Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra


C. S. Lewis's space trilogy has been on my reading list forever.  Well, at least since I joined Goodreads, which was 2012.  This year I've finally read it, and I posted a podcast review of the first two books over on Classics Considered.  Check it out and let me know what you think!

New(ish) books


I seem to view summer as the season for buying books.  (Though, let's get real here, when is buying books ever out of season??)

This gorgeous Vintage Classics Jane Eyre was on my wish list for a while, so when the price lowered on Amazon, I thought I'd better seize the opportunity.  (For anyone who's interested, it's still a pretty good deal right now!)  I read Jane Eyre two or three times as a tween/teen, but that was...well, some time ago.  It's long overdue for a reread.

Stendhal's The Red and the Black is a book I know little to nothing about, but it's been on my radar as a French classic I should read.  Found it in the local thrift store for a deal, and in really good condition.  I just love Penguin Classics paperbacks.

Speaking of which, I was ready for more Jack London after The Sea-Wolf.  His sailing memoir, The Cruise of the Snark, looks to be right up my alley.  I found this practically new copy in a small local *bookstore, which I've only been to once before.  I also picked up The Man Who Was Thursday, my favorite book (so far) by G. K. Chesterton.

*You might remember my previous excursions to Powell's Books in Portland, Oregon, where I would sell books and use the discount from that to buy new (often used) books.  Though I still love Powell's, I'm super happy to have found a bookstore nearby where I can have the same experience, albeit on a smaller scale.  

What are your favorite places to buy books, either in person or online?  I'd love to hear about them!

The good old summertime


It's been a while since I gave a personal update, and now it's summertime I feel things are slowing down enough to blog (yay!).
Saying good-bye to the rhodies, hello to the foxgloves!

This spring was very busy, both in work and in personal life.  A few things I did:
  • Took a volunteer job for a four-day weekend outdoors.  Very stressful, but I learned a lot from the challenge.
  • Went on an elimination diet for several weeks.  It didn't help my skin issues, but I lost some weight(!).
  • Mentored (and continue to mentor) new employees at work.
My (very basic) microphone setup.

The best book I read in the last month or two is The Sea-Wolf by Jack London, which I reviewed (spoiler-free!) on my classic literature podcast.  There's nothing like reading a sea story, and I think it's my favorite genre for summer reading.  :)

Other spring/early summer reads:
  • Short stories by Shiga Naoya.  While I didn't enjoy the collection that much, it still makes me want to read more Japanese literature.
  • All My Sons and Death of a Salesman, plays by Arthur Miller.  He's truly talented, but the stories are very depressing.
  • That Hideous Strength (currently reading), the last book of C. S. Lewis's Space Trilogy.  A podcast review of the first two books will be coming out tomorrow (Monday, July 3rd).
  • Hero (currently reading), by Michael Korda.  A coworker and fellow history enthusiast was kind enough to lend me this 2010 biography of T. E. Lawrence (and you know how I feel about T. E.).  Looking forward to focusing on this tome as soon as I finish The Space Trilogy.
I'm halfway through the year, which means I need to decide whether to catch up on my own Sherlock Holmes challenge or officially abandon it (ugh).  It may have been a mistake to try to re-read it at this time.  I try to avoid re-reading because my TBR list of books I haven't read before is so long.  Haven't decided yet...
Roses growing at my old college campus.

This month, I'm also participating in Camp NaNoWriMo (username is marigold1900).  I usually work on one of my novels, but this year I'm writing a "semi-autobiographical novel/memoir" in the format of This Side of Paradise.  I don't expect to finish the entire project this July, but if I get most of it written, that will be good progress.

A very happy July to you all (and happy Independence Day for those of us in the U.S.!)!

Sherlock Holmes Challenge: May Check-In


 Apologies for the lateness of this.  Please comment with any thoughts or reviews you'd like to share!

These were May's stories, following the Chronological Challenge.  If you are on a different schedule, though, feel free to chime in with what you read in 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"

We + announcement


It's been quite around here, but I've been busy...

...I've started a podcast!  It's going to be a weekly discussion of classic literature, kind of like this blog (but kind of different).  The first episode is a review of We, which I read about a month ago and wanted to save for this moment.  Please check it out here, and let me know what you think:  Classics Considered: We vs. Me - Episode 1.

