The Real Life of Eva Peron - Nicholas Fraser, Marysa Navarro

This is supposedly the best, most judicial biography of Eva Peron out there.  After that masterful T. E. Lawrence biography by John Mack, I was underwhelmed by Fraser and Navarro's sources; this book read more like magazine articles than a scholarly paper.  More than once, there was a statement that was an opinion, and there was no easy way for me to tell from whence the opinion originated.  Writing aside, the topic matter was chilling.  Eva, Juan, the political situation in Argentina at the time - all of it was very depressing.  An interesting read nonetheless.  Especially pertinent was reading how the Perons controlled the media and depictions of themselves.

*** The Polar History Is More My Thing Award ***
In the Land of White Death - Valerian Albanov

This little book deserves all the glowing reviews it has.  If you're looking for an introduction to polar literature, I highly recommend the Russian navigator Albanov's account of his survival trek through the Arctic.  The human element comes through strongly in his narrative; it's great that he did not edit out the personal side to his story.



*** The I Need to Read More Hoffmann Award ***
Nutcracker and Mouse King and The Tale of the Nutcracker - E.T.A. Hoffmann, Alexandre Dumas

(Side note: E.T.A. is such a great set of initials.)
I let myself forget the Nutcracker I knew before, and I really, really loved the Hoffmann original.  Dumas's version is also great, but more polished.  Read them both!  What better month to do so?

*** The Unexpectedly Disappointing Award ***
Tales of Unrest - Joseph Conrad

I've come to the conclusion that Conrad wrote in two ways: sheer genius, and not.  This series of depressing (unrestful) tales is not genius.  It's not great, unfortunately.  I didn't like any of them.

*** The Terrifying, Also Would Not Recommend Award ***
Dracula's Guest - Bram Stoker

Friends, when a Goodreads reviewer advises you to skip a story, do not try to be a completionist.  Heed their advice.  They know what they're talking about.  You don't need to read all the creepy stories.  You really don't.

*** The Beautifully Written, Tough to Understand Award ***
Memories of the Future - Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky

This author was new to me; I read the book because he's supposed to be similar to Kafka.  Even in translation, Krzhizhanovsky is a lovely writer; his analogies and word choices seem so fresh, even original, compared to other writers.  The trouble is, I was confused most of the time.  I did like the last story, "Memories of the Future," but it's very similar to The Time Machine.  Would read more by him in the future (ha. ha.).

*** The Better Than the Movie Award ***
Pinocchio - Carlo Collodi

I'm not big on this fairytale, but it was certainly entertaining.  Pinocchio is such a bad son to Geppetto, and still I felt sorry for him.  Like most fairytales, the amount of exaggeration makes it hard to believe at times (I really think Pinocchio would have learned his lesson faster than he does!).  I'll probably keep this one, though; it's definitely a classic.

*** The Childhood Heroine Award ***
Joan of Arc: In Her Own Words

Joan of Arc has always been an inspiration to me.  This books is a compilation of quotes by her, which forms something of an autobiography.  It's sobering to realize that the main reason we have these quotes is because she was captured and spoke the majority of these statements at her trial.  I really recommend this to anyone who wants to learn more about her.  Reading what she did and said 600 years ago makes you feel both how long ago and recent it was.

*** The Childhood Memory Award ***
The Silent World - Jacques Cousteau

I have a vague memory of watching a Jacques Cousteau film as a child.  He is probably one of the many reasons I grew up with a fascination for all things to do with the ocean.  This memoir talks about Cousteau's early diving career, his various diving projects, and general opinions on topics related to diving.  It wasn't gripping, but I learned quite a few things, historical and scientific, and the writing style is accessible.  A good read to learn more about him.

*** The Changed My Life Award ***
Works of Love - Søren Kierkegaard 


I left the sticky notes in this book - and not just the few that are pictured.  It's difficult to describe a book like this without feeling vulnerable, because I can't adequately summarize it, and I can't say I agree with him 100%, and I can't tell you it's a must read.  I have no idea how Works of Love affects one reader from the next.  Yes, it changed my life; it made me look at something familiar in a new way.

