Reading Goals for 2018

Meet Ned, a new resident of the Bookcase.
Wow, it's already New Year's Eve Eve!  Christmas festivities are sadly winding down...  Tomorrow, people will wait outside in the freezing cold to ring in 2018, and I'll be in my snug, warm house, probably curled up with Fitzgerald's Tender is the Night, thus attempting to relive a New Year's memory from three years back.  Though surprising at times, 2017 has been a good year for me, and as someone who gets post-holiday blues, a book can help ease the transition into the next one.

I've talked already about 2017 in review, and how I've decided not to take on any more reading challenges, as tempting as they are.  That said, a few goals for 2018 have been floating around in my mind (I love the word "goal" because, for some reason, it sounds more flexible to me than "plan").   Here's a few of my open-ended reading goals for next year:
  • Bring back Book Journals.  I have quite a few chunksters on my TBR list... War and Peace, Moby-Dick, The Count of Monte Cristo, and Ben-Hur, to name a few.  I ought to be ready for another book journal by now!
  • Read more non-fiction.  With a new T. E. Lawrence biography on my shelf (thanks Mom & Dad!), I'm sure I'll be reading more history in 2018.  However, I hope to extend my reading beyond Lawrence to include other historical figures/times, as well as current events and other non-fiction categories.
  • Escape the comfort zone.  In the past decade, I've been quite content to focus my reading on classics from specific countries, time periods, and genres (I'm sure you've noticed!).  Contrary to appearances, I really value the vast range of classics that exist, most of it free on the internet, and my favorite book blogs tend to cover that range in great depth.  I'd love to get outside my comfort zone next year and explore more areas of classic literature.  I kind of did that with dystopian fiction this year, and it was one of the highlights of 2017!
  • Revive the blog.  Since I started this blog back in 2010, I have stuck to pretty much the same style of posts, over 7 1/2 years.  With the start of my podcast, Classics Considered, I've considered quitting blogging, since public speaking is a challenge I both enjoy and want to get better at.  However, I still believe there's great value in written reviews, and this blog has been one of my few writing pursuits that's amounted to anything whatsoever.  I love Noonlight Reads, and to keep it alive, I think I need to do a couple of things in 2018:
    • Have a posting schedule, with weekly features
    • Share more candid, personal posts about reading
    • Continue to find other inspiring blogs and interact with other readers.  
If you have any feedback or suggestions for the blog, please let me know!  

The Art of War, and other conflicts

The Art of War-Tangut script
The Art of War would be better marketed today as "The Art of Problem Solving."  As far as warfare goes, you won't find anything here that has not been amply represented in documentaries, novels, movies, and current events.  I guess we are (morbidly) privileged in the 21st century to have seen Sun Tzu's advice played out, as well as ignored, in countless brutal conflicts, so reading this as a guide to war brings nothing new to the modern, armchair reader. 

Read as a metaphor for IT project management, however, this book still offers good guidance on how to be an effective leader and make optimal use of resources to solve problems.  Though discipline is emphasized, he also highlights the necessity of being flexible and using brains over sheer strength.  The time he spends on the psychology of the players, including the enemy and one's own forces, reminded me of T. E. Lawrence's tactics in the Middle East.  Information is critical to identifying victory, so Sun Tzu includes an entire section on the importance and deployment of espionage. 

This manual is succinct, to the point, and not terribly lost in translation, which is probably why it is still referenced today.  I recommend reading it from a broader perspective, as there are nuggets of advice that can be used in a professional context.

My (Reading) Year in Review

It's mid-December already - can you believe it?!

According to Goodreads, I read 36 books this year.  (A couple of those were "did not finish"s, but apparently those count, too.)  It was twice as much as I committed to, and I don't say that to brag; it was more of an accident than anything.

You see, I started out the the year intending to read very specifically: learn to read French, read through the whole Bible, read longer books, read challenges, etc.  I've mentioned earlier this year some lessons learned in this area, which pretty much explain my "reading schedule" (or lack thereof, as it turned out).

