Tuesday, November 24, 2015

First Snow and a New Sprawling Epic

When I walked out the door to drive to a local farm to pick up our poor deceased turkey for Thanksgiving, it was just starting to snow, with a bit of a punch. It continued snowing all the way to the farm but stopped when I traveled farther south to buy the rest of our Thanksgiving dinner. Then, on the drive home, a few flakes started falling as I passed our post office, and the snow increased in intensity all the way westward to home. This happens so often and delights me. I drive west for five miles from the post office, and as I go, the snow becomes steadier, and by the time the car is climbing up our mountain road, it's really snowing and accumulating. It's a reliable weather phenomenon, and one I love. Driving into winter, I call it.

Several late afternoons ago, I started reading Ken Follett's Fall of Giants, the first in the 20th-century trilogy. I'm wrapped up in it, though I have plenty of other books on my plate. And it's 1,000 pages. It's been a very, very long time since I've tackled a book of this length. I'm also finishing The Emigrants by W.G. Sebald, delving into Beowulf a bit at a time, and reading The Mistletoe Inn by Nicholas Paul Evans for the half-hour before I fall asleep. I can't read anything with any complexity before bed because I usually forget the details by the next morning, except for the fluffier kinds of books. Actually, this one is quite captivating, if you're into a sentimental, romantic Christmas tale, which I always am this time of year.


Saturday, November 21, 2015

My "Not Yet Completed" Classics Club List

I do wish that I could finish my list of 50 books for my Classics Club participation. This evening I'm going to list what I have so far. Except for Dr. Zhivago, they are all books I've never read. Because I consumed Dr. Zhivago a month after turning 15 years of age, I'm supposing that I'm absolutely due for a re-read. About 12 more books to go!

1. Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol   completed 10/2015

2. Beowulf. Translation by Seamus Heaney. in progress 11/2015 

3.  Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

4.  Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak (rereading)

5.  A Song of Sixpence by A.J. Cronin

6.  Dr. Finlay Stories—Omnibus by A.J. Cronin  in progress late 2015

7.  Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell

8.  The Professor’s House by Willa Cather

9.  The First Circle by Alexander Solzhenitsyn  (perhaps his other writings?)

10. Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain

11. Short Stories   Heinrich Boll   

12.  A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

13. Shirley by Charlotte Bronte

14. The Professor by Charlotte Bronte

15. Gunter Grass?? 

16.  Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset, Norwegian winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature.
        Vol. 2 The Bride  (I read the first volume about 14-15 years ago.) Undset is rarely read and it   
        is a shame. This is a magnificent trilogy about the life of a young Norwegian woman in
        medieval times.

       Kristin Lavransdatter Vol. 3  The Cross

17.  Snow by Orhan Parmuk

18.  German classic women writer  

19.  Vanity Fair  by William Makepeace Thackeray

20.  Old Christmas by Washington Irving  slated for 12/2015

21  Adventures of Tom Jones by Henry Fielding

22. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

23. Short Stories by Shirley Jackson

24. Henry David Thoreau—A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers  read 10/2015

25. More American Women Writers???

26. Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

27. Bleak House by Charles Dickens

29. Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane

30. Of Human Bondage or The Painted Veil or Short Stories  W. Somerset Maugham

31. Pilgrim at Tinker’s Creek by Annie Dillard

32. Kamouraska  Anne Hebert   Canadian Classic  Quebecois

33. O Pioneers! by Willa Cather

34. The Emigrants by Vilhelm Moberg    Swedish classic

35. Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson

36. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

37. The Fountain Overflows by Rebecca West

38. John Le Carre   The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

39. Doris Lessing. The Golden Notebooks.

40. The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck


Thursday, November 19, 2015

A Quickie Post Today: Thomas Cromwell

Frustrating for me, for sure, but I haven't been a ball of fire since I returned home from caring for Mom. Zero energy at the moment, yet late November and December have always been low-energy times for me. I attribute it to the lack of light. It really affects me. How about you?