I think of Kierkegaard as this lonely person who is thinking through everything out loud, and some of it is confusion, and some of it is inspired, and he offers it all up to the reader without apology, because he is only human and never expected to think "perfect" thoughts, only to strive for truth.  I don't know if that's Kierkegaard, or me projecting myself onto the impression of him.  I think he was born to write this book, in any case.
Whatever the world takes away from you, thought it be most cherished, whatever happens to you in life, however you may have to suffer because of your striving, for the good, if you please, if men turn indifferent from you or as enemies against you...if even your best friend should deny you - if nevertheless in any of your strivings, in any of your actions, in any of your words you truly have consciously had love along: then take comfort, for love abides. (p. 279)

Reading England 2016 - Recap

12.03.2016


When I joined this challenge a year ago, I had every intention of branching out and reading books from multiple counties.  As it turns out, I stayed in familiar territory and read London for all three books (Level 1).

Lawrence of Arabia Brough Superior gif
The Mint was a fitting sequel to Seven Pillars of Wisdom.  For some reason I went into it expecting a novel, but it's actually a journal-like memoir of T. E. Lawrence's peacetime experiences in the military.  After his campaigns as "Lawrence of Arabia" - and, as importantly, after his attempts to deal with politicians - T.E. was sick of being a leader and wanted to disappear from the public eye.  He joined the service under an assumed name, and that is where he found a place of security and camaraderie, the R.A.F.  The Mint is a coarse novel, written in a modern voice (for the times) and full of all the profanities and vulgarity that Lawrence encountered around him.  I found myself unable to rate the book, because it came across as an honest, unidealized portrait of reality - and how can you rate that?  Read the last chapter, if nothing else.  I feel like it is the real ending to Seven Pillars.

Counties: London (RAF Uxbridge), and bonus: Lincolnshire (RAF Cranwell)

Lamppost-Istana-Singapore-20060207
 A lamppost at the Istana in Singapore by Finn Perez
[CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
I read The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare to my brother this year.  It was a first read for him and a reread for me - we both heartily enjoyed it!  G. K. Chesterton is one of those authors that is deceptively simple in his style.  The first time I read it, I wasn't so sure about the bizarre ending.  This time, however, something clicked...I think I finally got what he was getting at.  (I still can't explain it off the top of my head, but it made sense, I promise.)  The story is, artistically speaking, literary gold: a policeman on an Alice-in-Wonderland-type adventure in Sherlock Holmes's London, with moments of hilarity and deep thought alike.  After this reread, I give it 5 out of 5 stars.

Counties:  A rather whimsical London.

Lippincott doriangray
A number of books this year were favorable surprises - The Picture of Dorian Gray being one of the most surprising.  I didn't know, for example, that this novel was written for the same magazine as Conan Doyle's The Sign of the Four.  A comparison of the two stories would be interesting in itself.  I noticed that drugs feature heavily in both plots and, sadly, for both protagonists.

I went into this book with a couple of misconceptions, one of which was that Dorian Gray wants always to look young.  This is only half of it, however.  He also wants to look innocent"He had always the look of one who had kept himself unspotted from the world."

At the Anglican church I attend, the priest gives you a blessing on your birthday.  These are the words, from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer (quoting, for that line, James 1:27):
Watch over thy child, O Lord, as his days increase; bless and guide him wherever he may be, keeping him unspotted from the world. Strengthen him when he stands; comfort him when discouraged or sorrowful; raise him up if he fall; and in his heart may thy peace which passeth understanding abide all the days of his life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Wilde's first readers would have instantly caught this reference, and I can tell you, this line makes it all the more tragic to read what happens to Dorian, or rather, what he does to himself.  It goes both ways.  He is preyed upon - emotionally and probably physically - by an older, cynical man, and he embraces it.  He reads a book that he knows is a negative influence on him, and he doesn't stop. 
For years, Dorian Gray could not free himself from the influence of this book. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that he never sought to free himself from it.
I didn't love The Picture of Dorian Gray.  It is too relateable to be comfortable.  I can't say I haven't been selfish, hurting someone in the process.  I know I've read a book, or watched a movie, or listened to a song that left me worse off than before.  And only recently, I've looked at pictures of myself from a few years back and felt disappointed by the changes.  I was half-expecting this novel to be some kind of subtle glorification of youth; it's anything but that.    

Though I wouldn't necessarily recommend this novel to everyone, it was a worthwhile read for me, particularly at this time.  (For the topic, it was more poignant than Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.)  4 out of 5 stars.

