After the First Snowfall in November (the 7th)

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The Radetsky March by Joseph Roth (Readalong-April)

During the month of March I'll be reading the Austrian or, by birth, the Galician Joseph Roth's 1932 masterpiece, The Radetsky March. The overarching theme and setting of the novel concerns the decline and downfall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, as seen (at least partially)  through the lives of the fictional Von Trotta family. The readalong is hosted by Lizzy of Lizzy's Literary Life  and Caroline of Beauty is a Sleeping Cat.

Because I've read so many novels and movies depicting the eve of WWI and the Great War itself as seen from the shores of the UK, I will be utterly fascinated to read a classic that deals with the last days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. I know next to nothing about it. I have read another book by Joseph Roth, and I can't recall the title at all at the moment. (Sigh!) But this book is hugely acclaimed. And I'm so enthused about participating.

Joseph Roth was born into a Jewish family in Galicia, in the eastern region of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in what is now western Ukraine. He attended the University of Vienna and became a journalist. Roth served on the Eastern Front (against the Russian Empire).

What interests me even more about this readalong is that Lizzy and Caroline will be posting discussion questions, for each third of the book, for each of the first three weeks of April.

It's not too late to join in. Are you as intrigued as I am?

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Magnificent New Books in the House

I'm writing a post to cheer me up. We were already having a challenging week, completely aside from having company coming for the President's Day Weekend (Ken's cousins), who are arriving Saturday morning, and we had no running water as of late afternoon yesterday. This morning we were so incredibly lucky to be installed with a new pump for the well.  We have  water now, but it's very murky at present. For a while, all the sediment caused every tap and bathroom to malfunction. But Ken got us sorted out after six hours of labor--how thankful I am about that. So all we have now is murky water (iron-laden), but we always have plenty of bottled water for drinking and cooking. I'm so glad I washed the bed linens ahead of time, but I still  need to do all the towels. (This is wilderness living.)

I received three books by mail this week, which was so rewarding, but I've had so many financial duties to attend to and other disasters that this week has been the least "readingest" week of
2019. Oh, I'll catch up!

I now have a beautiful hardcover copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude, which Katrina (of Pining  for the West) and I have planned to read together, starting July 1st,  as part of the Back to the Classics Challenge, hosted by Karen of Books and Chocolate. Isn't this a gorgeous book cover?

Also in the mail was  The Radiant Way by the acclaimed English author Margaret Drabble, which is the first novel  in a trilogy set in the 1980s, during Thatcher's time. I picked up a lovely, very clean first edition hardcover  of the third book in the trilogy years ago from a library book sale entitled The Gates of Ivory. I realized this year that I might enjoy the trilogy more if I read the first book first.  The Radiant Way I purchased from a book dealer as a  first American edition hardcover in "like new" condition. It was cheaper than buying a new paperback, and it will match my third book. It is in beautiful condition. I am a total devotee of Drabble, for reasons I'll make clear further on in the year, I fully expect. I feel so at home in her novels.

The third arrival by mail was The Love-Charm of Bombs, which Katrina of Pining for the West reviewed. (Check out the link.) For this one, I bought another hardcover, at a very low cost compared to the paperback, and it is a pristine copy.

My next Classic Read is The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. I have managed to begin and am enjoying it, but have not had a minute to read during this entire week, and I can't wait to really dig in to the novel this weekend (imagine a thoroughbred waiting to be released to race the track). This one is for the Back to the Classics Challenge and the TBR Challenge.
Gosh, how I need to escape! Ken keeps his cousins well entertained (they are all guys and are a very nice bunch). They only need me to cook a few breakfasts and dinners. I actually love doing  that and the rest of the time I go snowshoeing, I read, and knit while listening to an  audiobook. (I am so looking forward to some time to do that.)

Sunday, February 10, 2019

A Small Town in Germany by John Le Carré

This was an extraordinarily interesting novel, where nothing is as it seems until the last thirty pages or so. Throughout the book every character is walking blindly in the dark, so to speak, in the no man's land of Bonn, until the last puzzle falls into place. And the journey to get to that point is a helter-skelter ricochet of a ride through the West German capital and its environs in 1966.

