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Monday, December 31, 2018

My Back to the Classics Challenge List 2019 (Finalized)

I'm very excited about the Back to the Classics Challenge, which is being hosted by Karen of Books and Chocolate. And it's not too late to join up! Karen has extended the sign-up process an extra day, so you have until January 1st at midnight to join us if you wish.

I spent the last few days mulling over the categories that I hadn't decided on, and finally, after much searching and deliberating, I'm very satisfied with the final list. My personal goal is to read all 12 books and report on them. The only change in my list that possibly may occur is the book for the category "20th Century Classic." I feel very certain about the rest of the list.

19th Century Classic:  Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.

20th Century Classic: Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Classic written by a woman: Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

Classic in translation: The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Very long Classic (500 pages +): The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

Classic in comedy: Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Classic in tragedy: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens 

Classic set in a place you have lived: The Last of the Mohicans by James 
          Fenimore Cooper (New York State)

Classic from the Americas: Central America, Canada, the Caribbean, or South America: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Classic from Africa, Asia, Australia, South Pacific:  Snow by Orhan Pamuk (Turkey) **See Turkey discussion below.

Classic Novella:  The Castle of Otranto by Horace Wallace (1764 English Gothic Classic)

Classic Play: The Years Between by Daphne du Maurier (1945)

I received Daphne Du Maurier's play in the mail today. It's a first U.S. edition, published in 1945, complete  with dust cover. Du Maurier wrote very few plays, and this one was first performed in November 1944. It is definitely a wartime piece.

I read a number of books this past year and in 2017 by authors writing novels during and about the war, and writing novels in the immediate aftermath. I have been fascinated by the viewpoints, the day-to-day tumult and malaise of life in wartime and in the depressingly spare times post-war. People so happy to have a poached egg for lunch, with maybe half a small tin of beans on the side. Really! (Of course the egg had to be poached, because the "fat  ration" was so minuscule.)

Notice that my "Asia" choice is a novel by a Turkish author set in Turkey. It's a novel I've been longing to read for a long time. But I had to research it--Is Turkey really in Asia? Believe it or not, sources do not agree on this answer. Some say Turkey is in both Asia and Europe. Some say that Turkey, in Asia Minor, is definitely in Asia, and some say that western Turkey is in Europe and eastern Turkey is in Asia. I think the continental lines are blurry enough to count Turkey as Asia for the sake of this Back to the Classics Challenge.



Saturday, December 29, 2018

Big Excitement: A New Piano and A New TBR Challenge

Yes,  it's true. A TBR Challenge, as wonderful in so many ways that it is, cannot compare with the excitement of a piano entering into a home that has known only a keyboard for almost 20 years. But I thought I should at least lead with a partially bookish header for this blog entry.

On Monday, New Year's Eve, the new piano will enter our home and I'm so psyched. It's coming all the way from Syracuse, which is hours away to the west, in central New York. It's coming all that way because there is not a store closer that sells the piano I've been dreaming of.

Although I played the piano all through my youth and young adulthood, I have not played seriously in the past 20 years. My fingers and hands and brain will need some re-entry training. I'm  planning on taking lessons for a good bit. I'm interested in classical piano primarily, but I used to play all sorts of music back a ways. So who knows? This I do know. I have a stronger desire than I've ever had to play with sensitivity and emotion.

So! As for the TBR Challenge of 2019. Adam, the blogger at Roof Beam Reader is hosting his 8th TBR Challenge for fellow readers and bloggers. Thank you, Adam, for the inspiration and the proverbial kick in the butt. Please notice that Karen, blogger at Books and Chocolate, has also signed up for 2019 (see "Blogs of Substance" sidebar).  Do you have any interest in joining us? (You have until Jan. 15th to sign up and announce your book list).
I signed up officially an hour ago, and have already made a huge blunder. Do read the specifics for setting up the challenge. Dummy me did not, and I must make amends now.   