Counties: London

Lawrence's London is something of a sprawling, safe haven, where he can dissolve back into humanity and still, sometimes, see glimmers of his illustrious yet painful past.  Chesterton's London is the London of Americans' dream -  a romantically gloomy, lamppost-lit cityscape where a savvy, well-dressed gentleman is on a mission probably involving hansom cabs.  Wilde's London is a grim facade where something hideous is lurking behind an elegant society.  It's fascinating how one location can look so different from the viewpoint of different novels. 

Thanks, o, for hosting this challenge!

A month of writing

11.21.2016

For those who still read this blog - a little update!

Though I have so many ideas for posts, both reading and book reviews have been put on hold this month.  For the fourth year in a row, I've joined Nanowrimo, which is an annual challenge to write a 50,000-word novel in November.  The really exciting part is I'm actually on track to win this year (winning = reaching 50k words).  This will be a personal first.  :)  I've never got so far before, and this kind of dedication, to something of my own, is really unusual for me.  Hopefully I might even finish early, before the 30th!

That said - once Nanowrimo is over, I'll be back blogging again.  I am so excited to talk about my reading challenges from this year, as well as new books and new TBRs that have come my way.  Some upcoming posts might cover:
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray
  • Recap of the Reading London Challenge
  • Recap of the Mount TBR Challenge
  • A brief glance at other reads from this year (which I haven't reviewed in full)
  • New challenges for next year, perhaps?

In 2017, I would love to bring back the book journal series, where I take a lengthy book and blog about it in little chunks.  Past book journals are The Brothers Karamazov and Seven Pillars of Wisdom.  There's a poll in the left sidebar with some options.  Please vote away (and thank you to those two who already have!)...

The Bookish Tag

8.21.2016

Saw this over at Kristin's blog Wool and Wheel...it's been a while since I did one of these, so I thought it would be a fun interlude to reviews.  Feel free to fill this out on your own blog, or in the comments - would love to read your answers!

1. What book is currently on your nightstand?  Right now, there's The Heart of the Antarctic (Ernest Shackleton), the Bible, my Nook, and my tablet.

From my 2014 Powell's trip.  On the left is Albanov's In the Land of White Death,
an excellent polar (north) memoir which I haven't reviewed but highly recommend.

Heart is turning out to be a lovely read so far - more informal and relaxed in tone than South.  Maybe it's the pre-War zeitgeist, or Shackleton's personal optimism at this earlier point in his experience.  His excitement over the ponies is rather sobering...considering he didn't bring them on the Endurance, I can only imagine how badly things will go on the Nimrod.  (But, I digress.)

2. What was the last truly great book that you read?  An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro.  I'd recommend it to nearly anyone; it was that great.  The Japan he wrote about may be somewhat fanciful, but it's his poignant portrayal of humans and their relationships that is really timeless.  It's also a masterful example of how social attitudes (e.g. classism, patriarchy, and political correctness) can change in just one generation.

3. If you could meet any writer, dead or alive, who would it be? And what would you want to know?  Well, of course, I'd like to meet T. E. Lawrence.  I wouldn't have any questions planned, just hopefully have an organic conversation about books, music, maybe politics (maybe not).

4. What books might someone be surprised to find on your shelves?  I have an antique, one-volume William Shakespeare: Complete Works.  I don't love Shakespeare, but a relative gifted it to me and I treasure it as a beautiful edition of Hamlet and other stories I might enjoy if I tried more of them.  ;)


5. How do you organize your personal library?  I got a new bookshelf recently, smaller than the old one, and everything fits nicely.  Top-left corner is "to read" books.  Then, from left to right and on to the second shelf, my fiction is roughly sorted by era, with some non-fic history books at the very end.  I used to sort by author, but there is something aesthetically delightful about Bronte next to Pushkin, Verne next to Doyle, and T. E. Lawrence next to Fitzgerald.  Most of these are paperbacks, since I prefer soft to hardcover.

On the lower shelves, I have a number of other books that don't fit in the classic paperbacks category - some Mass Media, Trixie Beldens, large hardcovers (complete Sherlock Holmes !!!), notebooks, and mega textbooks that I'll probably never open again.  I also keep my scraps of writing on my bookshelf, which includes most of the handwritten draft of an adventure-romance novel that needs some TLC at some point...

