View of Heart Lake and an Adirondack "High Peak" in Mid-May

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Books in the Mail! And Memorial Day Readathon

I will be in the MOOD to read for hours and hours starting Thursday.
I can feel the compulsion coming over me, which will likely last all weekend.
We will also dine at The Inn on Gore Mountain. Susan Minucci is hands-down the best chef in Warren and Essex Counties. And I will do a few walk-abouts, but due to our super-rainy spring, we're having the worst black fly season in years and years, so I must choose very windy places to gaze at nature.  I will also plant my horde of violas and pansies, finally, into pots.
House-cleaning is out of the question until next week, or the week after, maybe.

My priority is to  finish The House of Mirth for the Classics Club Spin by May 29th. And how I will enjoy being able to concentrate on it! I can already see that I am waiting to read it again. There's so much in it.

Two new, new books arrived in the mail today. You may have heard news about them or seen the excellent reviews.

The first has received the most praise thus far.

Follow this link for all the praise from reviewers:
Be sure to click the "Read More" prompt to get a taste of what reviewers all over the US are saying.

I'm so happy to have this book in my house this weekend.
Who would have known that Harper Lee started this book project? It's so interesting, because, in part Harper Lee had been so burned by Truman Capote's eager and whole-hearted acceptance of all of her research and help with the organization and writing of  In Cold Blood, and then he never once, not ever, acknowledged her contribution. No acknowledgement, no payment, nothing. What a tragedy, followed by the complete breakdown of a relationship that dated back to childhood.

So now today--what we, the public, didn't know until the publication of this book is that Harper Lee decided in the early 1970s to try to write her own "nonfiction novel" of a true crime case, this one in Alabama. I only wish that she had had a few older mentors and contemporaries to support her through the process.  A community of writing colleagues. As far as I know, she didn't have them--not close ones anyway, as far as I know. Perhaps this book will enlighten this part of her life.

My other hardcover book in the mail today:
The Guest Book, which is receiving rave reviews all over. I've provided a link to Maureen Corrigan of NPR's brief thoughts, but many more are all around. It is the type of book I'm yearning for.
 And a happy long weekend to all of you!

Sunday, May 19, 2019

A Catch-Up, in a Wickedly Busy Month

I lament that I haven't posted in ten days, and I'm sorry I've had zero time to visit everyone's blogs, which I enjoy doing so much.

I'm in a time snarl right now, and all I can say is that it will be ending eventually, and things will be much better by the very end of May and certainly by June.

And do I ever loathe preparing for public speaking! I loved teaching students, but in this case the audience will be people my age primarily. Peers. All my life I've found speaking to an audience of peers to be much more difficult.  I was asked to do this, and I complied, but what was I thinking?
On the other hand, I enjoyed the research for the project tremendously. I learned a great deal more about early New England history, which is my specialty, so why the angst? Just get over it, I tell myself.
The event will be this Wednesday evening at the Chestertown Historical Society. (If I can survive until then.) Ken will be on hand to project the digital images for the presentation. I have been very thankful to have his technical help and support. Life-saving.

NOW to Books!!  I am still reading The House of Mirth for the Classics Club Spin, although very, very slowly at this moment. I am reading about 12 pages per day right now. Things will pick up! By the way, I finished Avalon by Anya Seton early this past week.

I had been zooming along in The Man in the Brown Suit, by Agatha Christie, but I ran into memory-retention problems when I could only read before falling asleep and no longer during the day. Deadly combination. So I'm laying it aside momentarily--I've lost a few of the important details, but I will  definitely go back and pick up all the slipped stitches as soon as Wed. May 22nd is over.

In the meantime, I had to have something to read before bed that wasn't too taxing mentally and for those rare moments when I take a break from work. I started reading a book by Dinah Jeffries that is set in Ceylon (today's Sri Lanka), in 1935, entitled The Sapphire Widow. It's a little more than romantic suspense. Perhaps romantic suspense with just a dash of thriller and a dash of mystery. A very fragrant setting! It's wonderful for those few moments when I can read.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

A Pre-Weekend Note about My Books & Thanks to Cleo!

Gosh--I'm halfway through Avalon, having started it on Sunday. I've noted that many readers  have said it's not their favorite by Anya Seton, and I concur with that. I think in large part it's the broad scope of the book, covering many years, which seems to have led Seton to forego lots of scenes  and dialogue and replace them with straight narrative, which  is nowhere near as compelling. But! That said, I am fascinated by the history and the story of a particular era in English history (the mid-late 900s) that I don't know well.

I must express my thanks to Cleo for a marvelous review of Agatha Christie's The Man in the Brown Suit (1924). This is not a Hercule Poirot novel, and is Christie's 5th published novel. I refer you now to Cleo of Cleo's Classical Carousel review. I have started to gobble it up. I am not a Christie fan, primarily because I'm not fond of the character of Hercule Poirot. But this one is so compelling with its young female lead. I have already referred several friends to it and we're all hooked.

More news of literary doings at my house in the North Country this weekend coming up! A viewing of The Godfather #1--We have not seen it for eons, and it's time. Mother's Day Weekend--a total damper on music and art doings in the area. (Bleh!) It's as bad a weekend as Easter as far as events are concerned.
But this weekend is the best of times for birding! International Migratory Bird Day is Saturday, May 11th. Do get out with a pair of binocs! Or just get out, rain or shine.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

It's Saturday Night! And Rain, Clouds, and Books Continue

Despite and in spite of the GLOOM, I walked today and to my delight heard and saw many migrating birds. (There was a southerly wind flow overnight, so I had a hunch I might hear some migratory birds.) I heard a yellow-rumped warbler, an ovenbird (an early arrival), a yellow warbler, and saw a large flock of brown creepers undoubtedly making their way to Canada for the breeding season. Lots of fun. Standing stock still and listening, binocs in hand at the neighboring beaver bog/marsh. I saw a flycatcher through the binocs, but have no idea which variety. Off-and-on drizzle and spattering rain challenged me, but I felt better for being out and birding.

In book news, I did set The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton aside for several days, but I plan to get back to it tomorrow. I don't want to lose all those threads! And I was enjoying it, despite the dark clouds.
In its stead this week, I ended up reading and thoroughly enjoying a novel by Dorothy Eden (1912-1982), published in 1967--Winterwood. Her gothic/romantic suspense/historicals were popular in the 1960s and early 1970s, but at that time I read only one or two. I believe I read Ravenscroft. What I appreciated about Winterwood was the way the scenes seamlessly blend together, which makes for excellent pacing. I read it in just a few days. And the characters are well-portrayed, especially the spirited, spunky 12-year-old girl who is the responsibility of the main character.