The whole concept of a classic lit podcast has been in my mind lately.  I've enjoyed non-literary shows like Ear Biscuits and This Developer's Life, as well as book reviews by various vloggers on YouTube.  As I began to see the value in a conversational format (no lectures here), I also found my interest in reviewing to be renewed.  Maybe it's the challenge...writing is almost as easy as breathing, but I get extremely nervous behind a microphone.  It forces me to think more quickly and face my limitations as a speaker.  It's also (as I'm finding out) lots of fun!

Just to clarify: I won't be completely stopping the written book reviews here.  So far, this podcast is still in the "experiment" stage.  Ideally, and if it goes well, I hope to find a good balance between the two formats, rather than choose one over the other.

Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon: TBR stack


This will be my first year participating in Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon!  It's been on my radar for a while, but I'm usually too busy (or think I'm too busy).  This year, the timing is right, as I've already got a ton of "currently reading" books on the shelf.  

I'll be posting updates on my Instagram and perhaps some reviews to follow afterwards.  Let me know if you're also participating!

And now, the lineup:
We (e-book) / Yevgeny Zamyatin
Right Ho, Jeeves (e-book) / P. G. Wodehouse
Sherlock Holmes Challenge catch-up / A. C. Doyle
Out of the Silent Planet / C. S. Lewis 
Spiritual Writings / Soren Kierkegaard
The Paper Door and Other Stories / Naoya Shiga

Stretch goals:
Journey Through the Impossible / Jules Verne
The Screwtape Letters / C. S. Lewis
Lord of the Flies (re-read) / William Golding

Not aiming too high, but I hope to finish some of these. 

This Side of Paradise - a peek into the life of F. Scott Fitzgerald


This Side of Paradise dust jacket 
My first attempt to read this book was on a plane, four years ago.  I had been going through some tough times, and as I plodded through the first fifty pages, my mind kept wandering.  I grew tired of the apparently carefree protagonist - who had the romantic name of Amory Blaine - and ultimately tossed this to the Not Finishing stack with a single comment: "Weird book so far."

Having finished the book now, I would word it a bit differently: "Weird book, but oddly rewarding."

If you are a reader who can love a book for the sake of its writing, This Side of Paradise is just your sort of book.  It is written in a series of vignettes and takes place over the course of Amory's childhood, youth, college years, and early adulthood.  Much like the crisp narrative of The Great Gatsby, each scene has its own particular mood and brilliancy, and the effect is a chocolate box of impressions, some bitter and some sweet. 
Youth is like having a big plate of candy. Sentimentalists think they want to be in the pure, simple state they were in before they ate the candy. They don't. They just want the fun of eating it all over again.
There is a great deal of bitter in Amory's life, as it turns out.  Born into wealth, he drifts through childhood with not too much schooling and eases into Princeton University with more than academics on his mind.  Campus drama appeals to him, yet he realizes he is always a little different than his peers, fitting not neatly into some clique or crowd mentality.  Amory adores poetry and falls in love many times and in many different ways.  His listless egotism, however, holds happiness at arm's length.  "It was always the becoming he dreamed of, never the being."

This eerie surrealism comes back again and again in the plotline.  The best example, and my favorite part of the book, was Amory's vision of the man with the pointed shoes.  It was almost Dostoyevskian and could be a short story in itself.  It was also completely unlike the rest of the story, and, more than a welcome diversion, made me think about him from a different light.

My motivation for coming back to This Side of Paradise was to get into the 1920s, but it went further than that - I entered an entire American subculture, which was so specific to the early 20th century and yet also specific to the wealthy class that it seems to be its own microcosm.  I felt both connected to Amory and distinctly alienated from his way of life and thinking.  Perhaps this is because, under the purple ties and flowery speech, he is just a twenty-something like me.

3.5 out of 5 starsThis Side of Paradise was weird, but worthwhile.

Sherlock Holmes Challenge: April Check-In


For those following along on my Sherlock Holmes challenge - and for any who still wish to join! - I've decided to change things up a bit.  Instead of weekly link-ups, I'll be posting monthly check-ins, open to any and all Sherlock Holmes stories you have read in the month.  This will help me manage the posts better and also remove the dependency on the link-up widgets (which, while useful, can cause extra load time on the blog).

April's stories include the following:

March (Carry-over)
Week 13 (Mar 26-Apr 1):  "The Naval Treaty"

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 (continued)

Please comment with any thoughts or reviews you'd like to share!  This post has no expiration date, so if you want to come back and add your reviews at the end of the month, that's perfectly fine.  And again, if you are on a different reading schedule, feel free to chime in!