Friday, December 21, 2018

Total Luxury Reading Day--Another One Tomorrow?

Today I was lucky enough to have a pure reading day, unencumbered by chores and responsibilities. What a relief and a pleasure!  I did do laundry, while listening to an audiobook. I worked out on the treadmill, to an audiobook. And you know I could have encumbered myself with seasonal chores, but I chose not to. I'll have to start cooking Sunday, but until then I'm freeing myself. Enjoying hibernation!

It has been pouring rain since 7 pm last evening and we feel marooned by the "floodwaters." Actually, it's just 2.5 inches of rain rolling around on frozen dirt roads and snow-covered ground and frozen creeks. Yikes. Can we go out for dinner tonight? Like last night, the answer is a firm "No way."

So, what have I been reading?
I'm halfway through another delicious novel  of Christmas fiction, A Vineyard Christmas by Jean Stone, published this fall 2018. A woman writer, aged 40, has settled in a rented house on Chappaquiddick Island, a small island just to the east of Martha's Vineyard, which is a large island in Nantucket Sound off the southern coast of Massachusetts. "Chappy" is connected to Edgartown via a short ferry ride. Because MV has been the setting of several of her novels, Annie has decided to settle there permanently, and has dug in for the winter months. She knows very few people there, and has no family in her life, since her adoptive parents died some years ago.
As a blizzard bears down on the island just before Christmas, she discovers a three-month old baby in a basket on her doorstep. And therein the action takes off. 
Believe me, I'm not a big fan of books starring babies left on doorsteps, but this one has characterizations that are worth the time.  This one received good reviews, and I do recommend it. Well worth putting on your list for next year if you can't get to it this year. 

And for dynamite books with babies on doorsteps, I more than highly recommend the incomparable In the Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer-Fleming, the first book in her mystery series, set in the foothills of the Adirondacks. The best book in the series, to my mind, although they are all so compulsively good. And because the last one was published in 2013, I think (sob!) the series is complete, although Spencer-Fleming's website does not give any indication of this.

Other reading today:
I'm so glad my brain has finally settled down enough so that I could thoroughly digest 55 pages of a biography, In Search of Mary Shelley by Fiona Sampson, also published in 2018, the 200th anniversary of the first publication of Frankenstein, written when Mary Shelley was still a teenager.
One of the problems with being Mary Godwin Shelley's biographer is that there are precious few documents or records to form a comprehensive picture of her life, particularly of her juvenile years, which are the most informative to her writing of Frankenstein
However, much can be pieced together of her father's life (William Godwin) in the years after her mother Mary Wollstonecraft's death, just weeks after Mary's birth. I could wax on, but I'm so glad I'm reading this biography, in preparation for reading Frankenstein in January 2019, as part of the Back to the Classics Challenge 2019.

So, that's not all I read today--(Didn't I tell you I shrugged off everything!)
While doing laundry, was on the treadmill, and while  knitting I listened to a 2018 audiobook Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs, a memoir by the daughter of Steve Jobs, the Apple founder.
Lisa was his first child. Her mother was involved with Jobs while he was in school and early in his career for a number of years, though they later parted.  Later, Jobs denied he was the father, although DNA tests confirmed he was. In a Time magazine cover article he declared that he was not the father and cast aspersions on Lisa's mother. However, the State of California later sued Jobs for the welfare money they paid out to Lisa's mother over many years and ordered him to pay for the care of his child.
The interesting thing about this book is it was awarded a "Best Book of 2018" status by The New York TimesThe Washington Post, Publisher's Weekly and many other newspapers and journals. It's very interesting thus far, particularly because Brennan-Jobs has succinct memories from her very early childhood. As I mentioned, I've just started listening, so I'll have to wait to give my full conclusions.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Back to the Classics Challenge 2019


After dabbling and flitting about aimlessly from  one book to another in 2018, the idea of committing to a Classics Challenge sounds so good, so right, so exactly what my reading heart is seeking as we come close to marking the two-year anniversary of a particularly disturbing administration.