I'm not entirely sure, but I think my next novel will be Avalon by Anya Seton (1904-1990). Seton's novels still enchant historical novel lovers today despite the fact that she wrote them in the 1960s and 1950s? I need to do a little research there. I adored Katherine, which is about the wife of John of Gaunt in England in the 1400s, I believe.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

My Mood is Dreadful--Is There a Book for This?

We had a few sunny, 60-70 degree days a week ago or more. I think. Today, like other days lately, it has been cold, barely hitting 42 degrees, a bit of snow in the mornings, and DARK. I think I have a sunlight deficiency. In fact I know I do. We are not scheduled to have sun for quite a few days. We need at least one leaf somewhere to make an appearance. Not yet.
The migratory birds are held back, because of the cold and the north winds, which makes me mopey. 

I have had a lot of business-type stuff to do, and I've been making good headway with The House of Mirth, by Edith Wharton, which is very, very interesting, but I see dark clouds on the horizon there, too.

I finished Jane and Prudence,   early Sunday morning, and I thought it was exceptionally well done, but it is not my favorite. Excellent Women is my Pym favorite thus far, though I did find Quartet in Autumn  to be quite amusing.

I've latched on to The House by the Fjord by Rosalind Laker. This novel was written by an English writer who is married to a Norwegian. It's set in 1946, the year after World War II ended, and is the story of a young English "war bride" who married a Norwegian pilot who flew for the RAF in WWII, but who died at the very end of the war.
A year after his death, she travels to Norway to become acquainted with her husband's homeland, and eventually, she meets his family and receives a house "by a fjord" as her husband's inheritance. Will she stay in Norway and accept the house? That's where I am now.  A brutal winter, the winter of 1946-47 is on its way.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Classics Club Spin: The House of Mirth & Other Book News

The Classics Club Spin turned out to be very lucky for me because I'm so in the mood to read my #19, The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton.
In the late 1990s I read Wharton's The Age of Innocence and enjoyed that, and learned a great deal from it. At the time I was reading it partly to inform myself about upper-class society and manners in New York, because I was writing a novel set in Boston during the same time period--"The Gilded Age"--the late 1880s. The novel is still deeply buried in a drawer, but I have fond memories of writing it over a period of several years.
So The House of Mirth is now in transit to the wilderness, where I hope to begin reading it later this week. It's 400 pages, so I need to make it a priority.

In the meantime, I've been reading Jane and Prudence by Barbara Pym. (This is a Goodreads link. Go directly to the reviews and NOT the horrible brief synopsis of the book--gads.) I must read a Pym novel at least once each year. I am purchasing them all in paperback because I want to go back and read each one again. Pym is so sharp, so witty, so adroit that I'm really a devotee of her work.

I'm also thoroughly deep into reading the memoir Names for the Sea: Strangers in Iceland by the English writer Sarah Moss, about the years she, her husband, and children lived in Iceland just after the financial crash and after the failure of some of Iceland's banks in 2010. The memoir is all about an English family struggling to live in Iceland--physically, culturally, nutritionally. It is immensely fascinating. What an eye-opener-- What an extraordinary (and unusual!) culture.

I first read Sarah Moss in 2011 or so, when I read her novel Cold Earth, which is a mystery of six archaeologists in Greenland, who are excavating what they hope was once a Norse colony. I don't remember the details, but I do recall enjoying it and refusing to send my copy to the library book sale in case I want to read it again.

Moss has a new novel out this year, Ghost Wall. I took it out in late February and had to return it without reading it. So now I have it out again. It's a short novel about a family taking part in an archaeological dig in England, of an Iron Age site. They opt to live as Iron Age dwellers and so, the story. I think this one has some dark overtones.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Classics Club Spin #20

It's been so long since I've participated in a Classics Club Spin that I'll bet  many of you didn't know I have a Classics Club List, which I began in 2016. Of course I'll never finish it by December 31, 2020. But I would like to join in for this Spin. A few of the listed books I'm reading for the Back to the Classics Challenge this year, which is hosted by Karen of Books and Chocolate (see sidebar). (This is acceptable for the BCC Challenge, but if it's not legal for The Classics Club, would you please give me a head's up?)

I'm going to be unusually busy in May, but I set aside time each day and in each week to read no matter what, so I hope I'll make it. Another of my concerns is that I think the Somerset Maugham books may be less than full novel length. If they are too, too short, I'll read both of them.

  1. The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper
  2. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
  3. Flush: A Biography by Virginia Woolf
  4. Home of the Gentry by Ivan Turgenev
  5. Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger
  6. The Things They Carried and Other Stories by Tim O’Brien
  7. Greengage Summer by Rumer Godden
  8. The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
  9. Kristin Lavransdatter: The Wreath (Book One) by Sigrid Undset (re-read)
  10. The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham
  11. The Razor’s Edge by Somerset Maugham
  12. Pilgrim at Tinker’s Creek by Annie Dillard
  13. The Emigrants (Book One) by Vilhelm Moberg (Swedish classic)
  14. The Professor’s House by Charlotte Bronte (re-read from 43 years ago)
  15. Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell
  16. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
  17. The Fountain Overflows by Rebecca West
  18. Snow by Orhan Pamuk
  19. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
  20. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

Thursday, April 18, 2019

The Radetsky March Readalong, Part 3

As I close the book on The Radetsky March, again I'd like to thank Lizzy of Lizzy's Literary Life and Caroline of Beauty is a Sleeping Cat for hosting this Spring Readalong. I'm so glad I had the chance to read The Radetsky March, and if it had not been for this Readalong, I would still be ignorant of the book's existence. And a hearty thank you to both of them for sponsoring the annual German Literary Month, which is scheduled each November.

Question: There seems to be only one true and honest relationship in this novel—the friendship between district administrator von Trotta and Doctor Skowronnek. Would you agree? What did you think of their relationship?

I definitely disagree, and I would add that the nature of relationships in The Radetsky March is very much restricted or constrainedaccording to the culture and societal norms of the Hapsburg Empire at the time. 

In the case of Baron Von Trotta and Dr. Skowronnek, the Baron's difficulties, including the tragedy of losing his only son and family member, is conveyed to the doctor, but from what the author Joseph Roth shows us, the relationship is very much one-sided. The Baron can "unload" his burden, so to speak, while maintaining gentlemanly conduct, but the doctor does not do the same. Roth never shows the Doctor sharing anything personal at all.  Is this because Baron Von Trotta is nobility (or gentry) and the doctor is not of that class? I think it is. The doctor is not the baron's personal physician. They pass afternoons companionably,  they play chess together daily and talk about lots of things, but it would not be "seemly" for the doctor to take his woes or his grief to Von Trotta. That was my impression. I do hope that if readers have alternative viewpoints that they feel free to comment and say how they view it.