Top Ten Tuesday: Spring TBR books


This week's Top Ten Tuesday topic is: ten books to read this spring.

I am so excited for spring this year, so hopefully that translates to reading more books.  I'm also participating in the April edition of Camp Nanowrimo, however - planning to finish my novel-in-progress! - so we'll see how it goes.  :)

1. Shackleton, by Roland Huntford: I've been wading through this enormous book since November.  Ideally I'll finish it this spring, but it's one of my own books so no rush.
2.  Eugene Onegin, by Alexander Pushkin (transl. Roger Clarke)
3.  Out of the Silent Planet, by C. S. Lewis
DSCF2316 Dante perdu
4.  The Divine Comedy, by Dante: This is such a hard one to read (comprehension-wise), but I'm trying.
5.  The Complete Short Stories, by Franz Kafka: Another to-finish!
6.  Peter-Pan, by J. M. Barrie
7.  Cancer Ward, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn:  Maybe...
8. - 10.  Not sure yet.  ;)

Wedding Preparations in the Country


I rarely read Kafka straight through.  Even in the middle of a story, I'll take a sudden hiatus and return to it later, not the worse for a break.  The world through his eyes is weird, menacing, and illogical, yet too close to reality to make it entirely escapism.  This collection of his complete short stories is no different; I've owned it for several years, and returned to it just now after an extended break.

"Wedding Preparations in the Country" is less fanciful than his more famous work, The Metamorphosis, yet it is no less Kafkaesque.  Raban, a city dweller, is setting out on a rainy night to journey to the country, where his fiancee awaits him.  Along the way, he encounters his friend, Lement, as well as a host of strangers who leave their own influences on him and his already tenuous nerves.  Raban alternates between soaking in his surroundings and musing over the trip before him, finding little to comfort his anxieties and much to increase his sense of dread.

This short tale was quintessential Kafka.  I particularly enjoyed it because it brings out one of the best qualities of his writing - the impressionism.  He writes attitudes more than characters, atmospheres more than places, and feelings more than coherent thoughts (Kafka's rambling dialogues are masterful).  Of course, it's not an upbeat story; like most of his plots, it seems more like a thought experiment or a bad dream.  The realism that comes through, however, is what leaves me in awe every time.  It's like looking at Monet painting from a distance: you don't see blobs of paint, you see a window into someone else's real world.

Sherlock Holmes: "The Reigate Squires" (or, "The Reigate Puzzle")

Week 11: "The Reigate Squires"

I've always thought "The Reigate Squires" was an interesting yet quirky story from Watson's recollections.  It's "quirky" not just because it has three names, but also for the fact that it seems fairly humdrum in its plot, except for sporadic moments of alarming behavior, by Holmes himself.  In some ways, this story is more like a comedy than a mystery, but Doyle still manages to inject it with enough macabre to keep up the impression of unease connected with the mystery.  Add to that the fact we see Holmes has finally gained international acclaim, and "The Reigate Squires" could easily be the first tale (in this chronological ordering) with an almost cinematic Holmesian quality to it.

It's been a long time since I last read this, but I enjoyed it this time around, too, so it's aged well.

Sherlock Holmes: "The Resident Patient"


Week 10: "The Resident Patient"

Sorry for being an absent host lately!  I've had a lot going on in "real life" and was finding it hard to blog.  Now I hope to be more on top of things again...

This is another Holmes story that I don't often think about, yet I ought to call a favorite.  Even being so familiar with it now, I think "The Resident Patient" is a pretty unique mystery, as well as horrifying in its conclusion.  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a doctor himself, which may have something to do with the level of detail in the setting and characters. 

If you particularly like medical-themed tales, I also recommend Doyle's short story collection, Round the Red Lamp, which includes some mysteries but also other genres.

The Begum's Millions


'The Begum's Fortune' by Léon Benett 16 One day, out of the blue, the unassuming Dr. Sarrasin learns he is heir to an enormous fortune.  It seems he is the only living descendant of a Frenchman who married a begum - "a Muslim lady of high rank" and, through her wealth, became rich. 

As it would happen, another claimant to the fortune shows up, a German professor by the name of Schultze.  To avoid an expensive court case, they agree to split the money in half and each spend it on the projects of their dreams.  These projects turn out to be two new cities, both highly regulated but as different from each other as the masterminds who founded them.  Away in the wilds of Oregon state, the cities are built and populated, thriving till one man's sinister ideals threaten to undermine both topias. 