2017 was a year of learning for me, nonetheless:
  • Though I didn't stick with French, I did read several UX books for work, which made a life-changing impact on my day job.
  • I read four plays (three by Arthur Miller) and discovered the literary greatness of that genre.
  • My coworker lent me a 699 page biography of T. E. Lawrence.  Not only do I now know T. E. better than most real-life acquaintances, I actually finished the book in a reasonable amount of time (double win!).
  • C. S. Lewis melted my heart with Till We Have Faces, then broke my new podcast with That Hideous Strength, a book too tough to talk about.  (Actually, I'm releasing my podcast review of "that hideous book" early next year.  So it's not 100% broken...just delayed.)
  • I've been working seriously on one of my own novels this year, the longest yet.  It's my take on the Victorian Gothic, and I'm excited to finish it in the next month or two.  ^_^
So, the mistake with starting out the year with Till We Have Faces is that all the subsequent fiction I read pales by comparison. I've also been shy of my physical TBR shelf, which contains some randomness like The Prisoner of Zenda and the Lucia & Mapp stories, as well as the ever-agonizing Nostromo by Joseph Conrad, a book I have started some three or four times... 

Basically, I'm ending the year in a reading rut, and I probably won't do much reading over Christmas break because I'll be writing and podcasting.  But that is ok.  As someone with far too many hobbies, I am trying to accept the fact I cannot do everything at once, and these pursuits are still fulfilling even when taken in small sprints.

Ten Classics I'm Thankful For of the toughest and bravest "strong heroines" nobody talks about.  She's only seven-and-a-half exactly.

A day late, but better late than never, right?  This week's Top Ten Tuesday focuses on books that have "touched your heart and left you feeling SO thankful that it was written."  Narrowing this down to ten classic fictional books has been even more difficult than it should probably be...but here goes!

1.  Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and Through the Looking-Glass, by Lewis Carroll, illustrated by John Tenniel
For as long as I can remember, Alice is a character I've identified with, in her search for home and logic in a place of strangeness and illusion.  Carroll's witty silliness has forever influenced my own sense of humor and indirectly helped me become the "literary techie" I am.  Let's not forget Tenniel, either, whose illustrations bring it all to (sur)reality!

2. The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett
When I was a little kid, my mom bought a bunch of Wordsworth Classics that were on sale at the mall.  She read some of them to me, including The Secret Garden which was one of her personal favorites.  I'm so happy my mom helped me understand those stories and bridge the difficulty level with her enthusiasm; it definitely changed my life.

Jules Verne is the reason I have a mad passion for wood engravings.

3.  Around the World in Eighty Days, by Jules Verne
One of my most distinct reading experiences happened when I was a child, waiting at the ballet studio during my sister's class.  A friend saw me reading it and couldn't believe I was reading it for fun.  "At school, you'd get an award for reading that!"  Classics were already my favorite reading material, and I couldn't understand not wanting to read them for fun.  It made me appreciate being homeschooled, so that going around the world (or the center of the earth) with Jules Verne was cool at my school.  To this day, Jules Verne is my"safe place" of old-timey, scientific discovery and pure escapism.

Qualities of a good detective, #1: able to break down locked doors.

4.  The Sherlock Holmes series, by Arthur Conan Doyle
As I grew older and more enamored of logic, Sherlock Holmes became a natural hero.  A little ironically, my first memory of being deeply moved by fiction was reading "The Final Problem" and believing (at the sweet age of nine or ten) that it was truly final.  It cemented Holmes as my favorite fictional character, someone whose actions were even bolder than his talk.  The Sherlock Holmes series introduced me to so many grown-up concepts - deductive reasoning, phil/misanthropy, blackmail, social hierarchies, and diplomacy, to name a few.  Holmes's calm self-confidence and unconventionality also helped me come out of my shy shell, and I'll always be thankful for that.

5.  The Time Machine, by H. G. Wells
Along with Doyle and Verne, Wells is chiefly responsible for my teenage writing, which was pseudo-Victorian, melodramatic, and delightfully embarrassing. The wide-eyed simplicity of old science fiction has helped me find a kind of poetry in technology, even today with all its complexity.  (And of course, time travel is always appealing.)

6.  The Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien
There's little for me to add to what I've talked about recently, or what has been said so well by many others.  The Lord of the Rings came in my mid-teens when I was in a fictional rut and needed something to wake me up.  Tolkien also showed me the value of poetry, which encouraged me to read more of it and actually write my own.