The Back to the Classics Challenge is hosted by Karen of Books and Chocolate. Please note the different participation levels. Because the minimum participation level is only 6 classics (and the maximum is 12), perhaps you might be interested in joining us in the coming year.

You may be interested in viewing JoAnn's choices listed on her blog Lakeside Musing. Please notice that JoAnn notes that some choices on her list may be subject to change during 2019, which is allowed. This is the case for me as well.

 As of right now, the following books are on my list. I have a few additions to make in the near future. I need to complete the list by Dec. 31st and announce it here. As of December 16th, this is what I know:

19th Century Classic:  Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.

20th Century Classic:  Considering a novel published before 1970 by John Le Carre

Classic written by a woman: Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

Classic in translation: The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Very long Classic (500 pages +): The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

Classic in comedy: Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Classic in tragedy: (Can't decide as of today. Check back!) 

Classic set in a place you have lived: The Last of the Mohicans or The Deerslayer by James 
          Fenimore Cooper (New York State)

Classic from the Americas: Central America, Canada, the Caribbean, or South America: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Classic from Africa, Asia, Australia, South Pacific: (A novel by an Indian author, I think. Or maybe by a Nigerian author. Can't decide.)

Classic Novella: (So many to choose from--just can't decide yet)

Classic Play: (Same problem)  

Please check back: My complete list will be posted by midnight, December 31st.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Virtual Advent Calendar 12/14: Christmas Nonfiction & Fiction

Thanks to Sprite, the Virtual Advent Calendar continues with this entry for Friday, December 14th.

I'd like to share a nonfiction Christmas classic that I have thoroughly enjoyed and still dig into every December. It's The Battle for Christmas: A Cultural History of America's Most Cherished Holiday by the American historian Stephen Nissenbaum.  It was first published in 1996, and is still, 22 years later, vigorously selling. This is a dense history, and for lots of people reading at this time of year, I'd recommend choosing a chunk of chapters to read each December.

I've learned a tremendous amount of surprising facts about the history of Christmas in the American colonies and in the U.S. I thought I knew all there was to know, but I learned to my dismay how desperate Americans were, especially in cities, to reduce the amount of drunken rioting that occurred over Christmas. Wassailers extorted food and money from the better-off and in some cities, it was a dangerous business walking about in the winter darkness. Many, if not the majority of these revelers were adolescents and older children. It's important to remember that the primary alcoholic beverage in the early 19th century were spirits in one form or another--rum and whiskey, predominantly.

Nissenbaum, who received grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the American Antiquarian Society, and assistance from UMass/Amherst to pursue this research, uncovered this history, which had been largely forgotten. His premise is that American society desperately needed to alter the way Christmas was celebrated, from an economic and social point of view, and that business leaders, clergy, and law enforcement promoted celebrating the holiday via consumer and domestic culture, and the printed word. It's fascinating!! If you are interested in reading this book, I would go for a hardbound, used copy, which is also cost-effective. I have found that the illustrations are better reproduced in the hardcover edition.

Yes, I did indeed say in a previous entry that I would not include The Christmas Carol in my Christmas book discussions. But!! What was I thinking? I hadn't considered that if you are a big fan of the Dickens holiday ghost story, you may not know how wonderful The Annotated Christmas Carol, edited and with an intro by Michael Patrick Hearn and published by W.W. Norton is! Published in 2004, this edition has full-color plates of the original Christmas Carol illustrations, as well as the work of other important C.C. illustrators. History, art, music--the annotations are so fascinating, you'll go off on so many tangents that you'll forget all about actually reading The Christmas Carol. Definitely a volume to curl up with and share with friends, a cup of cocoa, and some feline and canine buddies.

