Friday, October 2, 2015

Library Book Sale Haul & Scottish Writer A.J. Cronin

A stellar day! I didn't realize it but today marked the first day of Crandall Library's Book Sale. They hold three per year. I have not been able to attend for quite a number of years due to my former teaching schedule.

Classics Club Loot!  I found decent copies of six of my Classics Club List titles, each for 50 cents per book. A lucky day!
I found a very good copy of The Red and the Black by Stendhal.
A top-notch copy of The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane.
A decent copy of Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
O Pioneers! by Willa Cather--a very good copy
A "bathtub" copy of The Painted Veil by Somerset Maugham (wavy pages but readable)
A very good copy of The Deerslayer by James Fenimore Cooper

I found a halfway decent copy of A Song of Sixpence by A. J. Cronin. I must read it, and perhaps I'll have to decide it's a classic. After all, it was shelved in the "Classics" section at the Library Book Sale. Due to my deep affection for A. J. Cronin's books and the intriguing plot description of A Song of Sixpence, I bought it. 

After I finished my genealogical course last month, I found myself hankering for a series about a country doctor in Scotland, England, or elsewhere in Great Britain. Katrina of Pining for the West searched her brain for me, and she told me about the Scottish writer A.J. Cronin's Doctor Finlay stories, which were once serialized on the BBC. (A.J. Cronin was born in Argyllshire in 1896 and died in 1981.)

I read two A.J. Cronin (Archibald Joseph Cronin) novels when I was a freshman in high school. I read them for pleasure, not for a school assignment. My favorite was The Citadel. I fell in love with the doctor in that novel, who tries so hard against all odds to help his patients, first in a mining village and later in London. And the other was The Green Years, which is about a young boy and teen who has ambition to become a doctor. He encounters enormous obstacles, not the least of which are his origins as an orphaned Irish-born relative of dour, severe Scottish relatives with whom he is sent to live. Actually, not all of them are terrible, because several of them help him to go to school and take his exams for the university and medical school. Perhaps some of you saw the Hollywood film The Green Years? That's what made me eager to read the book. By the way, Cronin's characterizations and plotting are exceptional.

So, I have been reading Cronin's Doctor Finlay's Casebook. I've read numerous stories so far of a fictitious Scottish country doctor and find them to be wonderful, comforting stories, although not all of Cronin's medical fiction, as I've mentioned, are comfort reads. The Citadel is notable among his realistic and gritty novels of medicine. Top-notch, unforgettable drama! And with Cronin, as in all his novels, there is always a keen focus on character.

A. J. Cronin was a physician in Scotland, and his knowledge and experience adds so much to his writing. I'm so sorry that he is not read much in the U.S. any longer, because the themes of his most realistic medical novels, The Citadel and Shannon's Way and one other, which is not coming to mind at the moment (!), resonate with current crises in American medicine.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Classics Club: Thoreau's A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers

Late September through mid-October is the most frantic time of year. Autumn is so brief here! The brilliant fall foliage is upon us, mushrooms are bursting after the recent heavy rains, and enormous inner conflicts emerge when indoor business clamors for our attention as well.

For my Classics Club, I am currently reading several Henry David Thoreau selections. The first is a shorter one, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, a trip that Thoreau experienced with his brother in 1839. The Concord River is in Massachusetts, near Concord flowing northward to meet the Merrimack, which then flows into southern New Hampshire.

Thoreau mixed his philosophical ideas with his nature writing, in some works more than others. I also hope to read several other of his books, but have not been able to narrow down which I'd like to focus on after the Concord and Merrimack. I'm gravitating toward his tome about his ventures in the Maine Woods, because the wilderness in Maine resembles the wilderness in the Adirondacks in several respects, although the Adks can claim the harshest winter weather.

I'll provide a link to the Thoreau Society. What a website and well worth a visit! There is so much information available on this site. Ken and I have canoed the Concord River back when we were living in Massachusetts, so this read is especially fascinating to me. I wish I had an annotated copy by someone who was knowledgeable about the local history and geography in Thoreau's day. I actually wrote to the Thoreau Society reference librarians to ask for information about this.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Dead Souls Finis! My Post to Follow

Peak fall foliage season and perfect weather has been keeping me outdoors all day long. Hiking, tennis, hiking! I will be posting about Nikolai Gogol's Dead Souls in the next couple of days. (I hear there's rain in the forecast on Tuesday. Maybe I'll have a few extra minutes.) I read along with Katrina of Pining for the West and please don't miss her excellent post and summation about this Russian classic.