Lts. Kennedy and Hornblower demonstrating the importance of friendship to a reluctant Lt. Bush.

7.  Mr. Midshipman Hornblower, by C. S. Forester
This book is the odd one on the list, because I actually found it to be very boring.  What makes me grateful for it is that it inspired one of my favorite TV dramas, Hornblower, starring Ioan Gruffudd as the title character.  Like Sherlock Holmes, Hornblower illustrated a lot of real-world concepts, such as ethics vs. realpolitik, loyalty vs. duty, and (in contrast/complement to Holmes) the importance of teamwork.  Not only that, but the plot encompasses almost every sea-story scenario, while following the hero's coming-of-age journey.  Hornblower was my go-to show while everyone else was watching Pirates of the Caribbean.  ;) 

Heart of Darkness is in many ways more fact than fiction.

8.  Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad
Joseph Conrad was a pivotal author for me.  It was about the time of reading Heart of Darkness that I saw fiction could be so much more than plot + characters and that a surrealist, subtle narrative could be quite powerful for relaying a strong, moral message.  Conrad reintroduced me to the blurry area between fiction and reality, which became so important during my college years. 

9.  Dracula, by Bram Stoker
I have fond memories of reading this over a cup of green tea, and later bemoaning Quincey Morris with my sister - who also enjoyed the book! - and finally, the two of us giggling together over dramatic scenes from the Bela Lugosi production.  It's an epic, inspiring classic that brings friends together, and those are some of the best.  I've only read it once but I intend to make that twice, soon.

10. Three Men in a Boat, by Jerome K. Jerome
If Dracula is a tale to bring friends together over drama, Three Men in a Boat is the comedy version of that.  My brother and I had so much fun reading it together, and by natural consequence, it's led us, plus my sister and mom, to enjoy the Jeeves and Wooster TV series, British humor in a similar style.  People often associate "classics" with grave, heavy topics, which is often true, but classic comedy is of the very best.  Fun and innocent humor is something I always appreciate.

Whew!  If you made it through this detour down memory lane, I'm thankful for that, too.  ^_^

Top Ten Unique Book Titles

This week's Top Ten Tuesday is all about titles of books that are more unique than trendy.  I may not have mentioned before that I love, love, love a good book title, so this topic particularly appeals to me.  ;)

Without further ado, here are some unique ones from classic literature:

1. Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, by Herman Melville
It doesn't get more signature than this. Melville chose interesting names for all the characters, not least of all the whale.

2. Perelandra, by C. S. Lewis
The surest way to have a unique title is to use a word from your own fictional language!

3. Magellania, by Jules Verne
Alternatively, taking a nonfictional place and making it more "literary" also works.

4. The Lighthouse at the End of the World, by Jules Verne
Probably my favorite book title of all time.  He used "lighthouse" in a title before it was trendy.

Rather than overrun this list with Jules Verne, I will just add that most of his titles were unique in his day.  (He was that cool.)

5. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, by Mark Twain
Who but Twain would come up with a great one like that?

6. Till We Have Faces, by C. S. Lewis
A perfectly eerie title for a perfectly eerie novel.

7. Minorities; Good Poems by Small Poets and Small Poems by Good Poets, ed. T. E. Lawrence
Sometimes it takes a unique sense of humor to come up with a unique title.

8. Three Men on the Bummel, by Jerome K. Jerome
But what is a "bummel"?

9. The Blithedale Romance, by Nathaniel Hawthorne
I mean, he could've called it "The Happy Valley Story"...

10.  Far from the Madding Crowd, by Thomas Hardy
A great title - unique, easy to say, and instantly recognizable.

Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon - Hourly Updates, autumn edition

Starting a little late here - but hey, with four hours of extra sleep, I have that much more energy for the rest of the readathon!  ;)

Going to follow Cirtnecce's example and update this post as often as possible.  Stay tuned and check back!

Hour 12 . . . Mid-Event Survey:
1. What are you reading right now?

Well, I just finished Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia, which I've been reading since June.  His story always gets me...  I got teary near the end.