Le Carré does not state the date, but reference is made to the anti-war protests starting to break out in the U.S. and London, and 1966 was the first year of mass protests. And, of even greater importance to British diplomats in Bonn, is the fact that the UK is desperately seeking entry into the Common Market. The novel takes place on the eve of meetings in Brussels where Common Market countries will decide on the matter.

Now that's just the tense historical backdrop, but even edgier than the most current issues are the gruesomely haunting shadows that linger after the downfall of the Third Reich and the never-ending, suffocating presence of the Cold War.

No spoilers yet. The book opens with the unfathomable disappearance of Leo Harting, employed in the British Embassy in Bonn. Embassy files also have vanished.

In 1991, with the slew of new Penguin editions of all of Le Carré's novels, the author wrote introductions for all of them. It is worth quoting from his introduction to A Small Town in Germany.
"A Small Town in Germany is printed with aversion in my memory, and I can think of little good to say of it until I begin to remember the three principal protagonists: the former refugee, Harting;  the acidly pragmatic British diplomat, Bradfield; and the driven and unhappy investigator, Alan Turner, whose part I secretly allocated to myself...I have to concede that I did, after all, achieve much of what I had wanted...
The reasons for my aversion are many. The first is that I had set out to write something close to a black comedy about British political manners, and yet the result was widely perceived to be ferociously anti-German.
And perhaps it was. The West Germany of Konrad Adenauer [leader of West Germany in the post-occupation era]  was not all lovely by any means: old players from the Hitler time were two-a-penny...In the West German police, the judiciary, the intelligence fraternity, and the armed services, in industry and science and the teaching professions, and most particularly, in the bureaucracy, old Nazis abounded, either because they had done nothing for which they could be purged, or because they had been deemed indispensable to West Germany's reconstruction. But most often because their cases had laid gathering dust in someone's drawer, filed and forgotten as part of a tacit agreement between NATO partners to put the past behind us."  [My emphasis].

The previous excerpt is a very small part of Le Carré's introduction. Let it be said that Le Carré, as a young man, in the early postwar era, earlier than the setting for this book,  had spent time in Bonn as an employee of  MI5.

As I read this book, I found myself thinking time and time again, that younger people might appreciate annotations to help them understand all the references to World War II, the British occupation, to West Germany as a nation. I would think that they would be essential to future generations reading this novel.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, and I read it for the TBR Challenge and the European Reading Challenge, both for 2019.
**By the way, all U.S. editions of the author's books list his pseudonym as John Le Carré, yet other sources insist that it is spelled le Carré.  Never mind, his real name is David John Moore Cornwell. And he lives in Cornwall, at least most of the time. And he is 87 years old and has another new book coming out soon. He refuses interviews now, saying that he wants to put all his energies  into writing,  at this  stage of the game.

Monday, February 4, 2019

February Book News--On the Way Up

On the side of good news, Ken and I watched the movie Jersey Boys on Netflix on Saturday night. What a wonderful, fun movie. The 2014 film is based on the Broadway musical and is about the careers of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. I heartily recommend it. Ken and I each gave it 5 stars. We couldn't help it--we were hopping and bopping and singing our way across the living room. The music brought us way, way back, and the story was fascinating.

Current Reading: I'm loving the challenge of John Le John Le Carré's A Small Town in Germany. I'm nearing the end now--less than 90 pages to go, but it is a bracing, refreshing change of pace. A review will be coming soon. But until then, what a brilliant writer Le John Le Carré is! The novel is a bit challenging, especially when the investigator Alan Turner goes on a stream of consciousness rampage for a chapter here and there, juggling all the facts and impressions he's gathered in his head. I work hard to keep up, but it is definitely worth the trouble.

