Looking Forward to June

Monday, July 17, 2017

A Book Blog Discovery

I stumbled upon a fascinating book blog today and couldn't wait to share it with you. I was commenting on James's (of "James Reads Books"--see sidebar for hyperlink) most recent post, when I saw an unfamiliar commenter.

Round and about I discovered that the commenter is the author of a fascinating book blog, "The Booksmith: Mrs. Smith Reads Books." Insightful, informative, and interesting entries led to my rather long visit there. She is a resident of Capetown, in South Africa, which is an intriguing fact all on its own.


Sunday, July 16, 2017

Too Many Chunksters and The Alice Network

I've been wondering why my list of books read has not been growing, especially because I've been reading a great deal since the second week of June. What's going on?

Then I checked back. The books I've been reading, most of them, have been over 400 pages long. No wonder my progress has been so slow! My reading palette welcomes the reading of long books, but I like to have somewhat shorter reads in between the huge turkey-dinner-chunksters. It's getting to the point where a book of 300 pages seems a short read.

Oh, how I hated finishing P.D. James's Devices and Desires today. (423 pages). It was superb, but I always become so mournful at the end of her books because I can't bear leaving the experience of reading them and leaving the entire world that has been created. Crash and Boom. Deflating.

Started a new book to console myself. (Oh, yes, still avidly reading A Gentleman in Moscow and The Windfall (see previous posts for details.)
The recently published The Alice Network by Kate Quinn has received excellent reviews. It's set in France in 1947, but the novel flashes back to the all-woman spy network in France during World War I, known as the Alice Network. Yet the novel also deals with the disappearance of  a woman who was in the French resistance during World War II. I read the first several chapters this morning on my Kindle and wasn't convinced, but visiting all the reviews convinced me that I should continue reading. (It's over 500 pages--why did I have to choose this one now?) No matter, all will be fine, but I'm going to stack up a few somewhat shorter reads on my table.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Discovering The Windfall by Diksha Basu

This is an episode of "Too Many Books." I was on hold via Cloud Library at the New York Public Library for The Windfall by Diksha Basu, a woman who has been hailed as an "ex-Bollywood actress" turned writer.  It is the story of an ordinary middle-class East Delhi family, whose patriarch unexpectedly sells his website for untold riches after five years. As a result, he moves quickly to relocate his family from an apartment in a downward-turning middle-class apartment building to a wealthy area of Delhi. They now will have a two-story "bungalow," with a front yard and a backyard, a kitchen with every modern amenity, room for several servants, and plenty of space to garage a classy automobile. This is a class-move of tsunami proportions for the family, as Basu so humorously depicts in this novel. I've read the first few chapters and it's a charmer. Very different!

Just a few short chapters left in Devices and Desires by P.D. James. Such a master! She'll keep you guessing to the very end.

Continuing with A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. Very good!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Time Out: Wimbledon Inspiration! Champagne, Anyone?

Not a bookish topic today. 
Wimbledon, or the All-England Club Championships is the absolute pinnacle of the tennis year. After watching the 12-month progression of the tennis year go by for many, many years, I feel strongly that all the champions who are lucky enough to play at Wimbledon manage to present their "A" game and do their ultimate utmost to win at Wimbledon, grasping for a level of play that is even higher than they play at any of the other three Grand Slams.

I think it's the all-grass surface that keeps every player on edge. The grass surface's relative unpredictability in the way of ball bounce (as compared to hard courts and clay courts) is what makes players reach and push forward their very best game. The necessity of being always on-alert and on-edge brings forth some of the most incredible tennis games and matches.

Victories are so much bigger, because the winner bested their opponent and THE GRASS.

The other great thing about Wimbledon is that there are always so many UPSETS and SURPRISES.

I am extremely eager to see Johanna Konta (from the UK) play in the semi-finals against Venus Williams. Konta has been playing brilliantly. What a match that will be on Thursday. Venus has come so far. At 37, she is playing as well as she has ever played, and with a tricky auto-immune disorder. Konta is such a likeable, strong player from the UK--I'm rooting for both of them.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Reading about Boris Pasternak and Lara

Postscript: July 13, 2017
It turns out that Anna Pasternak is the grand-daughter of Josephine, Boris Pasternak's youngest sister. I discovered this after listening to the first chapter of the book. The Wikipedia article was misleading in this regard. Yes, Lydia is the name of Anna Pasternak's mother, but she married into the Pasternak family. Sorry for the error!
Original Post:
I  have decided that I won't re-read Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak this summer. It was on my mind, but I feel swamped by books. For one thing, I can't get over how many new books about Russia there are to read for the first time, let alone a second time.