2. How many books have you read so far?
Two!  But one of those involved 90 pages chock-full of history.  My brain is swimming with information.

3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon?
I'm still looking forward to Bambi. ^_^  But The Lord of the World also intrigues me!

4. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those?
No, it's been a blissful day at home.

5. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far?
I'm really surprised how fast the day has gone by!

Hour 4:

It's 8:42 am at my house.  It rained a great deal of the night, but now all is quiet, except for the occasional sound of trains in the valley.  (The sound of a distant train is one of my very favorites!)  My dad is watching a soccer game with the volume low in the next room, which is another favorite sound, and very like a normal Saturday.  I'm typing this at my desk with a clock behind me, under the dim morning light and a warm lamp.  My next plan is to go get coffee, cozy up in the covers, and start my first read of the day.  I think it will be Hero, because I'm so close to finishing this Lawrence of Arabia biography and pretty excited, too!

Opening Meme:

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?
Washington state, USA

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?

Oooh, I've got to say, I'm very excited to read Bambi!  Last night I took a peek at the beginning, and it looked just like my kind of book. 

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?
I have a stash of chocolate bars and M&Ms.  Don't tell anyone.

4) Tell us a little something about yourself!
I live with my sweet and fantastic family, who thinks the 24 Hour Readathon is kind of crazy but supports me anyway. ^_^  I write code for a living.  My favorite "girl's day out" is going to the local bookstore, Daiso (Japanese $1.50 store), or an opera!

5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today?
I plan to finish at least two books!

Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon: TBR, autumn edition

Once again, I'm gearing up for Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon, starting in five hours!  I enjoyed this event so much last time that, as soon as I heard there was a fall edition, I put it on my calendar.  It's not so much that I stay up the full 24 hours - no, indeed - but it's such a great, fun time to read a lot of different books and eat candy (oops).

As before, I'll be posting updates to Instagram and Goodreads, as well as maybe some reviews here.  Let me know if you're also participating!

The lineup:

 Finish Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia / Michael Korda
Journey Through the Impossible / Jules Verne
Peter Pan / J. M. Barrie
Rhett & Link's Book of Mythicality / Rhett and Link
Bambi (ebook) / Felix Salten
Stretch goals:
The Lord of the World (ebook) / Robert Hugh Benson
Kidnapped (re-read) / Robert Louis Stevenson

Returning to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Wizard oz 1900 cover

Currently: at home, listening to the rain, trying to fend off the beginnings of a cold.  (I haven't been sick in quite some was bound to happen.)

What better time to talk about The Wonderful Wizard of Oz?

Most people are familiar with the film, having the somewhat abbreviated title of The Wizard of Oz.  It was one of my childhood favorites, perhaps more so even than Mary Poppins, and I still love it.  You'd have to be hardhearted not to at least sympathize with Dorothy's plight and desire to find home, after a gigantic cyclone tears her family apart and literally drops her in a strange, fantastical land.  For my part, I've never stopped wanting a pair of ruby slippers (magical or otherwise).

L. Frank Baum's 1900 book predates the film by some decades and the modern reader by over a century.  It takes us a little more imagination to picture even Kansas.  Baum's sparse yet concise prose helps us in this:
When Dorothy stood in the doorway and looked around, she could see nothing but the great gray prairie on every side. Not a tree nor a house broke the broad sweep of flat country that reached to the edge of the sky in all directions. The sun had baked the plowed land into a gray mass, with little cracks running through it. Even the grass was not green, for the sun had burned the tops of the long blades until they were the same gray color to be seen everywhere. Once the house had been painted, but the sun blistered the paint and the rains washed it away, and now the house was as dull and gray as everything else.
In spite of this bleak picture, Baum's Dorothy is by no means anxious to get away.  Like an ultimate act of rebellion, her cheerful, simple life playing with her dog Toto makes even the prairie tolerable to her.  When the cyclone takes them away, Dorothy is set on one thing alone, and that is to find her way back.

This is just one of many differences between the book and movie. Happily, I found myself enjoying the book, while still appreciating the changes that were made for the movie script.  The moral of "Be careful what you wish for" is always a good cinematic theme; at the same time, I admire the original Dorothy's obstinate cheerfulness, strong conscience, and single-minded determination.