I lay Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel to rest this afternoon. What a difficult subject. I feel the impossible position that Cromwell's choices have led him to over the years, one compounding upon the next, leading him to a virtual dungeon from which he can never return. Based on his choices,  he can never go back to his days when he was an innocent admirer of Cardinal Wolsey. He can never go back to the days when he was the happy father and husband. Death always intervenes, whether due to pestilence or spurious ambition. He knows he is a doomed man. In no way can he escape the noose tightening around his neck. I await, shivering, the third volume of the trilogy.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Home Again: Mantel's Bring up the Bodies Got Me Through

As I've noted only too often, good books and great writing have seen me through many a difficulty. Each day this past week, after caring for my mom, I'd return to my quiet hotel room in the late afternoon to immerse myself in Hilary Mantel's Bring up the Bodies. I hadn't expected that I would be reading it this fall, but I desperately craved a historical novel, and there it was staring at me from my tall floor-to-ceiling bedroom bookcase. In my bookbag it went, along with Beowulf.

If it weren't for Mantel's mesmerizing language, I probably would not have read this one after finishing Wolf Hall. I've suffered from an over-exposure to the Henry Tudor subject matter in my lifetime, as I've noted in the past. But this read has been worth it, though I most definitely will not return to the subject again, though there is a third Thomas Cromwell novel on the way, so yes, I will probably read that and then no more Henry.

I'm oh so happy to be home. There is only so much of wall-to-wall traffic and parking lots that one can take. Boston is drowning in both. How do people stand it? Back to wilderness, trees, stillness, fields, sky, quiet house, family (husband and dog), and more books.

Monday, November 9, 2015

German Literature Month: Reading W.G. Sebald's The Emigrants

I so look forward to German Literature Month every November. Last month I was extremely lucky to be awarded a Vintage paperback edition of The Emigrants by W. G. Sebald, a book I've been wanting to get a hold of for a long time. Lizzy of Lizzy's Literary Life awarded the book, and I thank her for opening the competition to an international entrant.

I'm now deeply enmeshed in The Emigrants, and find that I'm so intrigued and interested in the person of the narrator. He is enigmatic, sympathetic toward his subjects, and very nearly omniscient, at least to my mind. This is a book that I want to read, set aside, and read again for the nuances, which are everpresent. I'm still making sense of it, and I'd be interested in reading literary criticism about the novel, though I'd be terrified as well, because I don't want critics to make the novel even more complicated than I have imagined, which is complex enough. I feel very close to the narrator as I'm reading--that's how well written The Emigrants is. I feel completely drawn into the narrator's sensibilities and they have become mine. I seem to find myself deeply understanding the dislocated worlds, families, and societies of mid-20th-century Europe. Perhaps this is because I've gravitated toward literature embodying this time and these themes since my teenage years. In any case, I want to read more works by W.G. Sebald, the emigrant himself, who emigrated to England from Germany. The other book of his that is tops on my list is Austerlitz. I do own it but haven't read it yet.

I fell way behind on the Christa Wolf Week (darn it!) hosted by Caroline at Beauty is a Sleeping Cat, who is co-host with Lizzy of German Literature Month. I couldn't keep up with the Wolf Week because I've been non-stop traveling between northern New York and Boston for the past month. I now own Wolf's Patterns of Childhood (in the UK its title is A Model Childhood), which is an autobiographical novel of Wolf's childhood and youth during World War II and afterwards in the eastern part of Germany. Perhaps I'll save it for next November, if I can wait until then.

Lucky for me, because I'm in the Boston area this week (yet unluckily far from home), I do have access to a library copy of Erich Remarque's A Time to Love and a Time to Die. This is the Literature and War read that Caroline at Beauty is a Sleeping Cat is hosting for the last week in November. I can borrow it from my alma mater indefinitely. There is no library copy available in upstate and northern New York.  

Friday, November 6, 2015

Classics Club and Seamus Heaney's Beowulf

I'm still compiling my Classics Club List, and I realize only too well that I haven't posted my list yet, nor have I signed up because I haven't a list of 50 classics yet, even though I've read two so far. The first is Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol and the second is Henry David Thoreau's A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (see below).

A funny thing happened on the way to compiling my list. As I scoured my bookshelves all over the house, I realized that there are many classics I've read in the past that I'd like to reread. (Maybe I need to join a Rereading the Classics Club?) I'd love to reread Pride and Prejudice, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Henry James's The Turn of the Screw, Nevil Shute's On the Beach, Tolstoy's War and Peace, Thoreau's Walden, and on and on. I do plan to reread Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak for The Classics Club. But most important, I am eager to read more of the classic literature I haven't read.   

My other decision is that I do not want to read my Classic Club books in an e-book format. The Nook and Kindle are fine for many of the novels I read, but for the classics (and for all nonfiction titles), I like to flip forward and backward at ease as is possible only with a hard copy.

So far I'm not following all the guidelines of the Classics Club, and I want to do that asap.