Lieutenant Carl Joseph Von Trotta cares a great deal for his military servant Onufri, just as Onufri is willing to part with his life savings to help Carl Joseph. But, because of the military hierarchy and strict code of conduct, they are so constrained that they cannot express their thoughts about their emotional attachment. Anything that is communicated is heavily draped by military propriety and is an expression of rank.

Carl Joseph and Dr. Max Demant appear to be on a more equal footing. They do care about each other, but the tragedy is Carl Joseph is powerless to prevent or to change the course of action when  the duel with (so sorry--can't remember  his name) becomes an inevitable destination in time. Carl Joseph played a part in it, but he can do nothing except finally to sputter to Dr. Demant, "I do not want you to die!"  Yet again, Carl Joseph and Dr. Demant are not military or social equals, and I wonder, and others may disagree, but is that why Carl Joseph felt he could visit Dr. Demant's wife when he was not at home. Did he feel some sense of entitlement, perhaps? I think this was the case with Sergeant Slama, who, of course, was no friend of Carl Joseph, and was of a lower class than Dr. Demant. But did CJ feel emboldened to freely visit Katherina, Slama's wife, because there could be no really, really serious or dangerous consequences?

I think Chojnicki feels for or cares about what happens to Carl Joseph. He acts in such a way and helps him as an older brother would a younger brother, or so it seems to me. And they are on approximately the same social footing, though the Count definitely outranks the son of a baron.

What do you think about Carl Joseph's death?
I did not view his death as pointless at all. His men were suffering, really suffering from thirst. And because of Carl Joseph's state of mind (not firmly rooted to the present or to self-preservation) he decides, or says to himself (perhaps), "To hell with it! I'll get the water! I will at least preserve my men!" And I think that was a noble thing to sacrifice your life for, in a metaphoric way. For water, aqua vitae, to sustain life. Nobody anywhere was making sustaining life a priority at this time. So I think that "people," perhaps his father, the army, the newspapers (if any recounted his death) would see it as pointless, but I don't think JosephRoth was saying it was. Just my take.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Nectar in a Sieve and Lucky Me--I Discover Dr. Ruth Galloway!

Readers of this blog may recall that I had a bit of a mix-up with my 2019 Back to the Classics Challenge choice of book for Asia, Africa, Australia.
All is well now, because I am deep into my reading of Nectar in a Sieve and I see now why it was such a popular book in the 1960s and 1970s. It was published in 1954, and is the story of a poor farming family who must struggle and live by their wits to survive in a village in India.
It is a first-person narrative, told from the point of view of the fourth (and last) daughter of a middling family. A huge wedding and dowry for the oldest daughter, then a good match and smaller wedding for the second daughter, followed by an even smaller village wedding and a marginal match for the third daughter. By the time the narrator is to wed, there is no money and no prestige to be gained from having her marry well. Moreover, she is no beauty. So she must marry a poor tenant farmer. And given this fate, she discovers, at age 12, how very lucky she is to have a kind, honorable man like Nathan who deeply cares for her and values her.
This novel is fascinating and the prose is simply written but lyrical. I'm loving it.

So change of scene:
I wonder, where has Ruth Galloway been all my life?
Yesterday I started the first book of the Ruth Galloway mysteries, The Crossing Places (2009), by Elly Griffiths. (For those who don't know Elly Griffiths, she is the author of The Stranger Diaries, a standalone mystery/crime/suspense/thriller, which I recently lauded to the heights.)

I love Ruth Galloway the same way that I love Kinsey Milhone of the Alphabet mystery series by Sue Grafton. (A is for Alibi, B is for Burglar, etc.)  Both Kinsey and Ruth do not care one iota for what other people think about them. They are both as quirky as hell, both live alone by choice, and both have fascinating careers. Ruth Galloway is a forensic archaeologist, a subject that greatly interests me. I have read only 50 pages, but I've been researching The Bronze Age in Britain, The Iron Age, henges and torques--oh, I am in rapture! Thank you, thank you, whoever pushed the Ruth Galloway series my way--I think that's Katrina of Pining for the West and Cath of readwarbler.

Friday, April 12, 2019

The Radetsky March Part Two by Joseph Roth

Warning: Lots of spoilers here...
Decay, dissolution, and a pervasive sense of imminent death infused nearly every scene in Part Two. These are the things that struck me most powerfully in this week's portion of The Radetsky March.

Carl Joseph's face (sometimes appearing yellow, at other times, gray or sallow), his overall lassitude, his deeper descent into anesthetizing himself by consuming "ninety-proof" alcohol throughout the day,  and the increasing sense that although he is not dead, he is certainly not alive--all underscore this impression of decay.  His trip with a rapturous older woman, Frau Taussig, to Vienna provides a glorious, but brief respite. Upon their return to the borderlands of the Empire, he finds himself cast aside and he returns to feeling purposeless and empty.

Roth's description of the Empire's extravaganza in Vienna that Carl Joseph and Frau von Taussig attend, displays in full relief the glories of the Empire, and is a moving, colorful scene. One can imagine the spectators thinking, "How can this Empire ever die? Why, just look at how vital and how exuberant it is--all sectors of the military in full regalia, the martial music, the Lipizzaner horses, the sumptuous food!"  But, as mentioned previously, Carl Joseph returns to his regiment on the border of the Empire, where gambling has been established in the tavern.  More decay and desperation ensues, especially among Carl Joseph's fellow officers. Carl Joseph doesn't seem to gamble--largely because it seems he is past caring about entertainment. He thinks about getting out of the military, but he is paralyzed by inaction.

The section portraying the Emperor Franz Joseph depicts, in extraordinary detail, his decrepitude. Yes, he has brief snippet-reflections of his former glory, but now he is a man in his eighties who is trying very hard not to let anyone guess that his mind and his body have left him. 
In contrast, Roth could have chosen to show us glimpses of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the Emperor's heir. He was indeed vital, an excellent marksman and hunter. However, Roth chose to focus on the decay of the Emperor--very telling.
(I found out the fact about the Archduke  by coincidence  yesterday, and it is totally unrelated to my reading of The Radetsky March. I picked up the novel Trieste by Dasa Drndic, a Croatian author, at the library. The first chapter or two has a bit of background information about the Archduke. Aside from what I read yesterday, I know nothing about him other than that he was assassinated in late June 2014, which sparked World War I. But until yesterday, I had never heard that his wife was also killed.)