6. What book have you always meant to read and haven’t gotten around to yet? Anything you feel embarrassed never to have read?   I've been meaning to read The Scarlet Letter for ages - I love Hawthorne, have read most of his other works, but still haven't got to this one. There's several I'm a little embarrassed never to have read (yet)...The Odyssey, 1984, Shakespeare in general...  But these days I'm very selective about what I spend time on reading, so I prioritize books that sound the most promising.

7. Disappointing, overrated, just not good: what book did you feel you were supposed to like but didn't? Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing?  The last book I abandoned to the "to-finish" list was On the Nature of Things by Lucretius. I hadn't expected to like it, though, based on reviews.  The last book I expected to like was The Republic by Plato.  That one got sent to the "not-finishing" list...an exaggeration, since I'll no doubt attempt a different translation.  But the beginning at least wasn't the work of genius I was expecting.
Vilhelm Hammershøi - The Collector of Coins

8. What kinds of stories are you drawn to? Any you stay clear of?  I'm drawn to stories of stamina, psychology, philosophy, and human behavior - especially where these things intersect.  I have a soft spot for stories about loners, people alone in their perspective or beliefs compared to the majority surrounding them.  The characters that really get to me are the ones who have personal issues and are struggling to find healing or closure. I fall for books that are about people doing something extraordinary, something out of the norm, something bigger than themselves (or is it? that is always the question...).  Most of my favorite books, fic and non-fic, remind me of the Christian life in some way.

I stay clear of the inverse of the above.  ;)

9. If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be?  I honestly don't know.  Currently, I recommend The Metamorphosis (Kafka) and Magellania (Verne) to anyone who's interested.

10. What do you plan to read next?  Probably Peter-Pan (Barrie), or The Secret Agent (Conrad), and thus finishing out the Read London challenge.

"...he might be understood; but not today."

8.06.2016

Ukebl. Hjemmet Red - no-nb digifoto 20160202 00147 NB NS 000625D
T. E. Lawrence (1888–1935)

If you've been following me on Goodreads, you'll understand I have been reading books this year, while blogging at a record low.  Far from a lack of interest in blogging, my motivation was the need to take a break...I still consider myself on break as I write this.  However, I wanted to say a few thoughts on my longest read of the year (thus far) before removing all my markers in it and packing it off back to the library.

 A Prince of Our Disorder: The Life of T. E. Lawrence was written by psychiatrist John E. Mack, published in 1976, and came highly rated (based on my internet research).  Let me take a moment to dissect that sentence: 
  • First off, I felt uncomfortable with the title.  The quote is not by Lawrence, and while it's provocative, I had no idea going into the book what the "disorder" refers to.  What a great and awful title for a biography.
  • The author is not a historian by profession, but a different type of social scientist, a psychiatrist.  Interesting.  What compels a psychiatrist to write a chunky (400+ p.) biography on a war hero?  And what kind of research would that look like?
  • Finally, what further excited me about this book was the publication date.  I have a stubborn mistrust of historical books written long after the events, and this is in part stems from my negative reading experiences.  One thing that can soften my bias is the timing.  If the author, like Mack, has access to eye witnesses, then it obviously hasn't been written "long after" - maybe the timing is just right.
Fast-forward two months to the day I finished the book.  I can easily say it is the best biography I have ever read, and I've read quite a few of those (many more than are listed on my "read" list).  It's ridiculous - I feel as if I know T. E. better than I know most real-life acquaintances.  I start to believe again that a non-historian could research and write brilliant history books, too.

If there is a recurrent fault in the book, it is that Mack assumes you have some surface knowledge of T. E already.  He probably assumes you've watched Lawrence of Arabia, and/or read encyclopedia articles.  Occasionally he will throw out names and places that require that cursory knowledge to appreciate his references.  I think it helps to have first read Seven Pillars of Wisdom - Lawrence's literary war memoir.  If you're looking for a detailed historical account of the Arab Revolt, you would do well to start there (or even Wikipedia).  Mack follows Lawrence's life, but does not attempt to spell out each of his movements in detail.

Lawrence brothers 1910
The Lawrence brothers in 1910.
From left to right: T. E. Lawrence (Ned), Frank,
Arnold, Bob and Will.