I'm wading through Notes from the Dead House by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, having finally settled on a translation. (Pevear and Volokhonsky) I am still promising information about the Russian translation issue and considerable controversy, but am stuck in the midst of sorting out all the articles that have been written about it. In the meantime, I'm faithfully reading, but it is taking me some time, although I'm making progress nevertheless. I chose this novel because I am extremely curious about Dostoyevsky's years in prison, and this book is certainly describing exactly what it was like for him. From a historical viewpoint it's fascinating because prisoners were allowed so many liberties in Siberian prisons in the mid-19th century that inmates of the Siberian gulags of the 20th century would have been aghast at.

Domestic Thrillers--Whither?
I read two domestic thrillers in January, reading them very quickly, and in retrospect, it is terrible to realize that they wasted my time. But you see, I have a very hard time admitting that a book I spent time on was a waste.
Neither book was a stellar example of the genre, but as soon as I was beyond 25 pages, I kept hoping each one would improve, and with thrillers there's always the traditional expectation that some twists and turns will pull your hair out by the roots. But that didn't happen, not in either book, at least not for me..
With You, Always by Rena Olsen (2018) and The Liar's Room by Simon Lelic (Jan. 2019) were each around 300 pages. A loss. Sigh. I'm providing links, but will not say another word about them. Bah!

But right now, my side-read is Winter in Paradise by Elin Hilderbrand, and I will say that I am delighted with it. I did read a third to nearly half of it in November, but had to halt, due to other more pressing reading matters. But now, I'm seeing why I like it so much. For one thing, a female protagonist who is age 50+.  An exquisite island, St. John's, in the U.S. Virgin Islands, in all its beauty in an age before the three massive hurricanes of 2017 nearly destroyed it. I just love the comfort of reading this book.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

2019 European Reading Challenge--Jan. 31st Final Sign-Ups!

I've finally decided to sign up for Rose City Reader's European Reading Challenge this year, because 1) I've always wanted to, 2) I hope to learn more about books set in European countries from other readers and from my own research, and 3) I've already read and am currently reading books that qualify. I must admit that Cath of readwarbler and Karen of Books and Chocolate (See sidebars for both book blogs)  have influenced me because of their participation.

I always have loads of UK books that I read--quite a few for the month of January, in fact. But only one UK pick qualifies for the challenge.
Frankenstein is set primarily in Switzerland, so I can include that novel.
I'm currently reading A Small Town in Germany by John Le Carre (fantastic!) and Notes from the House of the Dead by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (Russia).

I have many, many more books by UK authors that I plan to read this year, and this challenge does not change that. But the challenge will prompt me to consider European authors in translation, as a welcome change of pace.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Big Reading Update--Late January is Tops

I don't think I've ever posted two entries in one day, but today is an exception. I needed to do a review of Frankenstein, but also wanted to do an update of what else has been going on in my bookish world.

Winter weather upheavals abounded in the past week. We had 2+ feet of snow  over two full days last weekend, which was immediately followed by wind chill temperatures of 24-36 below zero F on Monday. I went out that day to unbury my car, and when I inhaled, it was unbelievably painful to breathe. Surprised me, really. I don't recall being such a sissy in past years.
Then! Guess what? The temperature suddenly rose into the 30s F and then 42 F and we had well over 2 inches of rain--how impossible is that? And now we're going down to 4 degrees F tonight after crazy, blinding  snow squalls all day today. And somehow or other, in the midst of all this, I managed to get myself a little bit sick, really. It can't be connected to the weather, can it? Sigh.

I felt so crummy that all I could do today, after going out to our two bird feeding stations and after a little bit of tax work, was READ IN BED.

And the  reading was a delight. How wonderful it is to cast aside all cares for a time and retire with lots of books. I continued knitting a scarf and hood set while I listened to the 2018 definitive biography of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg by Jane Sherron de Hart, written over a period of decades, and which is 735 pages long. The listening will take a while, but it's fascinating so far. It's entitled Ruth Bader Ginsburg: A Life.  

I just finished Messenger of Truth, the 4th Maisie Dobbs mystery. Oh, how I love this series. What makes the Maisie Dobbs series different, or unique, is in the way these books plummet the depths of human experience. We are carefully carried right into the battle zone of the full range of experience. Although  it is now 1931, and the Great War has been over for 13 years, there are still tremendous repercussions in the lives of individuals and families who experienced the enormous losses. There is also a worldwide depression  that is having a negative impact on the lives of people everywhere in England. This book takes us into the heart of an upper-class family and its favorite artist son, and into a poor working-class family, who must struggle for every meal.
I do heartily recommend the Maisie Dobbs series. And although I've read the first four sporadically over time, I'll continue to read at least one book now per year. They are very fine indeed.