I have started listening to an audiobook entitled  Lara: The Untold  Love Story and The Inspiration for Doctor Zhivago by Anna Pasternak.  Boris Pasternak was Anna Pasternak's uncle, and Anna is the daughter of Boris's youngest sister, Lydia. Anna is an academic in  the UK and published the book in 2016 or 2017. According to Anna, Lara was badmouthed by all the Pasternaks, which, according to Anna, was completely unwarranted.

Just a short post tonight.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Russia in Books: 1917 and 1922 (A Gentleman in Moscow)

I have but one chapter to go in Caught in the Revolution by Helen Rappaport. So interesting to read a collection of foreign observers' views of 1917 in Petrograd. I'll be sorry to finish this nonfiction book, and I'll be left wondering--what did foreign observers' see in 1918 and during the war between the Reds and the Whites? Makes me so curious.

So I ended up finally downloading the novel A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, published last year to much acclaim. I've read only about four chapters so far, but I will say, as delightful a read as the novel is, and as droll a character the Count is while incarcerated at the Hotel Metropole in Moscow, I have no idea what the author is intending, which is very much okay, because I'm enjoying the ride. Though I do wonder.

By the way, In imperial  Russia, the title "Count" was not a title of long-inherited nobility. It was an inherited title, but the original "Counts" were those who had the honor bestowed upon them.

My biggest question, while I'm so enjoying the Count and the novel overall, is the research that the British writer Towles did before writing the novel. This particular Count Rostov did not try to escape as so many of the aristocracy did, but seems to have spent his time before his arrest in 1922, walking around "St. Petersburg" visiting the patisserie, his bank, etc., which would have been impossible in 1922. His dreams of the imperial city seem odd as does his Moscow hotel exile.

So all I can ask, "Is this a fantasy?" I think there are many fantastical elements in the book, absolutely. But it's so charming, so much fun, and the Count is a character with endless possibilities.

I hope to post again about this book. Have you read it? Please share your thoughts.

And yes, I'm still waist-deep in P.D. James's Devices and Desires. There is no way to tell who the killer is, though clues are dropped everywhere, adding to the conundrum. Challenging, exciting read.

Monday, July 3, 2017

A Long, Wildly Stormy Summer Saturday with Books

Note: Since the storms, internet has been spotty. Hence, the late posting of this entry.

Usually early July is sunny, very warm, and fairly pleasant, as long as it is not too humid. Saturday was a most extraordinary day for July. It was a day filled with wave after wave of the wildest thunderstorms and torrential rains lasting from 10:45 am until 6:30 pm, without much let-up. We did not lose power, but it was so dark that I lit candles. I had trouble reading at times, it was so dark, which made me turn to an audiobook by 2 pm. Going outside was out of the question, so Sasha and I hunkered down for the duration. It was spooky and kind of fun!  

It felt like a Sherlock Holmes kind of day, so I dived into my Annotated Sherlock Holmes, Volume 2, to read “The Empty House,” the first story in the collection The Return of Sherlock Holmes. As I discovered, over the decades there has been a great deal of “scholarly” speculation about this story, which begins with Sherlock Holmes returning from the dead after that fall into “the chasm.” Watson nearly faints when he sees his old friend Holmes again, which some scholars say would be extremely unlikely, given that Watson is a an experienced medical doctor and medical veteran of European wars, etc. I find lots of the annotations interesting, but sometimes I ignore them for the length of the story and then go back to  them and review the story as I do so. 

I felt like knitting in the afternoon and, because the internet was down all day, I had to listen to an audiobook downloaded years and years ago. (Oh, if only I had planned ahead for this weather!) You may cringe, but I was surprised that I listened for more than two hours to Danielle Steel’s The Ghost, and found it very interesting. A forty-year-old architect suffers the loss of his "perfect marriage" and flounders. He's transferred to the New York City firm of his company, discovers that they are passing off the same blueprints that he was creating 15 years ago for them, and takes a long leave of absence, landing by chance in Shelburne Falls, in north-central Massachusetts (a real town), near Deerfield. Of course he finds inspiration and hope there, and love, naturally. Perfect listening while knitting to humungous booms of thunder and flooding rains. I think I downloaded it at least 12 years ago. Something about it must have appealed to me in the description at the time.  I do know this: I do not have exemplary listening skills. I can listen to nonfiction, but fiction listening is difficult for me. However, I discovered twenty years ago that I can listen to Danielle Steel, because if my attention wanders, information will be repeated! 

I also spent time reading P.D. James’s Devices and Desires. I love the acute details of the landscape, the interiors of buildings and households, the characters. This book is so very rich in complexity—just what I love to read, but a book I could never, ever listen to.    


Thursday, June 29, 2017

German Lit in Translation and Dark Nights!