Cowardly lion2 Among the supporting characters, I was also happy to see many of the endearing characteristics of the film versions were taken from the originals.  The Tin Man (or here, Tin Woodman) is really a sweetheart, the Wizard is innocuous (and a little silly), and the Scarecrow (always my favorite) takes care of Dorothy throughout their adventures.  The character that was most different was the Cowardly Lion; in Baum's version, he is less goofy and more tragic, which I prefer.

I won't spoil it by saying anything more about the plot, which also differs from the original in several places.  If you haven't read this, I do recommend it - it's a delightful, modern fairytale, written with a wise simplicity that is common to all good fairytales.

I collect quotes on courage, and I'm adding this one, from Oz:  "There is no living thing that is not afraid when it faces danger.  The True courage is in facing danger when you are afraid..."

Kazuo Ishiguro - Nobel Laureate

Exciting news in the literature world... today it was announced Kazuo Ishiguro won the 2017 Nobel Prize for Literature!

As you may know from following me here and on Goodreads, I have great respect for Ishiguro as a writer.  I do not agree with his outlook on all issues, and my reactions to his novels have ranged from jaw-dropping admiration and pure enjoyment to boredom and pure disgust.  Nonetheless, he is a truly talented storyteller, who is not above using plain language to reach his readers.  His genius lies in the fact that his simplicity of style never gets in the way of his subtlety or message.  As a reader I am drawn into his world, and as a writer I remain in complete awe of his style.  Kazuo Ishiguro is certainly a author of "axes" for frozen seas and, for the writing standard he sets, a worthy Nobel Prize laureate.

Cloaked - Little Red Riding Hood in the Wild West

Little red riding hood
(Not the real cover.)  You can check out
the cover art and pre-order the book here!
Little Red Riding Hood meets classic Western - what a cool idea!  I was excited to read Cloaked, because I love LRRH, and fairy tales and Westerns are two of the best storytelling genres out there.  Since LRRH already has some Western elements (woods and wolves!), I was curious how the two would merge in this retelling.

The story begins with Mary Rose O'Brien boarding a stagecoach to visit her grandmother.  Mary Rose is extremely nervous because she's never met her grandma Jubilee before, yet her parents are hoping that, by making a good impression, she will mend the long rift between Mary Rose's father and Jubilee.  To make matters worse, her traveling companions are a rough-looking laborer and an over-friendly bookkeeper, and she is not sure she can trust either of them.  Mary Rose is hoping for some adventures at her grandma's Wyoming ranch, but when she arrives, she has no idea just how exciting life there will be.

Right off the bat, the narrative pulled me in with its concise, descriptive writing and easy tone.  It felt almost like watching an episode of The Virginian (my favorite classic Western show).  The light humor was enjoyable, and Mary Rose is a likeable heroine from "back East."  She's kind of the quintessential Awkward Girl, but she's no Mary Sue, either, as she has to strive to fit in at a new place and win Jubilee over.  I liked the back-story Kovaciny created for the two of them; it gave LRRH an additional obstacle to overcome, while their friendship was just a given in the original tale.

Though Mary Rose is a well-rounded character, I would have liked to see more character development for Linden and Small, instead of having to take them as "bad guy" and "good guy" at face value.  Also, there was more romance in the story than I was expecting, and as it went on, I wasn't sure if I was really the intended audience.  (Nothing against romance, I'm just more into adventure plots.)  On the plus side, it challenged Mary Rose to be brave and stand up for herself.  This would be an excellent read for young girls, with a message of following your intuition and trusting to God instead of Prince Charming.

Overall, I enjoyed Cloaked and would recommend it to anyone 10+ looking for a fun, romantic Western tale.  This is the first book in the author's Once Upon a Western series, and I look forward to reading more!

I received a free advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

Top Ten Books for Fall

After a long, hot, dry, allergy-stricken, wildfire smoke-infused summer, we are finally getting rain again, and I love it.  Today I actually wore my thick cable-knit sweater, and my raincoat has seen a couple of outings, too.

Fall means pumpkin-flavored treats, but (as importantly) it also brings cozy moments reading a book while listening to the rain or sitting by the fire.  These are the top ten books I hope to read this fall - that is, if I can make it to ten!