This is quite a page-turner and, in spite of the Vernian themes, a somewhat different read than most other of his novels I've read. The exploration of dystopia vs. utopia in the Pacific Northwest is what could bring this book back into readership, though it may be countered by the more disappointing elements (e.g. some racially prejudiced sentiments by the characters, including from the "good guys"). That said, for the times in which it was written, The Begum's Millions is a prescient 19th-century warning about issues that would face the following two centuries. The story is exciting and as emotional as it is scientific (if not more so). 4 out of 5 stars...a good read, but not quite as good as Magellania, my new gold standard for Jules Verne.

The Children of Húrin, and their Middle Earth


By David Revoy [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Courage, resilience, loyalty, and hope.  These themes, among many others, permeate J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and its immediate prequel, The Hobbit.  I think of these ideas to be as much Tolkienesque as the "ring saga" itself: the bleakness in LOTR is well exceeded by acts of bravery and strength of faith.  Yet if you go back further in Middle Earth history to The Children of Húrin, you'll find very different tale, as similar as it may seem in most respects.

Before Sauron, there was another dark lord called Morgoth.  Like Sauron, Morgoth intended to rule all Middle Earth, and he was merciless to any who stood in his way.  Túrin, son of Húrin, is compelled by his mother Morwen to leave the eventual war zone of his home village and find refuge with the elves in Doriath.  Though a natural leader, Túrin is hotheaded and impulsive, and in a world where all must fend for themselves, he finds it easier to make friends than to keep them.  As he grows from boy to man, with all the glory and heartbreak that his heritage has left him, Túrin feels he must take on Morgoth in his own way, and, if he can, reunite with his mother and the sister he has never met.

I regret putting this off so long.  It's a bleak, lingering wreck of a story, more disturbing than shocking.  I loved the characterization of Túrin and Morwen, because they seemed to me very real people, given their circumstances.  Túrin has good intentions, but in the greater scheme of things, he is not particularly heroic.  I would hardly expect him to be; he's just trying to survive, and that without a Shire to remember, or a Samwise to turn to.

Some of the plot was a little repetitive; most of it was tragic and depressing.  By the end, I almost felt like it was too tragic, to the point of melodrama, but that might just be me.  I give it 3.5 out of 5 stars, though I rounded to 4 on Goodreads.  Recommended to those who enjoyed reading LOTR and also anyone who likes mythology stories.

Top Ten Books I Liked More/Less Than I Thought I Would


This week's Top Ten Tuesday is about books that exceeded or did not quite meet expectations.  I feel like I've read quite a few of those, especially recently, so here goes!

Books I Liked More Than I Thought I Would

1.  The Picture of Dorian Gray - Oscar Wilde
A surprisingly good read (but don't forget the tissues).

2. The Club of Queer Trades - G. K. Chesterton
This book is a hilarious Sherlock Holmes parody.  I enjoyed it more than I would have thought.  ;)

3. Shirley - Charlotte Brontë
Though it's been a while since I read this, I just remember finding it a lot better than I anticipated.  It's a great historical fiction set in the Regency era, and the romance is completely Brontë.  Any Brontë fans who have not read this one should really give it a try. 

4. Dracula - Bram Stoker
This is one of my favorite Victorian novels now.  It has a few flaws, but overall I was really swept up in the story and characters, beyond my expectations.

5. Under Western Eyes - Joseph Conrad
I don't think I had any particular hopes for this novel, yet I found in it an emotional epic in the vein of Russian authors (Conrad was Polish).  Razumov, the main character, is one you're not likely to forget.  Should be considered one of Conrad's masterpieces.

Books I Liked Less Than I Thought I Would

Oh dear, this is the book that makes you wonder if the speculations are true - that maybe Lee didn't want it published.  Regardless, I was very disappointed.

I gave this one four stars but expected more from it.  It was ok, but kind of boring.

3. Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
I remember reading this two or three times and never fully grasping the chronology or "who's who."  That, and the characters themselves, made it difficult to enjoy the book.  However, it's due for a re-read; maybe I'll like it next time.

4. Beowulf
Another one I felt like I "should" like but didn't.

5. Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde - Robert Louis Stevenson
Didn't like this one at all.  I don't remember feeling any empathy for Jekyll, so maybe that was the problem.