What you get instead - and what is more valuable in the long run - is an in-depth analysis of Lawrence the human being.  Starting with his father's background, and infidelity, the story moves at a rapid pace through Thomas Edward Lawrence's development. It homes in specifically on the influences, choices, and consequences that led him one step nearer to becoming the person that he became, both in his fame and in his hidden life.  I call it a "story" because it reads like one.  Mack writes with refreshing simplicity, covers sensational aspects with clinical calm, and in the end paints a Dickensian-like saga of a very complicated individual.  He's actually respectful of the subject, and I love that.  Yet, like a doctor, he is unafraid of examining unbeautiful truths.
'...I'm always afraid of being hurt: and to me, while I live, the force of that night will lie in the agony which broke me, and made me surrender.  It's the individual view.  You can't share it.' (p. 419)
Mack contrasts the many sides of T. E. Lawrence, which are as varied as the man's real-world pseudonyms.  He draws on Lawrence's memoirs, letters, and living acquaintances as the bulk of his supporting evidence for his theme: that Lawrence's personal life had significant bearing upon his political life, and that through this twist, he became a uniquely 20th-century hero - perhaps the first.

Lawrence of Arabia Brough Superior gif
Lawrence on his Brough Superior

The phrase "a prince of our disorder" originates from Irving Howe, a literary and social critic.  This "disorder" relates to the conflict of interest that Lawrence epitomized, both as an exemplary British officer and as a proponent for Arab autonomy.  Mack explores the idea that Lawrence changed Western culture's conception of a hero.  No longer was a heroic figure simply a war machine and conqueror who was "always right" - a dubious Zeus if you will, or the knights and Crusaders which fascinated Lawrence in his youth.  Rather, a modern hero evolved, through Lawrence and WWI, into a moral hero.
Lawrence, though a soldier and a hero of war, is also a hero of nonwar.  By the assumption of exaggerated personal responsibility for what war really is, he has demonstrated war's unsuitability as material for heroism according to the twentieth-century consciousness he helped to create...He asks us to expect more of our heroes as he expected more of himself, and we are influenced thereby to be more self-critical and to demand more of our leaders. (p. 219)
The movie is still, in my opinion, an incredible one; it shows something of this battle between legend versus reality.  And yet, you get less than half the picture when you just see "Lawrence the Legend."  The legend doesn't tell you he buried himself in the Middle East after being rejected by Janet Laurie.  It doesn't tell you he got, in the Revolt, what he'd long dreamed for, and it just about killed him.  It doesn't tell you he worked himself to misery in the Paris peace talks, and it ignores or glosses over his post-War trauma.  Finally, the legend doesn't even give a hint of the penitence and charitable works he sought in the late '20s and early '30s.
 
T.E. Lawrence; David George Hogarth; unknown man
Lt-Col Thomas Edward Lawrence, D.G. Hogarth,
and Lt-Col Dawnay, at the Arab Bureau of Britain's
Foreign Office, Cairo, May 1918.
Above all, T. E. should be remembered as very human and very conflicted.  He seemed to spend the first part of his life trying to atone for his illegitimacy and striving towards heroic deeds.  In a societal sense, he achieved the first goal through his WWI victories, becoming a hero in the public's eye, to people of all ages and varying nationalities.  But despite his success against Ottoman Turkey, it seemed to him that he had failed in that second goal, the heroism - a concept which had, in his own estimation perhaps, altered in meaning since his boyhood and over the course of the War...or, if not altered, become a thing unattainable in the morass of politics that followed.  Lawrence spent the remainder of his life trying to redeem himself from those physical and mental atrocities, as one of the Lost Generation who had been destined to survive.

His friend and ally, Faisal, summed this up well: "...a genius, of course, but not for this age...  A hundred years hence, perhaps two hundred years hence, he might be understood; but not today." (p. 204)

A Deal Me In catch-up post

2.21.2016

Hello again!  Hope anyone who is reading this is doing well and, if it's winter where you are, staying warm.  :) 

I was off to a good reading start this year, but the last month has been nothing short of hectic.  My excuse this time is I've been mentoring young programmers on a local robotics team, gearing up for a big competition next month.  Between work during the day and robots in the evening, reading was pushed to the back burner.  However, the bulk of our programming is completed, and now we can kick back a little and I can (hopefully) find time to read again.

I'm actually on track with Deal Me In; I've just not blogged regularly.  Here are the stories I've drawn for the last month or so (and yes, diamonds keep randomly showing up!).