As I've discussed, I'm in the process of getting lined up for the Classics Club. Before I post my list, though, I'll probably already be reading several of Henry David Thoreau's classic writings for the Classics Club. His memoirs and thoughts about hiking in Maine, for one. I will keep you posted. It's the right time of year for reading a nature writer, because I feel especially close to the wilderness right now. I haven't read Walden since I was eighteen. I remember it so vividly that I'm not sure I'll be reading that title, but The Maine Woods, I'll definitely be reading.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Coming Soon to My Door--Classics Club

After years of reading about other bloggers' adventures with Classics Club, I find that I am now summoning a list of 50 titles, which I am fairly certain I won't be able to finish reading within five years. But who knows? Onward!

I'm making the list not only from my memory of classics unread, but also with the help of Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia. My older brother gave me the first edition of this encyclopedia for my college graduation back in 1975, I believe. What a great gift for a reader!

Then I picked up a paperback Third Edition at a book sale about seven years ago. And finally, I bought the Fifth Edition with my birthday money at Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, Vermont, about four years ago. I love the Fifth Edition, because of its expansive inclusion of World Lit titles.

I am also consulting the Oxford Companion to English Literature and the Reader's Companion to American Literature. The Benet's covers World Literature, but I will also consider other reference lists for World Lit titles. It will be very much a Classics List from my point of view, as I know it is for most people who participate.

At the moment, I'm in the midst of my first Classics Club title. I'm reading the Russian writer Nikolai Gogol's Dead Souls. I'm almost halfway through, but I don't feel I can say a word about it yet. Just where is Gogol going? That is the question. And most important of all, I am reading the book with Katrina of Pining for the West, who has the book on her Classics Club List.

I will post my first 25 titles in the next few weeks. Although it's fun, it takes time and effort to pull together a list of 50 that I'm eager to read.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Reflecting on In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume

Well, it's still summer in the North Country. This week will see temps in the mid-80s all week and lots of that lovely humidity to go with it. Labor Day is late this year--Monday, September 7th--, and its late arrival always feels weird to me. As if it's shortening our already way-too-short autumn. Already lots of the red maples are turning color. "Stop!" I want to shout at them. "Wait until it becomes cool enough for hiking and enjoying the outdoors."

I so very much enjoyed reading In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume, an adult book she labored over for five years, from 2009-2014. A tremendous amount of research went into this novel, which, for most people, will be considered an historical novel, given that it's set in 1951-1952 in Elizabeth, New Jersey, the site of three horrific airline crashes between December 1951 and April 1952.

What makes this novel especially realistic and fascinating is that Judy Blume was a young teen in Elizabeth during this time (Blume was born 12 February 1938). Her characters are rich, and as always, she is so unbelievably in tune with her teenage characters, especially the impressionable 15-year-old Mira, the character at the heart of the story. But what makes this book is that she's not the only character from whose point of view the story is told. It's also the story of her entire family, her neighbors, and her most devoted friends, who also figure prominently. I think Blume's talent of drawing readers into her world of rich characters,  coupled with the extensive research she did that made this book the creation it is. Blume is now 77 years old, which is hard to believe. She's been such a fixture in children's and young adult literature, and in her constant battle against censorship in American letters. Best wishes to her! And please, Judy, may we have another book?

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Very Late August and Fall Reading Bonanza

You may have recalled, months ago, that I hinted at a career change. Since May 12 and due to end tomorrow, August 23, 15 weeks later, I will have completed an arduous course so that I can receive my certificate from Boston University in Genealogical Research. Yes, I will be hanging out my shingle to practice professional genealogy. This jibes perfectly with my intense interests in U.S. History. My initial specialties are in the areas of New York and New England genealogical research, with a special interest in the Colonial Period (1620-1776). I have loads more education to pursue, but I will be doing that alongside professional work in the future.

So! Because the stress of the past weeks have led to a full-blown case of shingles just diagnosed yesterday, I will start, slowly, to resume a more normal, balanced, and hopefully healthier lifestyle, because all I've been able to do, literally, for all this time is study and work on assignments and reports. I learned a tremendous amount, but the human cost was high.

That's why I'm happy to announce that in this initial let-down period, due to begin tomorrow, reading adventures will be a central focus. Walking to regain strength and stamina will be an equally important plan.

