If there is one poet whose name has come to be associated with cliches of the genre, that would be Henry Wadsworth Longfellow"You're a poet / and you didn't know it / but your feet show it / they're long fellows!"  A sad pun which sums up most critics' opinion.  I am biased the other way - after reading a substantial selection of Longfellow's poetry, I was left overall impressed, even in a comparison with Wordsworth.  That is more or less how I decided to read Hyperion (1839), one of his more obscure, prose works.

The book follows a young American, Paul Flemming, on his travels through the scenery of Germany and Switzerland.  Recently in mourning for his childhood friend (girlfriend?), Flemming finds comfort in studying the lives of the people he meets, as well as in conversing upon philosophy and religion with his various travelling companions.  His life changes upon meeting the beautiful Mary Ashburton, an intellectual Englishwoman with a talent for drawing.  For Flemming, it is love at first sight, but does Mary feel the same for him?

In spite of its rambling digressions, I find it hard to dislike Hyperion.  It is what Werther should have been, and, for all that, there are enough similarities to detect where Longfellow might have drawn inspiration from Goethe.  You have a troubled, poetic young man searching for peace in the beauty of the countryside; he falls in love, and there goes his peace of mind (or does it?).  This is a book for us Romantics, even if we are just wannabes.  Nothing recommends it more strongly than Longfellow's assurance of our actual legitimacy:
But perhaps, gentle reader, thou art one of those, who think the days of Romance gone forever. Believe it not! O, believe it not! Thou hast at this moment in thy heart as sweet a romance as was ever written. Thou art not less a woman, because thou dost not sit aloft in a tower, with a tassel-gentle on thy wrist! Thou art not less a man, because thou wearest no hauberk, nor mail-sark, and goest not on horseback after foolish adventures! Nay, nay! Every one has a Romance in his own heart.
All is not poetic and idealistic, however.  There are moments in Hyperion that bring to mind the Dark Romanticism of Hawthorne, such as Emma and the seductive Count, or the ballerina whose husband sells her talent from city to city, treating her like a "favorite horse."  Flemming is a Romantic with a heart; he does not ignore the realities around him.  He does not claim to know all the answers, either.

If you like literature and travelogues from the Romantic era, you would probably like Hyperion3.5 out of 5 stars.

2013 Reads Recap

As I mentioned before, this was an unambitious year for reading.  My reading goals, such as they were:
  • The Prairie, J. F. Cooper - This was for school, so I read it and wrote a paper on it.
  • One biography - Instead of reading a biog, I randomly decided to read my sister's library book, From the Ashes of Sobibor by Thomas Toivi Blatt.  I have read Holocaust memoirs before, and they were all worth it, but this one felt additionally unique.  It describes the author's childhood in Poland, the takeover by the Nazis, and his enslavement in, and eventual escape from, the death camp Sobibor.  A depressing but eye-opening book that I highly recommend.
  • One political science book - For this I read America and the World by Brzezinski, Scowcroft, and Ignatius.  Again, this is not one I formally reviewed here, but it was interesting (though cursory regarding details).
  • One philosophy book - I read three: Meditations by Aurelius, Notes from Underground by Dostoyevsky, and The Power of the Powerless by Havel.  They were all excellent; Havel's was my favorite.  You can read it online from his website.  It was written during particular historic events, yet I found it still inspiring and relevant for today, whether applied in politics or one's community or personal life.
  • Anything from my reading list - I'm glad I finally read Werther and Sylvie and Bruno Concluded!
A break from routine can be an excellent thing for resetting your perspective and enthusiasm, and I think 2013 was just that.  Now if I can just finish Hyperion over the next week or so, I'll be ready to start my 2014 lists... 

Back to the Classics 2014 challenge

Updated 1/2/14
Back to the Classics, hosted by Karen

This is challenge is themed on books published during or prior to 1964.  For some of the categories, I will be overlapping with other challenges (because I'm not terribly ambitious!), but there are new to-read books on this list that I'm also looking forward to.