The soldiers and officers are past hoping for real military action--there hasn't been any during most of their lifetimes. They do maneuvers, and march around, but generally morale, from a military readiness aspect, is low. They're purposeless, and they're in a state of decay. When the workers at the bristle factory go on strike and openly protest their grievances, Carl Joseph is ordered to lead a group of men to stand by, because of the fear of armed revolt by the workers.  He doesn't want this task but has no choice. A confrontation ensues when some of the workers start to attack the soldiers. Carl Joseph gets whacked on the head and shoulder, and other soldiers decide to fire, and the whole thing gets blamed on Carl Joseph. He develops a "brain fever" after his injury and is hospitalized for weeks.

Please do respond if you notice I've misstated fact, or if you have a different viewpoint, or if you want to comment in any way.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Radetsky March A Bit Postponed and Other Book News

I will be posting my Part Two of Radetsky March comments on Friday morning EST. Physically speaking, I couldn't get to it today. I hope to post on time for Part 3 next Thursday, April 18th.

I'm  nearing the end of Julia Spencer-Fleming's novel published in 2013 and most recently completed novel to date, Through the Evil Days. I'm very sorry to say that I did not enjoy it as much as all the previous novels in the series. I have loved them all, but this one did not predominantly profile Claire and Russ, the usual key characters and the characters with the most interest, in my opinion. To be honest, there was more of a focus on police officer Hadley Knox and her partner Kyle Flynn.
A brutal, paralyzing, and unprecedented ice  storm has crippled upstate eastern New York from Albany to Plattsburgh. The Northway, Route 87, has been shut down (something I find unimaginable), because everything is covered in inches and inches of solid ice. And huge crimes and a child at risk, who all are determined to save.

I really like Hadley and Kyle, it's not that,  but I was sorely disappointed that Claire and Russ are in deadly dire straits of their own deep in the Adirondack Mountains, though very few chapters are devoted to them. Alas!

More News:
The 2019 Booker International shortlist is as follows:

Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi (Oman) and translated from the Arabic by Marilyn Booth (Sandstone Press)
  • The Years by Annie Ernaux (France) and translated from the French by Alison L. Strayer (Fitzcarraldo Editions)
  • The Pine Islands by Marion Poschmann (Germany) and translated from the German by Jen Calleja (Profile Books, Serpent's Tail)
  • Drive Your Plow Over The Bones Of The Dead by Olga Tokarczuk (Poland) and translated from the Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones (Fitzcarraldo Editions) 
  • The Shape of the Ruins by Juan Gabriel Vásquez (Colombia) and translated from the Spanish by Anne McLean (MacLehose Press, Quercus)
  • The Remainder by Alia Trabucco Zerán (Chile) and translated from the Spanish by Sophie Hughes (And Other Stories)
Do any of these titles interest you? I'm curious about Olga Tokarczuk--she won the  Prize in  2018, and now here she is with another book that sounds interesting. I must look them all up. Maybe reading one or two of these will help with my European Challenge 2019.

Tomorrow I must MOVE FORWARD with books for my various challenges. I need to read another book for the 2019 TBR Challenge. I also must write a review for The Woman in White for the Back to the Classics Challenge. 
I am anticipating a nice, peaceful, very quiet day (oh, please!) with reading. And moving forward with a genealogy project that I will be presenting to a local historical society in late May. This project has been fun and rewarding.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

This Week's Stunner of a Book--The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths

The big surprise in my reading life this week has been the new, highly acclaimed, stand-alone novel by Elly Griffiths, The Stranger Diaries. Griffiths is the author of the Ruth Galloway mysteries, which I have never read. Have you by any chance? I wonder if I should try them now.

The Stranger Diaries is a tour de force--thriller, suspense, mystery, and deliciously gothic! Not a single dull second in the book. It has kept me guessing from the first, and now that I have just 50 pages to go, I am still at my wit's end, nail-biting all the way, trying to figure out the puzzle. This was the  London Times Crime Book of the Year for 2018, and was published in the U.S. in March 2019. It earned a starred review from Booklist and Library Journal. Is it my best book of the year so far? Well, it's hands-down the best thriller, definitely the best mystery. Griffiths has hit one out of the park, in my opinion. Deep, deep characters, prejudiced cops, intense. Griffiths has superseded all the genres with  this book.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

The Radetsky March Readalong--Part One

I'm very glad I learned of the Spring (April) Readalong of The Radetsky March by Joseph Roth (1894-1939), hosted by Lizzy of Lizzy's Literary Life and Caroline of Beauty is a Sleeping Cat. Both Caroline and Lizzy host the annual November "German Literary Month," which focuses on literature written in the German language (including works by writers living in Austria, Switzerland, Germany, and German-language writers living in other countries. (For example, Franz Kafka was a Czech writer, but he wrote his masterpieces in German.)
 Last year Lizzy and Caroline hosted a spring readalong, and they're repeating it this spring 2019. Thank you, Caroline and Lizzy!

So what exactly prompted me to set aside time to read Joseph Roth's critically acclaimed masterpiece?
I believe I mentioned in a post in February that I had read a Joseph Roth novel  years ago for German Literary Month, but I had absolutely no idea that he wrote a sweeping novel about the final years of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (The Habsburg Empire), right up to World War I.
After the defeat of Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire in WWI, the Habsburg Empire dissolved and the lands were carved up into small nations according to the provisions of the Versailles Treaty.

In any case, I have read so many novels, and so many historical novels about the UK's involvement in WWI, the U.S. involvement, the French involvement, the German, and the Russian, and the fact that I have never read anything in fiction (or non-fiction) about the Austro-Hungarian Empire's participation was a primary motivator for me.
Thus, the fact that The Radetsky March, published in 1932, was declared a masterpiece by so many writers and critics, coupled with my eagerness to know something more about "the other empire," are what motivated me to tackle this novel. And it is indeed a fascinating novel.

So which translation did I choose?
I am pleased to say that I'm very happy with the Michael Hofmann translation. To get the Hofmann translation in the edition I wanted, I had to order from the Book Depository, which is no hardship at all financially, but is a constraint if you have time pressure. Thankfully I had plenty of time, so a 2-week wait was no problem. (The Book Depository states that they deliver to New York State in 5-8 business days once a book is shipped, but this is not true, never true. It always takes a minimum of 10 business days.)
The other translator for many U.S. editions is the esteemed Joachim Neugroschel (1938-2011). Born in 1938 to Jewish parents in Vienna, the entire family escaped to Brazil in 1939. From there, they migrated to Brooklyn in 1941, where Neugroschel eventually received an excellent education at Columbia, majoring in English and Comparative Literature.  He went on to become a foremost translator of over 200 works into English from the French, Italian, Russian, German, and Yiddish. In an interview, he admitted, "I never read a book before translating it. No reason to. I do not translate the words literally. Only a bad translator would translate literally."
I did not choose his translation,  not on account  of the quotation,  but because the Hofmann translation is that  of a German-language specialist. It would be interesting to read the Neugroschel translation. He seems to have been a polyglot, which is always fascinating.