1.  The Wonderful Wizard of Oz - L. Frank Baum
Maybe no other book screams "autumn" like this one.  It's a re-read; I haven't read it since childhood.  The movie is one of my all-time favorites!

2.  Cloaked - Rachel Kovaciny
I was lucky enough to get an advanced reader copy of a new book by Hamlette, who blogs at The Edge of the Precipice.  So far I'm heartily enjoying it!


3.  Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia - Michael Korda
This is a long biography which I must finish by the end of the year and return to the coworker who is kindly lending it to me.  So far I am finding some interesting tidbits in it, though I am not super impressed with Korda as a biographer.

4.  The Sound and the Fury, or Light in August - William Faulkner
These are two Faulkners I picked up at the thrift store, and I've heard good things about both of them.  Any suggestion as to which I should read first?

5.  Frankenstein - Mary Shelley
I must read this book.  I must, I must.

Hugues Merle - The Scarlet Letter - Walters 37172
6.  The Scarlet Letter - Nathaniel Hawthorne
Ditto.  Am I the only one who strongly associates this book with fall?  I guess it's because it takes place in New England, and New England is gorgeous in autumn.  :)

7.  Crusader Castles - T. E. Lawrence
An upcoming commemoration of a certain person's birth might justify the purchase of this rare book by T. E. Lawrence... *innocent cough*

8. - 10.  If I somehow manage to complete the above, we can talk about 8 - 10!

Tolkien Blog Party 2017 - Tag!

With Hobbit Day (Sep 22nd) rapidly approaching, I was excited to see that Hamlette is again hosting a Tolkien Blog Party this year!  This will be my first time participating.  Though I haven't often mentioned J. R. R. Tolkien here, I am a huge fan of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.  There is so much to unpack in Tolkien's universe of Middle Earth, and I find I discover something new every time.

The Tolkien Tag 2017

1. How long have you been a Tolkien fan?
Oh wow... it must be something like 9 or 10 years ago now!  I played violin in a community orchestra, and we were learning music from The Two Towers.  The conductor, Mr. D., tried to select a wide variety of music, including film scores from newer movies like LOTR and Pirates of the Caribbean.  I am forever indebted to his open-mindedness, because some of the other musicians were not too keen on Rohan's theme or the March of the Ents.  ;)  For me, it was a turning point.

I had heard of LOTR but knew basically nothing about it.  Inspired by our music, I picked up this one-volume book at the thrift store and embarked on a multi-month adventure, watching each film after reading each book (to my poor parents' suspense!!).  Though the books were difficult for me, it was an incredible experience as a whole.  To this day, The Fellowship of the Ring is my favorite film, because seeing it all come to life on the screen was that light-bulb moment, when you realize you've discovered something beautiful and unique. 

2. Has your love of Middle-earth affected your life?
Yes, absolutely.  These are just few of the ways:
  • Community - The Lord of the Rings is one of my few mainstream fandoms (along with Star Trek).  LOTR was the first time I felt a big connection with other people over a book/film.  I eagerly anticipated the Hobbit trilogy as well, and - from the pre-production news to the final release at the theater - followed the excitement with family members, coworkers, and others online.  I think the story, themes, characters, and setting make the War of the Ring a universal tale almost everyone can relate to.
  • Poetry - I did not much like poetry before reading LOTR.  During that time, however, I came to love it and appreciate the part it played in the story.  One of my favorite poems is "The Sea-Bell."  Tolkien led me to poetry, and I've since read and written a lot of's become an important thing in my life.
  • Sewing - Watching LOTR reminded me how much I love costumes!  I had fun sewing hobbit, elf, and Gondorian clothes some years ago.  Sadly, I only have a few pictures of those projects left.

3. If you had to take the One Ring to Mordor, which character would you choose for your sole companion?
Well, I think Tolkien proved that Sam is the best choice.  :)  However, if I didn't know that already, then I'd have to say either:
  • Gandalf.  He knows the way, he knows the languages, and he has superpowers!  (Oh, and he has The Hobbit on his resume.)
  • Elrond.  I always felt Elrond should've volunteered.