Sherlock Holmes: A Study in Scarlet (review)


A study in scarlet, eh? Why shouldn't we use a little art jargon. There's the scarlet thread of murder running through the colourless skein of life, and our duty is to unravel it, and isolate it, and expose every inch of it. 

A Study in Scarlet was the first Sherlock Holmes story in print, written by a twenty-seven-year-old Arthur Conan Doyle about an eccentric detective of the same age. 

Dr. John Watson, an army surgeon with shattered nerves, arrives in London, ca. 1881, looking for respite from his experiences in the Middle East.  By a mutual acquaintance, he is introduced to a medical student and future roommate, Sherlock Holmes, whose mysterious talents seem to point to some greater purpose that Watson can't quite grasp.  A murder, a ring, and a tangle of muddy footprints set them both into the midst of a criminal investigation, where strange signs are leaving the public in fear of secret societies.  In spite of his health, Watson follows his new friend Holmes wholeheartedly into the kind of adventure he thought was the stuff of fiction.

This is, I think, the third time I've read A Study in Scarlet, so the mystery fails to impress me as it did the first time.  As a Holmes story, too, it falls short of such greatness found in The Sign of Four or many of the short stories.  The thing to remember is that this was Doyle's debut novel for Holmes - as such, it's quite impressive.  Though Doyle, via Holmes, mentions such precursors as Edgar Allan Poe's Dupin (more of a hobby analyst than a detective), there really was no character quite like Holmes before, in English literature.

As a character, Sherlock Holmes is flawed from the get-go.  He is quite proud of his knowledge and talent for analysis, just as he is unconcerned about his (purported) ignorance of the solar system.  He is little moved by the sinister details of the case he is investigating, even as Watson learns of them with horror. Watson's initial reaction is natural enough; he can hardly believe how conceited his friend acts.  However, as Holmes begins to weave webs where the official investigators are lost, the incredulity of the doctor is swiftly replaced with a new respect and fascination.

The plot is rather sensationalist, which varies at times between genuinely moving and unfortunately cheesy.  What I like most is the development of Holmes and Watson's friendship.  By the end of the story, Watson feels Holmes has been treated unfairly by the police, and he wants to set the record straight.  This is the reason Watson started writing, and - if it takes years - even Holmes will appreciate it, in the end.

Sherlock Holmes: "The Yellow Face"


Week 7: "The Yellow Face"

Sherlock Holmes: "The Speckled Band"

Week 6: "The Speckled Band"

Sorry for the late link-up post, but I figured better late than never (?).  I've been incredibly busy IRL, so I have a bit of catchup to do on my own challenge.  =/

Sherlock Holmes: A Study in Scarlet


Weeks 3-5: A Study in Scarlet

We finish up January with the first Sherlock Holmes story ever written, featuring the first major case of his career.

Till We Have Faces - a story of love


There was a time I might have disliked this book.  Years ago, two things could easily ruin a story for me: harsh protagonists and untidy endings.  Till We Have Faces is guilty of both.  I think I would not have liked it those years ago, so why do I wish I had read it then?  Possibly to become aware of what I was doing.  Experience, however, was the best way to learn, and this is exactly why I felt this novel, tremendously.

Orual is an unattractive young woman - so much so, that her own father, the violent king of Glome, reminds her when he's angry.  Her grim life is changed completely when she adopts her beautiful baby half-sister, Psyche, and raises her with all the affection she can give and has never quite received.  In a world where Orual finds her father, the people, and the gods set against her, it is only a matter of time before tragedy hits.  She lives and strives for just one thing: to hold on to what love she has.

You never comprehend how much you love someone until something comes along to break it.  You don't realize your own mistakes until it's too late.  I could hardly put the book down; I empathized only too well with the narrator, seeing where her sad tale was going.  How did C. S. Lewis, of all authors, understand her so deeply?  I think the line between devotion and idolatry concerns more than solely human relationships; it is directly related to our spiritual condition.  As Kierkegaard wrote in Works of Love, God must be our middle term in human relationships - if we don't view others through Him, we can't love them truly.  By approaching love from this larger viewpoint, Lewis so deftly characterized Orual that she is as true to life as fiction gets, harsh as she is.

I give it 4.5 stars overall.  The ending is not bad - in fact, it is fitting to the theme - but it didn't quite captivate me like the first part.  Also, in view of the fact that this story is set in a fantasy pagan world, I can't help but wish Lewis had taken more liberties with the resolution, since he was already so far from the original.  That said, I rounded it to a 5 on Goodreads, where the rating system only takes whole stars.  This is my first favorite read of the year.