What particularly struck me in Part One of The Radetsky March:
I was particularly struck by the repeated image of the very young Carl Von Trotta, during his summer vacations, standing upon a chair to view the portrait of his famous grandfather, who was the "Hero of the Battle at Solferino." This grandfather had been the son of a Slovenian peasant, yet he saved the Emperor's life in battle at Solferino. Although the rescue had been a spur-of-the-moment, knee-jerk reaction to save the Emperor's life, this act went on  through the generations and hovered like an anvil over his descendants' lives, something to be forever lived up to.

I think of the very young Carl Von Trotta, the grandson of the Hero of Solferino, whose mother died very young and was not present for his upbringing, so that Carl desperately needed love and  affection and sought it during his teen-aged years from a lower-class woman, Katharina, in a pattern that would afterward be repeated.


Tuesday, April 2, 2019

The London Train by Tessa Hadley, for a TBR Challenge

In mid-March I read The London Train by Tessa Hadley for the 2019 TBR Pile Challenge hosted by Alex at Roofbeam Reader . I thoroughly enjoyed this read yet was equally perplexed by it.

Well over half of The London Train is devoted to the story of Paul, a writer and father of two young girls with his second wife. They live in a country setting about 20 miles from Cardiff, Wales. Paul is in his mid-40s, and is definitely restless at this point in his life. His mother died not long ago. He seems rootless, as if he's searching for a purpose or a passion to anchor him. He soon discovers that his oldest daughter Pia, a university student, the only child he had with his first wife, has gone missing. His mission to re-establish a relationship with her, by joining her in London, leads him to try on a some new roles and new ways of being with himself.

I was stunned when the novel abruptly shifted to the story of Cora, a married woman in her mid-30s, who is in a desperate and painfully rootless place herself. In my estimation, the Cora chapters were brilliantly (please let me say that again), brilliantly crafted. I think I nearly held my breath throughout the few chapters that told her story. I was so swept up that I lost all sense of myself. I cried, with the keenest sense of empathy and recognition. The reader enters Cora's world, fast discovering that she recently nursed both of her parents to their deaths, one after the other. (Cora is an only child.) It's obvious that her rootlessness is grief-related. Then two paths cross for a brief time.

Most Goodreads reviewers of this book gave it a "3." Because I like Hadley's work, and because I love what she's able to do with minor characters, not to mention her in-depth characterizations of houses and landscapes, I would have given it a "4." It is not her finest book perhaps, but that makes no difference to me because I really admire her as an artist and I'll end up reading everything she's written.

Sometimes I find myself "playing editor" with a novel, and in the case of The London Train, I wondered if it might have been more powerful, and if it might have "jelled" to a greater extent, if the story had been focused around Cora, with Paul playing the lesser role.  

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Part One: Notes from the Dead House by Dostoyevsky (Translation Wars)

 I opted to read Dostoyevsky's  Notes from the House of the Dead, as part of the Back to the Classics Challenge (2019 edition), hosted by Karen at Books and Chocolate (see sidebar).
When I first built my list in late December 2018, I thought I would read Dostoyevsky's The Idiot for the "Classic in Translation" category.

But when I picked up The Idiot and started browsing the chronology of D.'s life in the introductory pages, I noticed that he had been imprisoned in Siberia for his political (anti-tsarist) activity and associations. I was then consumed with an interest to read the semi-autobiographical novel he wrote about his experiences in prison. I also was curious to investigate how Siberian prisons of the mid-19th century were like or unlike the 20th-century gulags?
As a result of this mental meandering, The Idiot went back on the shelf (til next year?) and I had another huge decision to make: Which translation of Notes from the House of the Dead would I read?

**This decision proved to be much more complex than I anticipated, for many reasons. For one thing, there has been a tremendous amount of controversy about translations of classic Russian novels since the husband-and-wife team of Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky began doing translations for Knopf and many other publishers starting about 15 years ago. 

Who knew? I unwittingly became enmeshed in trying to sort through this controversy, when all I wanted was for some knowledgeable power to proclaim "X has written the best translation of the novel to date."  What I learned, to my dismay, is that no choice of a translation is as simple as that, and especially NOT Russian translations. 

As a result, I chose two of the more recent translations of Dostoyevsky's novel. One was the library copy of Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky's translation entitled Notes from the Dead House and the other was the Penguin Classic The House of the Dead, translated by David McDuff. Slightly different titles, but the same book. Richard Pevear is American and he and Volokhonsky reside in the U.S.  David McDuff is English and resides in the UK. . 

To make the decision a bit more complicated, I learned from my research that David McDuff was hired by Penguin Classics to translate a number of Russian novels by Dostoyevsky and other Russian classic authors specifically for an American audience. This information prompted me to ask: Are there no American translators of the Russian language that would do?

My next step was to begin reading both versions, and to look for differences as I turned the pages of the first few chapters.
From the start, I noted I was forming a preference for the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation. (I also leaned toward the P&V probably because of Pevear's fascinating introduction to the novel, which surely prejudiced me.) But in the first chapter of the novel, the narrator explains how surprised he was to discover that within the prison, a number of prisoners performed the role of providing (selling)  alcoholic beverages for fellow prisoners.

David McDuff translated the Russian word Dostoyevsky used as "barman." The barman did this, the barman did that, etc. Pevear and Volokhonsky, on the other hand, translated it as "taverner."   I'm sure this seems a minor distinction, but to me, "barman" is awkward. Secondly, if it is a word, it is not in use that I'm aware of, but more important, it has no meaning without a lot of context.  (Of course, "bartender" could not be substituted because a bartender is not usually used to describe a bar owner, or one who is the proprietor of a bar, which these prison  purveyors of alcohol were.  At that point, I wondered, (with dismay), if McDuff used the term "barman" because it sounded more American. I shrugged at this point, read a bit more, and found I preferred the phrasing and the word choices of the P and V. So I tossed the McDuff aside.