4. Which is scarier, Shelob or the Balrog?
The Balrog is extremely terrifying, but I think I could face it.  I don't think I could fight Shelob - the sight of her would make me faint.

5. Which two towers do you think Tolkien was referring to in the title The Two Towers?  (i.e. Orthanc, Barad-dûr, Cirith Ungol, Minas Morgul, or Minas Tirith)
Barad-dûr, for sure.  The movie implies Orthanc is the second one, but when I was reading the book, I felt like it was one of the other ones.  I'm going to say Minas Tirith for the second Tower.

6. Whose wardrobe would you like to have?
I would say Eowyn, except I don't care for billowy sleeves.  So I'd have to say Thranduil, king of woodland elves and woodland fashion.

7. What do you think an Ent Draught would taste like?
A delicious iced tea.

8. Where in Middle-earth would you like to live?
Always the Shire.  What can I say...I like being safe and snug and cozy!

9. Do you have any Tolkien-related opinions that surprise other people?
I think Viggo Mortensen was miscast as Aragorn.  *ducks tomatoes*

10. List up to ten of your favorite lines/quotations from the books or movies.
"Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends." (Gandalf)


“I wish it need not have happened in my time," said Frodo.
"So do I," said Gandalf, "and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”


BOROMIR:  My father is a noble man, but his rule is failing, and our people lose faith. He looks to me to make things right and I would do it. I would see the glory of Gondor restored. Have you ever seen it, Aragorn? The White Tower of Ecthelion, glimmering like a spike of pearl and silver, its banners caught high in the morning breeze. Have you ever been called home by the clear ringing of silver trumpets?
ARAGORN:  I have seen the White City, long ago.
BOROMIR:  One day, our paths will lead us there. And the tower guard shall take up the call: "The Lords of Gondor have returned."


THEODEN: Where is the horse and the rider? Where is the horn that was blowing? They have passed like rain on the mountain, like wind in the meadow. The days have gone down in the West behind the hills into shadow. How did it come to this?


I'm afraid most of my favorite quotes are the mournful ones...however, nobody writes sad stuff as well as Tolkien.

That was a fun tag.  Thanks to Hamlette for putting this together!

Reading Lessons Learned - 2017

Usually I would save this type of post for late December.  However, more and more I'm convinced that if you need to recap something in your life or change the way you do something, there's no reason to wait for the end of the year.  As the saying goes - why save for tomorrow what you can do today?  ;)

Now, that's not to say that I won't come to any more "revelations" during the rest of this year.  I just wanted to share some things that have been on my mind lately - lessons learned, if you will - not about books specifically, but about reading itself: as a process, a journey, and a joy.

Alpine view

Finding Axes
In my second podcast episode, "Ice and Axes - What Makes a Favorite?", I talked about Kafka's recommendation to read a book that is "an axe for the frozen sea within [you]."  It really made a lot of sense, so I abandoned my "favorites" list and resolved to start evaluating books in this new light.  When I read now, I see if a book a) gives me a new idea, b) makes me think about an old idea in a new way, or c) changes my life in some way.  This is how I personally define an "axe" book.

I've added a new page on my blog called "Axes," where you can find some of those titles.  :)  I'm particularly happy that it catches some of those reads that, while not fitting the "favorite" label, are worthwhile nonetheless.

Challenges Aren't My Cup of Tea
Except for very short read-alongs, no more challenges for me (*sigh*).

I had moderate success with my 2016 reading challenges, and it was my plan to do the same this year.  I came up with an ambitious Russian Lit reading list, a pile of books for Mount TBR, and even my own, comprehensive Sherlock Holmes re-reading spree.

There was nothing stopping me from fulfilling these challenges, except a distinct lack of determination.  I felt bad, because I was definitely reading - in fact, surpassing my 15-book Goodreads goal - but I wasn't committed to the challenges.  Strangely, very few of those books sounded appealing this year.

What I realized from this (or rather, finally admitted) is that spontaneity is key to my reading enjoyment.  If I am an armchair traveler, then I like my travels to be real adventures.  I don't like to plan out in detail where I'm going next.  Also, it is hard to predict when is the "right time" to read a particular book.  I've had more success just picking up the book that sounds interesting at a given time.