Sherlock Holmes: "The Musgrave Ritual" (review)


Ah... the Musgrave Ritual.  While it does not come immediately to mind when I think of favorite Sherlock Holmes stories, nonetheless it is one of those I always enjoy.

An old college acquaintance, Reginald Musgrave, asks Holmes to help him solve the mystery of his missing butler.  Holmes's career is still in its earliest stages, and he is eager to take on the challenge.  The most prominent clue is, in itself, a riddle - the "Musgrave Ritual" that has been passed down in the family for generations.  Holmes believes if he can solve the riddle, all the rest of the mystery will fall into place.

This story gives a lot of great insights on Holmes himself - specifically, his methods.  He is one who focuses on gaining and using practical knowledge that will help him in his work (we'll hear more about that in A Study in Scarlet!).  Sometimes that practical knowledge may seem almost random.  In this instance, he makes use of his knowledge of math, history, and human psychology to approach the problem.

There are two great adaptations of this story which I just want to mention.  One is a TV episode, from the fantastic Sherlock Holmes series starring Jeremy Brett.  It takes a few liberties with the story, but it overall it follows it closely.  A small clip:

Another one I enjoy is the Basil Rathbone movie Sherlock Holmes Faces Death.  The plotline combines the concept of a riddle with the game of chess, all in a spooky house (for added drama).  Granted, it's more of an "inspired by" film than a purist adaptation, but it's great fun to watch. 

Embracing routine in 2017


On a recent post, "Dreams & Goals for 2017," I talked about wanting to find a daily schedule to help me reduce stress levels, as well as balance my time between work and personal pursuits.  A commenter, Mari, expressed interest in hearing about my schedule if I found one that works.  It's been two weeks, and I'm happy to report I've created a daily plan and stuck to it, and overall it's been a surprising success.  :)

This is the approximate breakdown, with clarifying notes:

9:30–10:00 PM - Lights Off
I put this first because it is the most important.  I have always - and especially since college - been a night owl, easily staying up till 1:00 AM no problem and even past that sometimes.  I could hardly imagine going to bed early, let alone consistently.  On January 2, I made myself turn the lights off at 9:30, and that was the beginning of the success.  I did not fall asleep for an hour or two, but that was just the first night of the new schedule - it became vastly easier, of course, once I started getting up early.

As someone who finds it easier to fall asleep than to wake up, this was the single most useful change I made.

5:50–6:15 AM - Lights On
I have two alarm clocks.  One is my trusty mp3 player (yes, I am ancient), which I've set to play "Clair de Lune" at 5:50 AM.  The other is my Philips Wake-Up Light alarm clock, which has a beep that goes off at 6:00 AM.  Now here are real the tricks:
  • Through this system, I get about 8 hours of sleep every night.  Falling asleep at about 10:00 PM makes it easy to get up at 6:00 AM, because I really did get a good night's sleep!
  • The wake-up song matters.  I used to use "Arabesque I" and also tried songs by Yiruma, but the first notes of "Clair de Lune" are just perfect for me personally.
  • Every evening, I place my mp3 player in a different location in my room.  In the morning, the little task of finding the mp3 player helps my brain wake up.
Random benefit:  This may sound strange, but I have suddenly started having awesome dreams almost every night.  I almost never had dreams before.  (Probably I used to be too stressed/tired to dream.)

7:00–7:30 AM - Study (Work-Related)
On my best days (and I'll be honest, this is not every day), I will try to complete my morning routine by 7:00 AM and then get in some work-related study before I leave home.

8:15 AM - Start Work (with More Studying)
I generally start work by 8:15.  My boss really advocates training and self-teaching, so I spend about an hour reading or watching video tutorials.  It is sometimes tempting to skip this step - especially if I'm in the middle of an intense task - but I have found that if I spend those quiet morning hours in quiet study, it minimizes the stress of the workplace environment and sets me up for a more productive day.  

Additionally, I feel more enthusiastic about training when I do it every day, as opposed to saving it all for a Friday or a low work day.

11:45–Noon - A Real Lunch Break
For the first two years of work, I was in the habit of eating while working.  This is terrible for at least three reasons:
  1. You enjoy your food LESS when you do this.
  2. You don't give your brain any time to rest.
  3. Your keyboard/mouse become...gross (TMI, sorry).
Again, it is tempting to eat while working, but by forcing myself to take a real lunch break, even for 15 or 20 minutes, I am giving my brain the break it needs.  Just sitting at my desk eating lunch, I suddenly hear my coworkers' chats and other office noise in a whole new (more positive) light.  It helps reset my perspective for the second half of the work day!