I realize that I have grossly oversimplified the complexities of the art of translation. So, if you are interested and can bear it, please read on.
Why did Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky come to receive severe criticism of their translations?
Most critics decry their method, which can be condensed as follows: Volokhonsky translates the Russian text word for word, phrase for phrase, sentence by sentence--she performs a strictly literal translation into English. Pevear, who supposedly does not know the Russian language, (I find this hard to believe, but that is what some critics report. Others say he has a "limited" or "insufficient" knowledge), then takes Volokhonsky's work and reworks it into English prose.
I was taken aback by this assertion about their process. How can Pevear do a viable representation of the original without knowing the intricacies of the Russian language?

The following is an excerpt from critic Janet Malcolm's June 2016 article in The New York Review of Books: Her viewpoint is typical of people who view P and V's "takeover" of the Russian translation market as a "disaster."
"..[A] sort of asteroid has hit the safe world of Russian literature in English translation. A couple named Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky have established an industry of taking everything they can get their hands on written in Russian and putting it into flat, awkward English. Surprisingly, these translations, far from being rejected by the critical establishment, have been embraced by it and have all but replaced [Constance] Garnett, Maude, and other of the older translations. When you go to a bookstore to buy a work by Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Gogol, or Chekhov, most of what you find is in translation by Pevear and Volokhonsky."

Another fascinating article that discusses the negative aspects of P and V's translations are discussed in "The Pevearsion of Russian Literature," (follow the link) published in Commentary in 2010, by Gary Saul Morson, a professor of literature at Northwestern University. He compares P and V's process of translation to this: "Imagine someone translating Paradise Lost from English into Russian who had somehow missed that Milton was a Christian." Hyperbole to the extreme, I'd say.

And don't miss the article, "Translation Wars," by David Remnick, published in The New Yorker in 2005. In it, P and V get their chance to explain what they're doing.

I'm not as troubled by the fact of lots of P and V translations. But I am perplexed that because many, many publishers have invested so much in them,  publishers, critics, and readers say that it is highly unlikely that there will be new Russian translations into English for at least a generation to come. This is indeed serious, that one translation team can so dominate the market.

I have barely scratched the surface of this issue. Part Two will be my review of the actual novel.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Back to the Classics Challenge Blunder, Spencer-Fleming, and Books Read This Week

The good news first. I read the last page of The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins with a flourish and a huge sigh this afternoon. How sad it is to turn the final page of a beloved book, but...I can always read it again. So thrilling! The  second time around I would probably read it a bit more slowly, capturing more of the details, I'm certain. I'm very, very happy to have spent the month of March with this sensational book. Now I need to write the review.

Today I also finished The Girls at 17 Swann Street, which I described in my last post. It was a quick read, and a good one, though 4 stars, not 5.

On Tuesday, I found online confirmation of Julia Spencer-Fleming's next installment (#9) in the Claire Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne mystery series set in the Adirondacks of New York, expected to be published later in 2019. That news was stated in December 2018, about six weeks after the death of Spencer-Fleming's husband. I think there may be a slightly longer wait for #9, but at least there's one that's in the works. With that news, I felt free to start reading #8, Through the Evil Days. Claire and Russ are trying like mad to get away for a week's honeymoon, but huge problems beset them from all sides. This novel is quite a bit longer than the rest in the series, which is fine with me. I luxuriate in time spent in Claire's and Russ's company.

And  a silly blunder with my Back to the Classics Challenge list. What next? Somehow or other I listed Snow by the Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk as my Asian, etc. book, totally neglecting to realize that this classic was published in 2005! The Challenge requires books to be published in 1969 or earlier! Yikes. I'm at a loss to explain how I overlooked that, but at least it's sorted out now.
Now I have a scramble to find a more time-appropriate Asian or African classic. I think I have one. Right now I'm gravitating toward Nectar in a Sieve, the Indian novel by Kamala Markandaya, which was the pseudonym of Kamala Purnaiya Taylor,  an Indian novelist and journalist. I've always wanted to read it, so I'll move ahead with this one. It was published around 1954. I'd like to start reading it very soon.

Friday, March 22, 2019

New Books, Reading Update, Snow, and Movies

A wet snow is falling as I write this evening. It snowed several inches last night, turned to slushy rain at midday before changing back. Not a big storm. Good. It will be cold tomorrow, which might make for some excellent snowshoeing. We still have 2+ feet of snow.

An excellent reading week with The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. I just love the twists and turns--what a rollercoaster of a book. I'm likely to finish  early next week. Every afternoon I have curled up and read another large chunk for about 2 hours. Insanely delicious. Where has this book been all my life? Do you ever have that feeling about a book?

I'm also reading a fast-paced novel, recently published: The Girls of 17 Swann Street by Yara Zgheib, about a young married woman who is being treated for severe anorexia--not in a hospital, but in a residential treatment center in St. Louis, where she lives with her husband. I'm a third of the way through, and her condition is still very serious. She is eating again, but is not gaining any weight, which can be an alarming sign of an  effect from long-term starvation. It is interesting--the primary focus is her struggle, rather than on lots of characters, and a solemn probing of the situations prior to her marriage that prompted her to stop eating.

I should look back to see the comment a fellow blogger made about a new book to come by my favorite serial mystery author, Julia Spencer-Fleming. She is expected to have a new book out later this year. When I searched online last night, I wasn't able to locate that bit of news, but I did come across an article in a Portland, Maine newspaper indicating that her husband died of cancer at the age of 59, late in 2018.  That is sad news indeed. My very best wishes to her and their three children.

Movies: We watched one from 2009 on Netflix last night that had us in stitches. Did You Hear about the Morgans? stars Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker, husband and wife, both devoted Manhattan residents, who must go into the witness protection program to western Wyoming. Cute, funny, the perfect diversion. Mary Steenburgen is their host/protector in Wyoming.

Just to keep me honest:
1. I am in the midst of writing the review of my saga of my reading of Notes from the Dead House by Dostoyevsky.
2. I must write a  review of The London Train by Tessa Hadley, because I read it for the 2019 TBR Challenge. It is a rather complex book, so I will hope to vastly condense my thoughts about it before I actually write it. help.
I am behind with both reviews.

Monday, March 18, 2019

A Brief Note about Lots of Books

March is proving to be a wonderful reading month after a dismal month of reading in February.
Perhaps because I am still wobbly and am still hacking away from the remnants of this cold, I find myself in between shirking my household jobs and half doing them,  feeding the birds, doing my exercises, and then gladly retreating to the loft bed to read the following:

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins--such enjoyable reading! Wow! I'm just loving it. I'm in at 200 pages with 400 pages to go. What I appreciate most is that there is never a dull moment in this Victorian grand-scale ultra-mystery. It's perfectly thrilling, with fascinating characters. Oh, gosh--so great. If only there were more books just like this one. I keep thinking--maybe I should slow down, savor it more. But I can't stop myself from moving forward. I heartily recommend this classic!