  1. ✓  A 20th Century ClassicThe Castle (1926, Kafka).  Alternative: 1984 (1949, Orwell) or The Great Gatsby (1925)  The Old Man and the Sea (1952, Hemingway)
  2. ✓  A 19th Century ClassicThe Masterpiece (1886), Zola  Lord Jim (18991900, Conrad)
  3. A Classic by a Woman AuthorA Vindication of the Rights of Woman (Wollstonecraft)
  4. ✓  A Classic in TranslationThe Brothers Karamazov (Dostoyevsky)
  5. A Wartime ClassicFor Whom the Bell Tolls (Hemingway) - Spanish Civil War
  6. A Classic by an Author Who Is New To You:  Beneath the Wheel (Hesse) - subject to change, though I've been wanting to read Hesse for a while now
Optional Categories:
  1. An American ClassicThe Scarlet Letter (Hawthorne) - being a Hawthorne fan who hasn't read Scarlet Letter is just awkward
  2. A Classic Mystery, Suspense or Thriller: does Frankenstein count?
  3. A Historical Fiction Classic:  Mutiny on the Bounty (1932).  I read the Bounty Trilogy many years ago and enjoyed it - high time for a re-read!
  4. A Classic That's Been Adapted Into a Movie or TV Series: The Last of the Mohicans (Cooper) - set in 1757, pub. 1826
  5. Extra Fun Category:  Write a Review of the Movie or TV Series adapted from Optional Category #4 - must be a separate blog posting from #4

2014 Russian Lit Challenge

An addition to my previous post - the Russian Literature 2014 challenge hosted by o.  I will be reading Eugene Onegin plus 2-3 other books (probably The Brothers Karamazov, Memories of the Future, and/or In the First Circle).  Russian lit is a significant chunk of my reading list, so this is a very exciting challenge!

2014 Books & Challenges

Getting next year's reading mapped out has been fun in itself - mainly because I've read so few books this year.  It hasn't been a matter of less time or different priorities, just neglect.   That really has to change.  Approaching graduation, I want to keep the studying momentum that has been my frenemy for the past four years and transfer it to my own reading/studying in the future.


  • Lord Jim - by all accounts, Joseph Conrad's best long novel. High time to read it!
  • The Magician's Nephew (Spanish trans.) - for a beginner's attempt at multilingual reading.  I know most of this book practically by heart, so this shouldn't be too hard.
Lesser priority:
  • Empty my "to-finish" list - include Bleak House.  Decide whether to finish or not finish each book.
  • Steampunk/Sci-Fi Reading List - any book(s)
  • The Great Gatsby
  • Complete Hornblower series - Hotspur and everything chronologically afterwards
  • The Little White Horse
  • Out of the Silent Planet (C. S. Lewis's Space Trilogy)
  • Fairy tales collections - Andersen, Grimm, Russian fairytales, etc.


History Reading Challenge hosted by Fanda

This is just the motivation I need to resume studying history!  Being a slow reader, I'm going for the Student level (1-3 books).  The first book is a must, the second a goal, and the other books are maybes:
  1. Eyewitness to History (Carey) - a collection of primary sources from many eras of history. 
  2. The Collapse of the Third Republic (Shirer) - how France fell to Germany in WWII. 
  3. *A People's History of the United States (Zinn) - famous US history textbook
  4. *A Patriot's History of the United States (Schweikart and Allen) - alternative perspective to Zinn's history.  
*I have taken many history courses and come to various conclusions about U.S. history in particular.  I'm eager to see how these books approach the same topics in contrasting ways, but hopefully one of them is focused on the facts and gray areas, not political bias/agenda.


For this, I would love to read For Whom the Bell Tolls (Hemingway) and The Autumn of the Patriarch (English trans.; Gabriel García Márquez).  These are both authors I've recently wanted to read, so it's a win-win situation!

Personal challenge: The Complete Sherlock Holmes Series, in chronological order.

I have probably said it a millionty-one times, but Sherlock Holmes is my favorite character of all time. I've actually never done a comprehensive re-reading, nor read the series in chronological order (a big deal to me)!  It has to be done.  I will be blogging about this challenge on Tumblr, and perhaps occasionally here - more info to come...

Eugene Onegin Read-Along

Tanglewood's first book event!  I'm so excited to read one of my favorites with you guys.  :)