5:00 PM - Personal Study Time
I get home around 5-ish, and soon after that is my non-work study time.  I start with one lesson of French for Reading, then I read the Bible chapters for the day. 

Regarding Bible study - I've been using the "Beginning" study plan from BibleGateway, which is reading Genesis through Revelation in a year.  They figure out the whole schedule for you, and you can use their calendar tracker to stay on schedule.  I'm reading the NKJV translation for the first time, with a hard copy of the KJV close by for comparison.  I also keep a "Bible journal," where I write something about the day's chapters (sometimes a sentence, sometimes a page, whatever comes to mind).

7:30–9:30 PM - My *Favorite Time of the Day
After dinner and a hot bath, I can catch up on blogs and reading!  (Also, Blokus - a somewhat addicting board game my sibs and I just learned.)

In Summary...
Do I stick to this schedule 100%?  No, I'll be honest I've deviated from the course more than a few times.  

That said, whenever I didn't follow it, I noticed a domino of Bad Side Effects, and in general I was less happy (and more stressed) when I didn't adhere to the schedule.  

*Interestingly enough, each time of the day is more enjoyable when I follow the schedule than when I don't.  But truthfully, this time is probably the most enjoyable of them all. 

What else?
Having a schedule means taking out things you can't fit into it.  You have decide how important it is to not miss that TV episode, or whether you should be watching a 30-minute YouTube video.  For example, my favorite show, Good Mythical Morning, starts up again tomorrow.  I may end up watching it during my lunch break, since an episode fits into about 15 minutes.  However, I might have to postpone watching the new Victoria series, since the first episodes runs till 11:00 PM tonight...we'll see!

Sherlock Holmes: "The Musgrave Ritual"


Week 2: "The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual"

Our second week features another story from Holmes's past!  Comment below with your thoughts on the story, or share a link to your blog/vlog review.

If you have any issues with the linky widget, please let me know. I switched over to a different widget hoster that would let me have multiples.

"The Golden Pot" and Other Tales - Hoffmann's mind is a weird place


In my Mount TBR 2016 Recap, I mentioned how much I loved the original Nutcracker and Mouse King, which left me wanting to read more by E. T. A. Hoffmann.  I was excited to find this little collection of some of his other stories waiting under the Christmas tree: The Golden Pot and Other Tales.

How can I describe Hoffmann?  His writing - his bizarre, funny, gruesome, sometimes tedious writing - precedes Lewis Carroll in many ways.  Hoffmann likes to bewilder his characters, make them question who they are, and encounter all manner of strange people and anthropomorphic animals.  He has an idea and runs with it wholeheartedly.  In a general sense (and in contrast to Carroll), I would say Hoffmann's stories are fascinating more than they are likeable.

My favorite was the first one, "The Golden Pot" (5 stars).  Anselmus is a young, fanciful calligraphist who gets a job as copyist for a mysterious man, Lindhorst the Archivist.  Lindhorst's beautiful, yet eerie house is just one of the fantastical elements Anselmus encounters.  I can't say much more without giving it away, except that I found it to be the most original and intriguing of the stories.

The majority of tales in this volume feature three archetypes:
  • an eccentric, flighty young man, who may or may not be living in the Real World
  • an aggressively seductive woman, the "anti-princess" if you will
  • an angelic, modest, beautiful woman, who is most likely the young man's fiancee
I wouldn't be surprised if Hoffmann is used in universities' literature courses to illustrate the portrayal of women in 19th century literature.  Those two types of female characters are prevalent in that era, and Hoffmann is here typical.  It is really unfortunate that 19th century media - and, indeed, much of modern, 21st century media - chooses to focus on two extremes, rather than on more balanced and realistic female characters.

Clara in "The Sandman" (3 stars) is one exception.  Though she plays a traditional role in the story, she is also levelheaded and refuses to accept the fears of her fiance.  Clara goes even farther - she promises to protect him:
If the hateful Coppola should presume to annoy you in your dreams, I am determined to appear in your presence like your guardian angel and to drive him away with loud laughter.  I am not the slightest bit afraid of him...
Clara is a wonderful character, but unfortunately, Hoffmann relegates her story to that of most thoughtful, intelligent heroines in the 19th century.  Was it because brave, logical females could not be tolerated - or was it because they weren't "sexy" enough for the readers?