The Radetsky March by Joseph Roth  continues--I'm almost at the end of Part One, which I need to have read by April 1st for the Readalong. I'm continuing to enjoy it, and better yet, I'll be finished with Part One in plenty of time.

As a side read, I've been fascinated by a puzzling work of recent history The Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease, and the End of an Empire by Kyle Harper (2017) Princeton U. Press, yet another book that reconstructs the past through the lens of rapid climate change and its effects on societies. Harper (no relation) has not convinced me yet that climactic upheaval occurred during the Roman Era. Without that  fact  in place, the rest of his premise caves. But I haven't read enough to form a judgment.

Certainly, there is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that climatic change in the 17th century changed societies and cultures the world over, due to what  has been called,  in the  past, "The  Little Ice Age." I love this kind of stuff!
So Ken just brought home for me the book Nature's Mutiny: How the Little Ice Age of the Long Seventeenth Century Transformed the West and Shaped the Present  by Philipp Blom. Glancing through this one, I see it is not as well developed as other, much more deeply-researched books on this topic, which is of enormous fascination for me.

I bought another book for my Nook as a rest from these more demanding tomes. More later!

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Weekend Diversions: Books and Movies at Home

Friday evening Ken and I watched a huge chunk of the fairly recent movie, Mary Queen of Scots. Both of us thrilled to the rugged, awe-inspiring landscapes of Scotland--they seemed other-worldly to us because our rugged landscape is so different.
We don't have much further to go with the  movie, really, but I'm a bit disappointed that the viewer isn't offered more insight into many of the characters--most of the insights come from the characters' reactions to events, catastrophes, and the like. And I must say the only character of consequence, the only character that the camera really focuses on is Mary. And perhaps Elizabeth, though secondarily. Of course we're not meant to care about her.
I'm surprised that so few characters close to the queens are identified or easily identifiable. I would have appreciated a fuller picture of the cast and characters involved. But still, the film  is entertaining, Scotland is such a huge presence, the costumes are grand, and Mary herself is something to see.

Tonight after finishing Mary, we will watch Vice, the film that skewers the former Vice-president Dick Cheney and others in the GW Bush administration. It's supposed to be funny. If only it weren't so horribly sad. But funny is great from where I sit. Have you seen it?

Today I settled back into The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins again, reviewing the 50 pages I had read, and then reading 50 more pages. I'm deeply sunk into it now. I'll enjoy resuming tomorrow. I'm enjoying this one for the Back to the Classics Challenge (in the "Very Long Classic" category), the TBR Challenge, and the Chunkster Challenge.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Mucho Reading on the Ides of March! What Would Brutus Say?

Might Julius Ceasar have avoided his fate if he had stayed at home reading? Or if Brutus had?

Today, Friday, I read a great deal, as I have the other days of this week. I finished reading Tessa Hadley's The London Train, which I started on Tuesday, I believe. It's on my list for the 2019 TBR Challenge that Alex at Roof Beam Reader is hosting. (His blog is listed in the sidebar.) This weekend, I must write the review for it. I liked it, but there is much, much more to say about a book by Tessa Hadley than "I liked it" or "I didn't like it." 

Daily this week I've been reading chapters of The Radetsky  March by Joseph Roth, the 1932 Austrian novel, following members of the Von Trotta Family from the late 18th century to the end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the empire of the Hapsburgs, in World War I.
I am  finding this one to be powerful and extraordinarily well-handled. There is so much that I could say about it, but I will wait until the 3-part, 3-week-long roundup of the book takes place in April. I'm so grateful to have been made aware of this classic, thanks to Lizzy and Caroline of Beauty is a Sleeping Cat. (See sidebar).

Today I devoured a children's novel (ages 10-14) by one of my favorite children's authors, Ruth M. Arthur, entitled My Daughter, Nicola. Most of Arthur's books are set in  remote locations of England and Wales, but this one is set in the Swiss Alps, probably sometime in the early 20th century.  Arthur wrote most of her books from the early 1960s through the late 1970s. During her adult, married  life she lived in Surrey, England, but evidently she once attended school in Scotland.  A number of her books have somewhat supernatural elements in them, related to ancient times in Briton. It can be hard to find her books now, but I've been collecting them for the past 30 years or so, one by one, from used book sellers and rare book dealers. They captivate me in the way few books do. The young heroines almost never have a full set of normal parents. They live with a kind aunt, or an uncle, or a grandparent, leaving them a bit untethered and able to interact with the universe a bit more freely. I simply adore them because the questing of these heroines speak to me, as well as their vulnerabilities.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

The Wolves of Winter by Tyrell Johnson

I started reading The Wolves of Winter yesterday afternoon and finished it today at around 3 pm. Perfecto!! It was the parfait book for the state my brain is in (think Montana or Idaho!).  Gosh--no disparagement intended to those two beautiful states. What I tried to convey in my dithered state is that, because I live in northern New York, my brain is somewhere far away.

I purchased this book very early in 2019 or late in 2018 after reading an article about "the stellar suspense/thriller/adventure debut novels of 2018." I do remember it was the only one in the list that intrigued me.

The Wolves of Winter is set in the Yukon wilderness (I do have a fondness for novels set in true wilderness), it's a post-apocalyptic novel (I occasionally succumb to that genre), and was critiqued as having compelling characters, not to mention a great dog.

The suspense of this family trying to survive a nuclear winter in one of the coldest places on Earth was mind-blowingly fascinating, and then the complications arise: Strange people arrive on the scene. What do they want? Who are they? Where did they come from? How do they fit in with the end-of-the-world scenario?  Important questions for their survival.
I could not stop reading today, partly because I would have to take leave of the book's spell and suffer mentally the full consequences of my litany  of  "this is the most horrendous cold I've had  in years" symptoms. Just don't go there.  (Ken informed me this afternoon that the grocery stores are totally out of boxes of  tissues, the shelves are EMPTY except for a few boxes of the terrible brands that are no good.)

I'd love a good night's sleep, but if that fails, I have some good books on hand, of the uncomplicated, suspenseful sort.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Succumbing to Columbella by Phyllis Whitney

This is the second of two posts for today--Sunday, March 10th. I've been a bit behind--hence the two entries.

Columbella was published in 1966, at a time when Phyllis Whitney was at the height of her best writing of mysteries/ romantic suspense novels. I purchased it for $1.99 from Early Bird Books for my Nook, and today, in the grips of languishing from a vicious cold, I managed to enjoy finishing it.