Pair Long Books with Quick Books...

The title is self-explanatory.  You would've thought I'd learned this long ago.  (I thought I did.)

Up till the recent past, I have tried to read a fiction book and a nonfiction book at the same time, assuming the fiction book would be a quick read and the nonfiction book could be a six-month project.  I've finally realized that some memoirs can be read in a day or two, while some apparently "short" novels can take me forever to finish.  Now I will try to be smarter about my "book pairings."

...and Stick to Two at a Time

I love starting a new book, too much so.  This year it's become painfully clear that reading more than two simultaneously is overwhelming.  I'm still downsizing my Currently Reading list and plan not to get in this predicament again!

Read More, Share More

This summer I surmounted my fears and launched a podcast, Classics Considered.  It was meant to be an experiment, so though it's fizzled out a little, I'm not concerned, nor is it completely abandoned.  The point of trying it was to figure out, is podcasting the next step?  Is there value in audio reviews?  Do I enjoy it, and if so, is it in addition to or instead of blogging?

Speaking into a microphone, and to an audience of the world wide web, is very tough.  Maybe I shouldn't be surprised that recording just six episodes turned me into a more confident speaker at my day job, enabling me to give presentations without nearly as much anxiety as I had before.  This wasn't the original goal, but it was a life-changing bonus.

As for the podcast itself, I don't particularly like hearing myself speak, but I do love the content and sharing it in a casual, verbal format.  On the other hand, writing comes much more naturally, and it's far less time consuming than preparing, recording, and editing an audio track.  I also regret the dearth of quality posts on Noonlight Reads this year.

The long and short of it is - I now have two viable ways to share classic literature, and I really want to keep both without sacrificing quantity or quality.  On a side note, I have also started writing more Goodreads reviews, and my Instagram...well, it exists.  ;)  I may start a YouTube channel, being a daily YouTube user as well.

Sharing more thoughts, more frequently, is an ongoing goal.  It's terribly overwhelming, but somehow, someday, I'll find the right balance among the umpteen social media platforms.  For now, I just need to be more consistent and keep sharing as often as possible.

Let me know - what are your reading takeaways from this year?

The Cruise of the Snark - Jack London and his trip across the Pacific

StateLibQld 1 165259 Snark (ship)
The Snark, named after Lewis Carroll's poem "The Hunting of the Snark"

Jack London's squall-infused, sickness-filled, Snark-y voyage is a sailing classic and product of its time, for better and worse. Compare his tongue-in-cheek narrative with his very real sufferings, his sympathetic view of Molokai versus his feelings of white superiority, or his socialist convictions with his celebrity lifestyle, and you'll find a fully flawed, yet vivid memoir with plenty of takeaways. I would have liked to hear more about his small crew, which is why Penguin was smart to include some excerpts from Martin and Charmian in the back. Overall, an educational adventure into the South Pacific of the early twentieth century.

Jack and Charmian London in Hawaii (PP-75-4-018)
Jack London and Charmian in Hawaii

Jack London the building of The Snark 1906
Jack London at the building of the Snark

Angst and yawns in Ishiguro's Nocturnes

Proper Bow Placement I bet someone's said it before, so I'm repeating it now - this one's a snooze...

Don't get me wrong. I really enjoyed The Remains of the Day, and An Artist of the Floating World is one of my all-time favorite novels. I appreciate Ishiguro's writing in its most subtle and emotive form, which is what I came to expect from those two books.

Like The Buried Giant, however, Nocturnes ended up disappointing high hopes. This collection is subtitled "Five Stories of Music and Nightfall," yet the first three stories are really rehashes of the same plot, which is more about marital discord (no pun intended) than making music. The best of these three (though admittedly the most dismal) is "Malvern Hills," a peek in the life of two folk musicians and their joys and sorrows. As for the last two stories, though the relationship problems took the backseat, the main storylines were not all that intriguing and rather anticlimactic.

Side note: there is quite a bit of profanity and f-bombs, so be warned. It reads strangely in the middle of Ishiguro's elegant prose, and sometimes came across as a bit forced. It seemed like he was trying to represent modern dialogue but relying too much on cussing to achieve the effect.

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.  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.  ;)