To be fair, in Hoffmann's world, the male characters aren't much better, however sympathetic they may be.  In "Princess Brambilla" (2 stars) and "Master Flea" (1 star), the male protagonists are easily swept away by the events (and, of course, the alluring ladies) they meet by accident.  It's amusing at first, but quickly grows wearisome.  Hoffmann's strength of committing himself to an idea becomes a weakness, because the plots are more cringeworthy than charming. 

I'm not sure why "My Cousin's Corner Window" (5 stars) is included, but I liked it.  It is a story of two cousins observing a marketplace from a window.  It has an almost Hawthornesque feel to it, and it reads more like nonfiction.  If you grow tired of the Wonderland-like settings of the other stories, then skip to this one and savor this literary portrait that makes you feel as if you've traveled back in time.
Then, O my reader, you may come to believe that nothing can be stranger or weirder than real life, and that the poet can do no more than capture the strangeness of reality, like the dim reflection in a dull mirror. 
- "The Sandman," p. 98-99

Happy Birthday, Sherlock Holmes!


By general consensus, January 6th, 1854, is considered to be the birthday of Sherlock Holmes.  You can read about the humorous history of this (somewhat arbitrary) celebration in this 2009 article.  

I'm a firm believer in 1854 as the birth year, since Holmes is described as about sixty years old in "His Last Bow," which takes place in 1914.  As for January 6th, I'm not sure about it, but I don't mind it.  (For one thing, it's the same day as Epiphany, which helps me remember!)

In observation of his birthday, how about a discussion question - What is your first memory of Sherlock Holmes?

When I was about nine or ten, I discovered The Original Illustrated Sherlock Holmes on my family's bookshelf.  It wasn't the complete stories, but about 2/3 of them, with the illustrations by Sidney Paget.  The first one was "A Scandal in Bohemia," and while I couldn't have told you the definition of some words - like "blackmail" - I was absolutely carried away by the story, and of course, by Holmes and Watson. 

Enthralled, I devoured the entire book in a very short time.  Like Watson, I was floored by Holmes's deductions.  Unusual for me at the time, I got emotional over some plots - "The Greek Interpreter" terrified me, and I was heartbroken by "The Final Problem."  I was completely immersed in the series.

As I got older, Sherlock Holmes the character influenced my life in a lot of ways, which maybe I will talk about in another post.  Suffice it to say, though I've experienced many books, I'm not sure if any have affected me as much as the Sherlock Holmes series.  

Sherlock Holmes: "The Gloria Scott" (review)


The first in the lineup for our Sherlock Holmes challenge is a flashback to Holmes's college days, where he was a solitary student studying chemistry.  He made a total of (surprise) one friend, as he tells us: Victor Trevor.
He was a hearty, full-blooded fellow, full of spirits and energy, the very opposite to me in most respects, but we had some subjects in common, and it was a bond of union when I found that he was as friendless as I.
I like this bit; it makes Trevor to be a sort of proto-Watson - opposite personality to Holmes, but lonely like him.  Trevor also genuinely likes Holmes's conversation, to the point he asks him down to his house for a visit during break.

The actual mystery, involving Trevor's father, is a grisly start for our challenge!  Yet I think it summarizes many key points to the Sherlock Holmes series.  It has the mysterious note, the sympathetic villain or anti-hero, and a somewhat lengthy flashback dialogue.  More importantly, it reconfirms Holmes's belief in himself, and those adventures tend to be amongst his best.

I was a little sad to read that he spent the last seven weeks of the holiday at the college, "working out a few experiments in organic chemistry."  It seems to imply either Holmes had no family to go home to, that he was extremely obsessive about his studies (most probable), or that home was not a good place for him.

Can't wait to read all of your thoughts on this one!

Sherlock Holmes: "The Gloria Scott"


Week 1: "The Adventure of the Gloria Scott"

This is the first check-in post of the Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge!  Comment below with your thoughts on the story, or share a link to your blog/vlog review.

Kai (Fiction State of Mind)
Keely @ Achaemenids
Ashley @ BookishRealmReviews
Dana @ Much Madness is Divinest Sense
Marian @ noonlight reads

Note: Having some trouble with the linky widget, so please bear with me (and post your links in a comment if there is no widget visible :)).