I want to add one or two more. Just don't know that I have time, so I'll start with the book Christmas Spirit: Two Stories by Robert Westall. These stories were published in the U.S. in 1994, posthumously. In the UK they were published as two separate stories for young people, The Christmas Ghost and The Christmas Cat. Neither are the traditional sweetness and light as are most Christmas stories for young people. In fact, when I read them, I thought they were both better suited to an adult audience. They puzzled me and gave me a great deal to think about.

Robert Westall was a highly regarded author of children's literature, and much of what he wrote was for young people 10 and up, or 12-up. He grew up in Northumberland in England, and these two stories are set there. He also was 10-14 years or so during WWII, and a number of his other books have male protagonists living during that difficult time.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Virtual Advent Calendar 12/7--Favorite Christmas Books Since 2013

My favorite late November and December reading activity is to devour Christmas-themed books, whether they be mysteries, romance, general fiction, or nonfiction. Today, December 7th, I'm devoting my commentary to telling you about a host of Christmas novels that I have truly loved during the past 5-6 years.  I am also hosting the Virtual Advent Calendar Tour on December 14th.

Before I begin, I was a bit startled to read some of the GoodReads criticisms of these novels. Some readers diss them, saying they're too cozy, too Hallmarkesque, not edgy enough, and I say, "What???"  The following Christmas reads, like the stories that came generations before them, are full of Christmas spirit. They are cozy through and through, and though mishaps abound, they are full of happy endings. That's the genre. If you're looking for realism, you're in the wrong aisle.

For those of you who love Christmas whimsy, read on.

I've mentioned in previous posts that I recently read Anne Perry's 2017 Christmas-themed mystery, A Christmas Return, which I found to be pleasurable. But even better, and the best Anne Perry Christmas mystery I've read is A New York Christmas, published in 2014.

Another book I thoroughly enjoyed in 2014 was Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas by Stephanie Barron, a book in her Jane Austen mystery series. I must say up front that I do not gravitate to contemporary series that feature famous authors as protagonists.  However, I was drawn to this one, because it included an atmospheric element that I find irresistible in fiction--overwhelming blizzards and blinding snowstorms! I love Disaster by Snow.
I do enthusiastically recommend this title in the series because it was extremely Christmassy, with Jane Austen-era Christmas traditions,  and it did not hold back in isolating the wonderful Christmas household from the world for several weeks.

For Americans, Canadians, and for all who do not reside in the UK, I heartily recommend Christmas in London by Anita Hughes, which was published in 2017, I believe. I read it last December and it was so much fun. Why not recommend it for UK readers? I think any UK reader who knows London at all will find it too-over-the-top with the characters' wide-eyed wonder at London tourist attractions. I, on the other hand, admired its luscious and gooey appreciation for London in all its December glory.

And last but not least for today, one of my all-time favorite Christmas novels:
I reread Rosamunde Pilcher's Winter Solstice last year, and this time I had the time to luxuriate in it deeply, think inhale deeply. It is a five-star novel that does not disappoint in any respect. Ranging from Hampshire to Scotland, to my mind, it's the best Christmas novel I have ever read, with something to offer to women of all ages--from teens to 90s. I have had readers tell me that they pick it up every Christmas.  


Monday, December 3, 2018

Welcome to the Virtual Advent Calendar Tour

Correction posted December 4, 2016: I incorrectly stated yesterday that Nan is the name of the blog owner of Sprite Writes. Nan is the blog owner of Letters from a Hill Farm (see "Blogs of Substance" sidebar), and she is the blogger from whom I learned about the Virtual Advent Calendar Tour.

At long last, I am alerting all of you to the Virtual Advent Calendar Tour hosted by  Sprite Writes. I believe there are still days available for new bloggers to sign up.
So, what is the Virtual Advent Calendar Tour?
Individual bloggers sign up to host one or more days from December 1st to December 25th to blog about something seasonally related.
 Nan, at Sprite Writes, connects readers each day with a link to the blogger hosting the Virtual Advent Calendar Tour for that day. Very, very cool. I learned all about Sprite Write's tour, thanks to Letters from a Hill Farm (see "Blogs of Substance" Sidebar.)