Q ♣ Circles

This essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson is probably quintessential Transcendentalist reading.  In "Circles," Emerson encourages the reader to look at life in the form of circles - Venn diagrams, really.  He suggests there is always a bigger circle than the one you see; that, for example, knowledge and religious beliefs are circles which can be at some future date surpassed by larger circles, the decryption of the present unknown.
Every man supposes himself not to be fully understood; and if there is any truth in him, if he rests at last on the divine soul, I see not how it can be otherwise.  The last chamber, the last closet, he must feel, was never opened; there is always a residuum unknown, unanalyzable.  That is, every man believes that he has a greater possibility.
It was interesting to read this story at this time.  I recently read up on the Sikh religion and can see certain parallels between Sikhism and Unitarianism, the latter of which has links to Transcendentalism.  I can see the appeal in this philosophy, but I find problems with it, from a religious standpoint - but I won't go into that here (at least, not for now). 

This is a good one to read if you want to get the gist of Transcendentalism in a short, digestible format.
 
9 ♣ The Death of a Moth 

My first Virginia Woolf was disappointing, actually.  The writing in this sketch is ok, but underwhelming for such a big name.  I still want to read one of her longer works; maybe short stories weren't her thing.

5 ♦ Rumpelstiltskin

A wicked king enslaves a girl to spin gold...and then marries her?!  I don't remember this one being so troubling - did I grow up with a censored version?  Either way, another unsettling story collected by the Grimm brothers. 

4 ♦ The Woman with Two Skins

You know it's a bad story when it starts and ends with slavery.  The Grimms have serious competition with this frightful tale, which I found on World of Tales.  It was collected by a man named Elphinstone Dayrell (there's a fairytale name!), who apparently worked as a district commissioner in Nigeria and was a member of the Royal Geographical Society...considering he was interested in local folk tales, I'd say he was probably unusual for a colonist.  This story has certain universal elements - a wicked woman, a witch (male, in this case), and a small but strong protagonist.  In any case, though some may not like the turn-of-the-century British vocabulary, I have to give Dayrell credit for documenting the story.  I'm not sure it's suitable for children; like Grimm, it is what it is!

7 ♦ Hansel and Gretel

1.27.2016

I have memories of sitting in a computer science lecture and viewing a graph of what looked to be white noise.  "You may think it looks random, but a truly random pattern wouldn't look so evenly distributed."  This Deal Me In challenge is confirming it in every respect - my thorough shuffling may have been random, but that doesn't necessarily equal balanced!

I'll assume you know the story of "Hansel and Gretel"...there is really not a whole lot I can add to it.  It does bring me to the question - why are the antagonists in fairy tales so very often female?  And not just female, but in a twisted mother-figure role: the stepmother in "Hansel and Gretel," the stepmother in "Cinderella," the Snow Queen, all the witches, etc.  Now I'd be curious to know whether the original storytellers were male or female, and whether any of these stories were based on real life events.  After I finish this challenge, I think I'll be seeking out further reading about the Grimm brothers and their collection of stories.

What say you - any theories as to why it's always evil stepmothers and wicked witches?

Q ♦ The Snow Queen

1.16.2016

The Snow Queen by Elena Ringo
The Snow Queen byElena Ringo http://www.elena-ringo.com
[CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

" His stuff always makes me cry.  :( "  That was my summary note, on finishing "The Snow Queen."  It's true; either his stories have aged well, or I have aged hardly, but Andersen always gets to me.  I shouldn't have put this one off, and I'm glad it came early on in Deal Me In (while it's still winter in the Northwest!).
 
"The Snow Queen" was the original inspiration for Frozen.  I love the story of Frozen, and I'm not sorry they deviated from the original, but "The Snow Queen" is as good a story as it is a different one.  It starts with a magical mirror that distorts the viewer's sight, so that if they look into it, all they see is bad things.  The mirror breaks into pieces that get scattered over the world and find their way into people's eyes and hearts, making them cold hearted.  At the same time, two neighborhood children, Gerda and Kay, find their friendship split apart when Kay disappears while sledding in the snowy street.  Gerda, who really loves Kay, decides to leave the safety of her home to search for him.  She encounters strange obstacles of all kinds, as she braves summer and winter, temptation and fear, to find her lost friend.

Short of being a huge coincidence, the Snow Queen rings bells of the White Witch from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  I was quite surprised, but it must have been C. S. Lewis's tribute to (may I call him?) the King of Fairytales:  "'We have driven well,' said she, 'but why do you tremble? here, creep into my warm fur.' Then she seated him beside her in the sledge..."  It is an extremely menacing gesture, because it is so seemingly kind.  I don't want to be the reviewer who always looks for "loss of innocence" as the theme, but honestly, that was the vibe I got.