It's so dark, so very dark, that it's creepy around here. I know it's just dense cloud cover and rain, but we have 3 hours of daylight left, and sun should be streaming through the kitchen window. I bought candles today to deal with our light deficiency. Actually, I do love the deep darkness of December and January. And that's what we're having right now. Just haul out the candles, pretend that it's winter, and all is well.

German literature in translation:
 I recently finished reading All for Nothing by Walter Kempowski, the acclaimed German writer, who came into his own in the 1960s and 1970s. This novel was published in Germany in 2005. It was translated and published in English in 2015 by Anthea Bell. The most puzzling question for me is how does this novel compare, or fit in with, the dozens of works Kempowski wrote before it? Very, very few of his works of fiction, prose, and drama have been published in English. How can one possibly make an assessment of All for Nothing, especially as a person who does not competently read German? And, why oh why, was this particular book cherry-picked to be translated into English, out of all the acclaimed books he has published??? I find these facts especially frustrating as a reader.

Having worked in publishing in one form or another for many years, I know a little bit about how this sort of thing works. A foreign book is chosen for translation because editors and publishers' marketing executives think that a given German title "will speak" to English-language audiences in English-speaking countries. And, what exactly, for example, did they think would make this an ideal title for English readers?

Unless an English-speaking reader also speaks German, one cannot assess how All for Nothing fits with the other titles Kempowski has published about the Nazi and post-Nazi eras.

All for Nothing is set in a dull hamlet in East Prussia in January 1945. The Russians have already invaded and torn apart a number of the largest East Prussian cities, killing and raping Germans, just as the Germans have killed and raped their countrymen during the German invasion of Russia.

But in this little enclave away in the country, a wealthy family hangs on in their magnificent estate. They have plentiful food, because of their livestock and crops from the previous season. The husband and owner is a high official in the Wehrmacht, stationed in "safety" somewhere in Italy. His wife and his son live with the husband's aunt, as well as with lots of Ukrainian and Polish servants in this protected place, which seems very distant from the final destruction of Germany that is ongoing around them. Things deteriorate slowly. The façade crumbles.

The most striking thing about this novel is the way in which no character cared for anyone else, except for the 12-year-old son Peter. We see him care for the people in his life--his tutor, his mother, his animals, the refugees who come through to stay for few days. Peter's mother, even though we have her point of view, she clearly cares nothing for him or anyone, nor does his aunt care, nor do the Ukrainian or Poles, or anyone he meets in flight, when the Russians are truly on their doorstep.

Again, I have to say, without access to Kempowski's other work, I'm lost. Yes, he's anti-the-Nazi generation to the core, and bitterly angry. He pounds down the carelessness and the folly of the self-serving Germans who were adults in the Nazi era, but so did other German writers. How are we to assess Kempowski??  

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Yikes! Preparing Books and TV for Ken's Departure

Each summer Ken goes to visit the Maine island cottage, which his family has owned since the early 1900s. He usually stays a bit over a week with his favorite cousin. I have accompanied him over the years, but we have a beloved dog now, who is completely calm at home, but a crazy, nervous wreck on long car trips. (We just barely make it to vet appointments, which are an hour away from us.) We adopted our Sasha at age 3, and she unfortunately seems to have had some difficult experiences in her past, to put it mildly. Still, as long as she's in her home environment, she is as placid and happy as all get out.

Long intro, yes. Just found out Ken leaves Wednesday.
Time to stock in the books and television companionship. (We live in the boondocks, so virtual relationships are necessary.)

On Netflix: I will watch The Crown, for a second time, from start to finish. Six episodes, I think. One each night. Should take up most of the week. I thought that this series was very well done. As long as you can get used to Dr. Who as Prince Phillip, you're all set. I loved the first go-round and vowed to watch it again. At which moment, Ken said, "Why not while I'm in Maine?"   So here goes.

I think this is the perfect time to read Devices and Desires by P.D. James. So that's set in stone. I know I'm in for a treat there.

I am a devoted fan of Paul Auster. I found his latest book at the library--4321. It is 869 pages long, and it is 869 densely-packed pages. Very little leading between the lines, shallow margins, you name it. Not an easy read, by any means.
Premise: A male baby is born in 1947 in Newark, New Jersey (This is Auster's birth year and birthplace, by the way). The book then depicts four separate, very different life experiences for that baby boy.
I brought 4321 home to have a preliminary appointment with it, and to ask it, "Are you worthy of my time? Are you worthy of the books I won't be able to read because I'm reading you? I'm still adjudicating.

Next book before I even consider reading Auster:  The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. I missed this one when it was published 20 or so years ago. Have you read it? What were your thoughts?