I am the Friday, December 7th host of the Virtual Advent Calendar Tour. December 7th is the birthday of two family members who influenced my reading the most. My mother Lois and her oldest sister Ruth powerfully influenced my reading, as lots of regular readers of this blog already know. Lois and Ruth shared the same birthday, though they were 12 years apart. My December 7th blog post will not be about them, but it will be dedicated to them.
My Plans for December 7: To highlight my favorite, not commonly known, Christmas reads of all time.
So even though I love Dickens's A Christmas Carol, it will NOT be featured in my December 7th
post.

In other news:
I finished A Christmas Return by Anne Perry late this afternoon (liked it very much), while sipping a cup of tea from the Sikkim area of India, just south of the Darjeeling region. It's been so difficult to obtain quality Darjeeling tea for quite a while now, due to the successive crop failures year after year, all because of widespread drought. For years now, the news about the Darjeeling tea crop has been very sad. Yes, I'm a devotee of Darjeeling tea. What to do? My petty sadness is so trivial, compared to the losses of those in the Darjeeling region of India, in the foothills of the Himalayas.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Riches from the Library for December

Time for Advent Calendars--




On Thursday, I made a killing at Crandall Library, just before what I knew was going to be an unpleasant visit to the dentist.
I'd planned to pick up a couple of Christmas picture books on hold for me (thanks to Diane of Bibliophile by the Sea [see sidebar for link]), and an additional couple of thrillers for Ken, but by the time I left an hour later, I was struggling to carry two overflowing, very large bags full of books and 2 audiobooks out to my car. What fun! While the dentist drilled away minutes later, I shut my eyes and thought only about what was stored in my book bags. Dreamy!  Book Gluttony rules in December.

A few notable selections from the sacks--or, stacks.
My Struggle: Volume 6 by the Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard. It's well over a thousand pages, closer to 1100 pages, but many people are saying that this volume is one of the best in the series. I heard a New York Times Book Review critic who raved about it interviewed by Pamela Paul, the NYT Book Review editor for the NYT Book Review podcast. I was so intrigued by his enthusiasm for the book.
And I find that My Struggle: Volume 6  is a book that you can begin on page one and read straight through, or just flip open to any page anywhere and start reading. As you know, I'm a huge fan of memoir, and Knausgaard does it all in fascinating minutiae. Am I going to read the entire book? Probably not, but chunks of it, definitely yes.

Another book I was astonished to find on the New Books shelves at Crandall: Anniversaries: Volume 1, August 1967-April 1968: From a Year in the Life of Gesine Cresspahl by the East German writer Uwe Johnson (1934-1984), recently translated into English by the American translator Damion Searls. This is a New York Review Books (NYRB) title, the translation edition published in 2018. Volume I was first published in Germany (East or West??) in 1970. It is over 900 pages long.  The book is organized into near-daily journal entries. I started reading it, but realized I need a very quiet mind to deal with the complexities of language. There are depths here, and I would really like to read it.

In Christmas Books:
Christmas on the Island by Jenny Colgan was wonderful right up to the last page. I wanted more! Five stars *****

And now I'm reading A Christmas Return, Anne Perry's Christmas (mystery) novel for 2017, which received a starred review last year from Publisher's Weekly. An hour ago I sat down and consumed the first 50 pages, which is more than a quarter of the book. I am enjoying it particularly because the main character is a woman who is well over eighty and has the gumption to go out of her way to help an old, though estranged, friend and sleuth her way about with this friend's grandson, to make a grievous wrong, committed 20 years before, right. At that time a young girl was kidnapped and murdered. This one is set in England when Queen Victoria was about 70 years of age--a mere child, according to Mariah, the protagonist. I love the period details.