Second Life by S. J. Watson was such a huge disappointment! His debut Before I Go to Sleep was so mind-blowing, so original that I almost can't believe that he wrote such a hum-drum thriller as Second Life. Maybe he was too busy writing the screenplay to the Before I Go to Sleep movie, which is supposed to be out? About to come out, starring Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth, among others. Have you read Second Life or the debut novel?

I have so many books to read next. I started In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume last night before bed. Blume grew up in Elizabeth, New Jersey. From the late fall of 1952 through the late winter of 1953, three separate commercial airplanes crashed into this densely inhabited town just west of Newark, New Jersey. Blume was a young teenager at the time, a most impressionable age. In any event, this is a work of fiction, but it's clear she's drawing on her memories of the times. It's reading beautifully at this point and is from the point of view of a young teen.

I haven't read a Julia Spencer-Fleming mystery for at least a year, and it's high time I read one. Thou Shall Not Want is my next title in the series. It's my favorite mystery series, as I know I've mentioned before.

I hope you can expect more regular posts from me in the weeks to come. The grueling part of my 2015 has come to an end.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Finally Reading a Classic This Year

Just as I was about to dig in to another suspense thriller, I was overcome with a hankering for an English classic. My fingers immediately pried the Penguin edition of Anne Bronte's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall from an overstuffed shelf in my treasured bedroom floor-to-ceiling bookcase. I climbed into bed and dug in on a late coolish summer evening, with owls calling all around me. Perfect atmosphere. I was hooked by page 8.

The print is so small, though. The book is 485 pages, so I guess they needed to do that. My eyes are straining, but I can make it. Already, at page 37, I'm bemoaning that soon I will have read both of Anne Bronte's books. Such a spell it casts.

Are you or have you been involved in a classic read this summer. Do tell!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Some Good Books in 2015: Part I

Currently enjoying The Seven Sisters by Margaret Drabble. I'm almost positive that JoAnn at Lakeside Musing blogged about this book in the past 2-5 months or so. It's been on my mind ever since. I'm more than halfway through...  I do get a kick out of Drabble, always have. This one is no exception! Recommended.

Some exceptionally good books have tracked me down this year. I have had very little time to browse in libraries or shop or cruise online, but I've managed to find some greats.

The best book of 2015 so far for me has been: Black House, the first book of The Lewis Trilogy by Peter May. (It's in my 2015 blogroll.) This book was much more than mere "crime fiction." The Isle of Lewis is its own character. And the pinnacles of rocks, in the middle of the ocean, to the northwest, where men and special older boys go for a bird hunt annually, is portrayed so realistically, so unfathomably well, that I don't need to visit the Hebrides, or the Isle of Lewis. I was so immersed. The plot was unstoppable, twisting and turning and developing, I was in awe. The characters were portrayed with a keen, psychologically astute insight. You'll notice I've awarded it 5 stars. Very, very impressive. Have you read anything by Peter May?

Monday, June 29, 2015

Trying Hard to Be Back Again

This will be a very brief, modest post. Although this year has seen me hectic and busy virtually all the time, I will say my usual, "Thank goodness for books, thank goodness for the reading habit," which has made it possible for me to endure the tempest. As I stated in a post earlier this year, I am undergoing a career change, and as much as I'm welcoming it, the switch has not allowed me time to do anything but study and prepare. Enough of that for today.

Believe it or not, I've never read Maisie Dobbs, nor a single one of Jacqueline Winspear's series or her other WWI novel published last year (2014). Just this afternoon, after eight hours of work, I relaxed with the very first in the series, entitled Maisie Dobbs, and almost couldn't stop reading. It's a surprise to me I've never read one, but when I think of all the books in the world I've read since its publication in 2003, I understand. Maureen Corrigan, the premier book reviewer for National Public Radio, had this to say upon the publication of the tenth anniversary edition of the original Maisie Dobbs.

My birthday in early June brought with it a Kindle Fire to add to my Nook HD. The Fire may seem superfluous, but it comes with lots of Amazon Prime goodies and incredible Amazon music possibilities (!), which made the $99 for the Fire too hard to pass up. I still love the Nook, but Kindle Fire has its uses, so I'm using both. It has come to the point where I begrudge the public library's loan periods and fines. I'm such a mood reader, always have been, that with e-books, many of which I can get very, very inexpensively, it only makes sense to read e-books. I never thought I'd hear myself say it, but it's becoming increasingly true that I only want e-books. The prime exceptions to this new rule are dense historical works with footnotes and bibliographies, dense historical novels, and science non-fiction.

I hope to be catching up with all of you soon.