It is not just Kay who is taken away by a stranger; Gerda also encounters strangers who don't wish her well.  I loved the fact that Andersen chose Gerda to be the "knight in shining armor" - not merely of her own doing, of course, but in part through her determination and faith.  As in "The Wild Swans" (another favorite) and "The Little Mermaid," the little girl becomes a heroine.  She doesn't need brute force, only what help she can find, and, in "The Snow Queen," prayer.  It's also interesting that Andersen deliberately wrote Christian themes into the story: another parallel to LWW.

I think this has probably got a larger readership since the release of Frozen - still, "The Snow Queen" is quite an underrated fairytale.

J ♦ The Prince Who Feared Nothing

1.02.2016

Using my Lighthouses deck this time!

The Prince Who Feared Nothing is another strange tale from the Grimm Brothers' collection.  It is about a young prince who, "sick of living in his father's house," goes off into the world to end his boredom by having adventures.  As is usually the case in the world of Grimm, his boredom is soon relieved by the equivalence of an R-rated film, when he falls into the path of an evil giant and vies against demons to save a beautiful princess from her spell.

It is hard to find a rhyme, reason, or moral to this story, since the prince is rather dense, not exactly "fearless" in the best sense of the word.  Some reviewers find the princess's subplot to be a racist statement; it could be, or it could be referring to some kind of disease, I'm not sure.  Either way, the story has a speed of narrative that is typical of Grimm tales.  Maybe after so many generations, the tale lost some of its old morals and meaning, and became simply one child's imperfect memory passed on to another.

Deal Me In 2016

1.01.2016

In 2015, I was on a roll with this challenge, then, eight stories in, failed as gloriously as I had begun.  On the bright side, I still have my list and eight new stories to replace the "read" ones.  I'm going to ace it this time (pun intended)!  :)

Challenge hosted by Jay at Bibliophilica.


A – Snow White - Grimm
2 – The Minotaur - Hawthorne
3 – The Tale of the Dead Princess and the Seven Knights - Pushkin
4 – The Woman with Two Skins - African folktale
5 – Rumpelstiltskin - Grimm
6 – The Shadow - Andersen
7 – Hansel and Gretel - Grimm
8 – The Girl Without Hands - Grimm
9 – The Fir Tree - Andersen
10 – Puss in Boots - Grimm
J – The Prince Who Feared Nothing - Grimm
Q – The Snow Queen - Andersen
K – King Thrushbeard - Grimm


A – The Argonauts of the Air - Wells
2 – A Country Doctor - Kafka
3 – The Adventure of the German Student - Irving
4 – Blumfeld, an Elderly Bachelor - Kafka
5 – The Artist of the Beautiful - Hawthorne
6 – The Purloined Letter - Poe
7 – The Country of the Blind - Wells
8 – A Report to an Academy - Kafka
9 – The Hunter Gracchus - Kafka
10 – My Kinsman, Major Molineux - Hawthorne
J – The Masque of Red Death - Poe
Q – The Last Question - Asimov
K – William Wilson - Poe


A – Investigations of a Dog - Kafka
2 – A Little Woman - Kafka
3 – The Nightingale and the Rose - Wilde
4 – Eleonora - Poe
5 – A Virtuoso's Collection - Hawthorne
6 – Wedding Preparations in the Country - Kafka
7 – The Lady with the Dog - Chekhov
8 – Regret - Kate Chopin
9 – The Necklace - Maupassant
10 – The Looking-Glass - Chekhov
J – The Snow-Image - Hawthorne
Q – The Cherry Orchard - Chekhov
K – An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge - Bierce


A – Symposium - Plato
2 – Nature - Emerson
3 – On Heroes and Hero-Worship - Carlyle
4 – In Defense of Sanity - Chesterton
5 – On the Duty of Civil Disobedience - Thoreau
6 – Common Sense - Paine
7 – On Evil Euphemisms - Chesterton
8 – The Twelve Men - Chesterton
9 – The Death of a Moth - Woolf
10 – Self-Reliance - Emerson
J – Camping Out - Hemingway
Q – Circles - Emerson
K – The Snows of Kilimanjaro - Hemingway