And what else today? I'm enjoying a romance, with dogs. In Dog We Trust by Beth Kendrick is set on the Delaware Coast in summertime and is peopled (or doggled) with a good number of Labrador Retrievers who are the ultimate show dogs. Jocelyn signs on to be their caretaker, and before she knows it, the owner dies, leaving all of his wealth to the dogs and to Jocelyn in trust of them. It's very quickly paced, and is a fun, funny read. Romance abounds, and includes strictly Labradorish hijinks. If you know Labs, or if you're acquainted with other sporting dogs or retrievers, I recommend this as a fun, relaxing change of pace.  I learned about this January 2019 book from Book Dilettante and immediately snapped it up at the library last Saturday. Lucky me.

A Review of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

I read Frankenstein by Mary Shelley for the Back to the Classics Challenge, hosted by Karen at Books and Chocolate (see sidebar). I'm also reading it for the TBR Challenge 2019 hosted by Alex at Roof Beam Reader (see sidebar).

To be forewarned, yes, there are spoilers here. 
Although I've thoroughly omitted specifics, I can't review Mary Shelley's Frankenstein any other way.

I truly enjoyed Frankenstein 44 years after my last reading. This time I was drawn in to Victor Frankenstein's story, his growing up, his family, and then his young adult leave-taking to a Swiss city to study with a number of professors or "great minds."

In the vacuum left from his close attachments in Geneva, his home city, he loses his moorings and becomes obsessed and overwhelmed by ideas, by his learning, to the point where he loses sight of his reason. He embarks on what seems at first a glorious design, to create a human being. He becomes so involved in this mission that he scarcely sleeps, scarcely eats, throws off all his associations with professors and other students. He goes truly mad for a time and does not recognize himself.

And when he achieves his goal, he is stunned when his creation comes to life and abandons the place where he was created--where to, Frankenstein has no clue.

At this point Frankenstein's fate has been sealed. He dared to create life and now he will suffer the consequences.  I was most affected by the first meeting of the Creature and Frankenstein, when the Creature tells the entire narrative of what has happened to him in the world and how he wants Frankenstein to fix it. One feels enormous compassion for the Creature who terrifies and horrifies people. The story of how he tries over a period of more than a year to come close to one family is the most powerful and really, the  most tragic, yet fascinating tale in the novel, a time when the reader sympathizes totally with the  Creature.

But Frankenstein is a tragic character, and because he dared to create this abomination, all of his close family and human ties are destroyed, one by one. Frankenstein suffers, the Creature suffers mightily, and all of Frankenstein's family and associates suffer. 

If you were on the fence about reading this classic, I would recommend that people read Frankenstein because as tragic as it is, it is infused with the passion of young people to create life. Frankenstein's passion to protect his loved ones never dies.  As I've discussed in previous blog posts, to read Mary Shelley, on the cusp of adult life when she wrote this, from ages 17-19, is to reconnect with the passion of our own youthful years. I would say, "Don't miss it."

Thursday, January 24, 2019

My 2019 TBR Pile Challenge Books--Still Time to Sign Up

Alex, the host of the 2019 TBR Challenge Pile for 2019, resides at Roofbeam Reader (see sidebar) .

Alex has kindly extended the sign-up period for the 2019 Challenge until January 31st, if anyone has not yet signed up for a TBR challenge but would like to.
I plan to read 12 TBR books from my shelves and from my Nook, purchased no later than December 31, 2017. Yes, that's right--books purchased in 2018 do not count for this challenge.
In my list of books, you'll notice the overlap with my list for Karen's Back to the Classics Challenge (BCC), which is perfectly legal, by the way, for both challenges.
I've had a number of classics languishing on my bookshelves for years, and this is the year I'm going to look forward to reading them. Yahoo!

1. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (BCC)

2. A Small Town in Germany by John Le Carre

3. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (BCC)  (read Jan. 2019)

4. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins (BCC)

5. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (I started this last year or the year before, but I need to start all over again. With Austen novels, rereading is pure pleasure and certainly no hardship.) (BCC)

6. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (BCC)

7. A Shroud for a Nightingale by P.D.  James

8. Snow by Orhan Pamuk  (BCC)

9.  O is for Outcast by Sue Grafton (read Jan. 2019)

10.  The Dark Flood Rises by Margaret Drabble  (Started reading in 2017, but was distracted by those darn library holds, and I need to start over at the beginning, which will not be a hardship because I loved the bit that I read.)

11. Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper (BCC)
(This one I started years ago, but left it and did not go back due to library book distraction.)

12. Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole (BCC)

Two Alternates: 
Vanity Fair Diaries by Tina Brown
The London Train by Tessa Hadley   (I've had this on my Nook for years and purchased it after I read Hadley's book The Past, which I loved.  It's interesting that I love The Past even more a number of years after reading it. I will never forget the house in the country that the characters shared. It had its own personality. I have a sort of nostalgia for it.)

Friday, January 18, 2019

Frankenstein Preview and Loads of other January Books

The good news is I feel so enlivened by what I've been reading since New Year's Day that I feel like I've emerged "from the reading doldrums" that have ensnared me for quite a long time now. I am so thankful for that. I think the presence of the Challenges have helped me as well as the many blogging friends who are participating.

(Portrait of Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley's mother.)
I still need to review Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, coming up soon. I thoroughly enjoyed my reread of this truly classic, powerful novel that does not get old. Did you know that Mary Shelley was the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft, author of The Vindication of the Rights of Women? Wollstonecraft died eleven days after her daughter Mary's birth. When I read Frankenstein for The English Novel course I took as a college senior, I am sure that Professor Ann Corsa, who was at that time the age I am currently (!), and who was the teacher of my 21-year-old self--I am quite sure she informed us of that important fact, but it seems I did not remember it and it probably didn't mean anything memorable to me at the time. I have kept the notebook I used for this course and have never thrown it out.

Yet, side by side with reading Classics, I side-stepped and picked up a  "domestic thriller" novel. Domestic thrillers are now a popular genre, and I'm  stunned by the extraordinary multitude that are being written. I wanted to read one this January, so I searched "Best Domestic Thrillers 2018" and came up with a list. I selected one that sounded intriguing, borrowed it as an ebook from the New York Public Library, and have just finished With You Always by Rena Olsen. I must admit that after the first three chapters I felt a compulsion to finish, which kept me rooted to this novel. But, in the end, this book was no more nourishing than pablum,  a disappointment. Yet, strangely, I thoroughly enjoyed the compulsion over the 3 days I read it, and it proved to be a welcome change of pace. But in the end I wanted more substance from it than I got. The twists and turns in these novels are often the reward, but this one lacked dynamism in this element.

Isn't it interesting? I had an entirely different reaction to the domestic thriller I read last January, in 2018. The Woman in the Window had loads of redeeming qualities, and as a result,  it made it on the list of one of my favorite reads of 2018. Skillful characterization, edge of your seat plotting that built and built, and an intricate neighborhood setting.  I do heartily recommend it, for those who are into high-stakes suspense and thrillers.

So, if you're still reading this crazy post, I've made a change to my Back to the Classics Challenge 2019 List.
When I picked up my Penguin edition of The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, which was my 19th century novel pick, I first read the introduction about his life and writings. I immediately recognized that I must read The House of the Dead first, or as it is also known in English, Notes from the Dead House, before I read The Idiot.  The House of the Dead is a semi-autobiographical work about Dostoevsky's imprisonment in Siberia. How fascinating! I have so much more to say about this selection, and I have only just begun reading it.

Stay tuned for a HUGE CONTROVERSY about RUSSIAN TRANSLATIONS. When I delved  into  this public conundrum last weekend, I was shocked, to say the least. So, the news  is coming within the next week, I do hope.