Like many of Whitney's novels, Columbella is set in a somewhat exotic locale--in St. Thomas,  in the U.S. Virgin Islands. No, this is most assuredly not Elin Hilderbrand's USVI of the 21st century, St. John.
Whew--what a time warp! Columbella is set at a time at least 50 years before Hilderbrand's  Winter Paradise. Yet, like Hilderbrand's novel,  most of the action in Columbella takes place in a grand household on a great hill overlooking St. Thomas, just as Hilderbrand's novel is set in a resplendent mansion overlooking St. John. I much appreciated Whitney's attention to the details of St. Thomas's capital city Charlotte Amalie and even more by the plants and the vividly depicted scenery which made the settings in Columbella so  intensely vibrant. Whitney had a genuine strength in the depiction of setting--she visited the locales she wrote about, did loads of research in the libraries of the places that were her settings.  I enjoyed this one, and as I was feeling quite out of sorts physically, it soothed and distracted me, as I hoped it would.

If today is any measure of how I'm faring with this idiotic cold, I'll be able to enjoy at least another day or two of intensive reading.

I have started reading The Radetsky March by Joseph Roth, the novel that encapsulates the downfall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire through WWI. A riveting and completely unexpected first chapter has me poised to venture forward quickly into the reading of this novel.

Thoughts after Reading Ruth Bader Ginsburg: A Life

Here it is the tenth of March, and it's my first post of the month. Time has been swallowed up by household disasters, which are now (finally!) resolved, at least for the time being. So very grateful.

Due to a vicious cold, I'm more or less grounded at home right now, which has given me the chance to catch up with reading.
I've finished the audio of Ruth Bader Ginsburg: A Life by Jane Sherron De Hart (2018), which in book form is about 732 pages. It's an academic work, but it really answered many of my questions and expanded my view, especially of cases in the mid-20th century.
What I liked best is that I learned a tremendous amount about the prominent progressive legal cases of the mid-late 20th century, the ultra-conservative backlash from the late 20th century, and its solidifying presence in the 21st century (think lard or concrete). I never thought I'd live to see Supreme Court justices so conservative (so reactionary, as progressives labeled ultra-conservatives in the late 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s) that they would regard and interpret the Constitution literally, analyzing the text, word by word, according to what each word literally meant in the late 18th century. That's Clarence Thomas. Neil Gorsuch. Samuel Alito. Chief Justice Roberts.
Think of that. That our Constitution should be used as a tool to reframe issues of the 21st century according to the values of the late 18th  century. Really. When the term man or men meant only white men of property. 
No wonder we are in such a mess right now, and I would have liked to have used harsher terms. The Supreme Court, in 2019, is no longer an institution to redress grievances for beleaguered citizens fighting oppression, but serves only corporations, powerful white men, and powerful religious leaders and groups. Analyze the cases they are hearing, the oral arguments, the decisions, and the dissents.

As a result of the current situation, dozens of recent and current cases that might have been appealed to the Supreme Court in the past, will no longer seek redress there. Because they know now they will lose.

So we now have all three branches of the federal government in disarray--executive, judicial, and legislative. What concerns me most is how the Supreme Court will respond to cases in which the rights of voters have been nullified due to conservatives' efforts to eliminate their votes. (Sorry about that last sentence. I couldn't get the wording just right.)

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Just a Note before a Real Post

I can never believe how the time flies between posts.
I have been mesmerized by Midnight in Chernobyl this week. (Please see my previous post.)
This late afternoon I read only 12 pages in 45 minutes.  It was a technical section that explained the special type of nuclear reactor used in nuclear power plants in the Soviet Union, as opposed to those used in the West, including the U.S., and all the reasons why the Soviets built the reactors they did as opposed to why Westerners built a totally different (safer) type.
Believe me truly, I do not have a mind for physics, I never took a class in physics, I am an ignoramus on the subject. But the author explained so succinctly and simply how the Soviet reactors worked that I was rivetted. But only 12 pages in 45 minutes. I had to concentrate. But I was not in the least bored. I was not counting the pages. This is great writing.
Not only that, but Higginbotham interweaves the stories of people and families closely tied to the power plant in Chernobyl.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

New Books in the House and a Reading Calendar

Before I wax on about new books, I have to say that it has now become necessary for me to plot and plan future reading on a calendar, to make sure I have time to read what I intend to this year. This does sound like over-kill and may sound onerous, but I'm looking forward to doing this as a helpful tool, especially because I think it may ensure that the books I most want to read are not overlooked.

I'm still at the very beginning of A Woman in White. I got totally stuck there while household havoc abounded. And did it ever!  I plan to pick up the pace with this one, starting Sunday (tomorrow) morning.

In the meantime, to help divert my mind from an overflowing washing machine, flooded laundry room, etc.,  I purchased two 2019 fiction titles for the Nook. I've already finished The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides, a debut novel and a thriller that packs a punch. Yes, it certainly has received a lot of hype, but it is the best thriller  I've read since last January's The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn. As it turns out, A.J. Finn is a pseudonym for the author Daniel Mallory. He has recently been accused of plagiarism for this book, by the way.  In any case I recommend The Silent Patient, if you find the premise appeals to you. It's about a wounded psychotherapist and his patient, accused of murdering her husband, but did she, really??

The second novel is English author Tessa Hadley's recently published Late in the Day. I made it to page 50 and began to question if I wanted to continue. It's a story that involves two closely-knit London families, the parents of which met at university and before marriage, and who dated each other all around. On the second page of the book, deep into the couples' middle age, the most charismatic of the foursome has died very suddenly.
The novel has received stellar reviews from The New York Times, whose reviewer said it was the best book Hadley has ever written. As I've mentioned before I simply loved her novel The Past.
I do think I will finish this novel, but with our household crises, I may not have felt in the mood for it.

And lest I forget, Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World's Greatest Nuclear Disaster by Adam Higginbotham, published last week by Simon & Schuster, finally arrived at our home last night. I say "finally" because even though UPS tracked the package as "delivered" to our location, there was no book to be found on our property. Come to find out, the rookie UPS employee had wrapped the package in a plastic bag and tied it to a tree on the road on a neighbor's property, a quarter of a mile from our house. I will spare you further details.
What's new and unique about this book about Chernobyl is that the author studied never-before-released Soviet records from that time period--which was April 1986 and the months and years following until the downfall of the Soviet regime. Higginbotham received an excellent review from Anne Appelbaum, whose books relating to Soviet history are very well-known and are prize-winners.
This is a scholarly book, so I'm reading it very slowly, checking the notes, eager to learn more about  this terrible event that is so instructive about nuclear power and its limitations. It is set in Ukraine, so it will count toward The European Reading Challenge.

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.