Seamus Heaney's translation of Beowulf (The Bilingual Edition) is my next Classics Club read, but I'm going to tackle it very, very slowly, focusing on the language primarily. My intention is to read only so many pages per week, which undoubtedly means it will take me weeks to complete it. Consequently, I'll probably have another Classics Club reads going at the same time.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Arnaldur Indridason's Reykjavik Nights

Of course, all of you book lovers know the cure for being overtired, and I've been capitalizing on the reading cure. I must return to the Boston area on Sunday for an entire week again, so I expect November is going to be a Dewey Month rather than a Dewey Day.

I just finished Icelandic crime novelist Arnaldur Indridason's Reykjavik Nights this afternoon. I enjoyed the read. It held my interest and was entertaining. And I felt as though I was truly glimpsing Iceland in summer and Reykjavik as a city. I've always been curious about Iceland and his novels do add interesting details about the country and its people.

But (spoiler alert!) I have a criticism, an aspect of the mystery that concerned me when all details of the crimes were laid out at the end of the book. Erlendur, the main character policeman, visited the scene of the crime, the scene of two murders, multiple times in the novel. Why was it that only at the end of the novel that he finally realized he should go into the exposed steam pipeline to dig deeper and deeper for more evidence of Oddni's disappearance and Hannibal's death? After all, he discovered Oddni's earring early in the novel at the pipeline site. Why didn't he dig for more evidence then? And each time Erlendur returned to the crime site, I questioned why he didn't dig more.

So, yes, I was very disappointed by the ending because Erlendur seemed rather dense not to have realized that the crime scene needed to be totally turned over from top to bottom weeks earlier in his investigation. Of course, please note, Reykjavik nights is a prequel and Erlendur was only 28 years of age, so naturally he's not as adept a sleuth as he is when he's older in the rest of the series. In any case, yes, I enjoyed the book.

Would the element I've criticized put me off from reading another Indridason crime novel? Definitely not! His award-winning Jar City was a stupendous crime novel that both Ken and I enjoyed and I would readily read another Indridason novel.

Weather notes: We have been having unseasonably warm weather in the Adirondacks this week. I've been hiking in tee-shirts and summer hiking pants, and my golden retriever Sasha has been panting whenever we climb a big hill. It cools way down at night but by mid-morning it's in the 60s.  Tomorrow will we hit 67 degrees? I think I'll hike with Sasha early in the morning.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Home Now after an Unexpected Absence

Nine days ago I packed up in haste and headed for Boston because my mother had a bad fall. Fortunately the bones she broke have not prevented her from moving forward to what we hope will be a complete recovery. Serendipitous. My mother is made of stern stuff and she is determined to return ASAP to her friends and home at her assisted living community. Mom will be 92 in five weeks.

I finished two comfort reads in the evenings in my hotel room and both were lots of fun and very relaxing--I is for Innocent by Sue Grafton and Rhys Bowen's Her Royal Spyness.
More to come!

Friday, October 16, 2015

Snow Tonight?? Thoreau and Autumn

We have had a prolonged autumn, an extraordinarily long period of beautiful weather, spectacular hiking days, and gorgeous views that go on without end, and a long drawn-out unfolding of what is ordinarily the all-too brief pizazz of brilliant foliage.

We will have lived here 10 years as of December 13, and have never seen an autumn as lovely as this one. No wonder I feel guilty I haven't progressed with my business and work goals.

As I read Henry David Thoreau's A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, and reflect on his devotion and affiliation with nature, I think he would understand my behavior perfectly. I'm enjoying his reflections and his and his brother's encounters with the wild on their boat trip in Massachusetts and New Hampshire in 1838 or so, but I had no idea that the book was nearly 400 pages. I thought it was one of his shorter volumes. How mistaken can one be?

I must admit that I have adjusted to the length, though I find what I call his "stream of consciousness" about religion, Classical literature, mythology, and philosophy taxes my taste at times, but I realize that this was one of his first works, if not his first; Thoreau was very young when he wrote this, and naturally wanted to connect all his intellectual interests to his experiences and thoughts about nature and the wild as he and his brother rowed forward on this adventure. Still, I treasure his observations about wildlife and plants and the towns and villages they pass through, and their local history to be the most enjoyable parts of this book. Yes, absolutely worth reading.

Snow is in the forecast tonight--not much, but a sharp wake-up call. I've been washing hats and gloves and warm coats today. Brrrr...