In the High Peaks

Thursday, February 21, 2013

February Scurrying: E.M. Almedingen & Books in Progress

Falling behind with my reading again, I'm sorry to say.

My whimsy of the moment: I'm tracking down E. M. Almedingen's entire ouevre. Do any of you remember or recall this author? Most of her books were written for children, but she wrote a number of memoirs related to her extraordinary life. Although as a teen and very young woman she lived in Russia during the revolution and civil war, she spent most of her mature adult years in Shropshire, England. Nearly all of her books were also published in the U.S. The book I own is Katia (UK title is Little Katia), a library discard bought at a book sale decades ago. I read it first as a very young teen and loved it, so when it appeared beneath my browsing fingers in the early 1980s, I grabbed it. I read it then again, and loved it again, when I was once more swept up in the luxurious everyday world of the nobility of the Ukraine in the mid-19th century. Premise: Katia's mother has died in childbirth in St. Petersburg, and because her father has no idea what to do with her, she is sent to live with her cousins in the Ukraine, where she is loved, doted on, and has the time of her life. Yes, life for the nobility was the stuff of fantasy, alas. An adult reader can't help but wonder about all the poor peasants who make the life of Katia's family possible. But, I must tell you, although I've been grimly aware, I've never let that fact spoil my enjoyment of the intricate details of the pleasures Katia experienced. Do look up this book! It's a treasure--out of print, of course, but not unavailable. Libraries still have copies. If you find yourself peaking at your library's holdings of Almedingen's work, I'd be very interested in knowing what you find. I'm hoping to collect many of her other titles.

Today's title reference to "February scurrying" refers to my rush to finish The Flowers of War. I've got just a week left to finish and write about my thoughts for Caroline's Literature and War Readalong. (See previous entry for link.)

And because I've desperately felt the need for a brainless, fun read, I bought the newly published Indiscretion by Charles Dubow, which one of my favorite bloggers referred to fondly as a "beach read." Just $9.99 on the Nook, but a bit cheaper for the Kindle, ($8.89, if you're interested). Because it's a new book, it was clear from my online prowl of  libraries, that I'd have a long wait if I were to borrow. So I'm off to New York City and, for those long summer weekends, the Hamptons on Long Island. I've never been to the Hamptons, but I enjoy visiting just the same.

Friday, February 15, 2013

A Literary February!

My laptop is back, as good as new, thank goodness. Ken's fear of its demise was a worry misspent. I've had the Dell laptop since 2003--it's gone through all sorts of Windows upgrades over the past decade, now humming along on Windows 7, with all sorts of fixes and remedies over the years as well as a totally new keyboard recently, and still, it keeps kicking back! No need to retire it yet--the problem was minor. Phew! This Dell supports the reasoning behind NOT going with the cheapest laptop on the market. I admit, it's tempting to choose a low price, but I bow to Ken's professional wisdom on the matter. Forevermore, Ken!

About that "Literary February" header. All week I've consoled myself with long visits to my favorite book blogs thanks to the Nook. Yet, due to the Nook's terrible texting capabilities, I've not been able to submit even a semi-legible comment to anyone. And how I longed to respond! The posts for all the blogs on my "Blogs of Substance" blogroll this past week have been so rich and rewarding. If you haven't had a chance, by all means catch up with them all this weekend.

About Susanna Moore's The Life of Objects: I'm afraid my review will sound harsh. I did not like the novel, and I kept reading it because I had purchased it and kept hoping it would improve. To her credit, Moore certainly did her research about the lives of Germans during the war years and during the aftermath of war. Evidently she had the good fortune to spend a great deal of time in Germany researching the period, particularly reading war diaries and narratives. To be sure, the novel is full of intricate details about everything concerning setting. I ordinarily love extraordinary efforts at setting. But when coupled with what's missing, those details become meaningless. What's lacking in this novel is its heart: characterization, character development, character motivation, character reflection--all of which incapacitates any attempt to make an absorbing plot!
I was overjoyed to reach the final page.

So onward to The Flowers of War by Geling Yan for discussion on February 28 at Caroline's (of Beauty is a Sleeping Cat fame) Literature and War Readalong February selection.   Please join us! I always enjoy participating.

The novel I hope to read soon is one that has received excellent reviews, has been on the New York Times Bestsellers' List for weeks, and on The Boston Globe's Bestsellers' List for months. When I was browsing the bestseller lists last November, I was overwhelmed with delight to discover that the novel everyone was talking about was written by my good friend and colleague from Boston, Barbara Shapiro. Her book is The Art Forger, which is loosely based on the infamous, unsolved theft of priceless masterpieces (including several Rembrandts)  from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.  I want to blog about this book and about Barbara in much more detail in future posts.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

fumbling post

my beloved laptop isin the klink, so i'm trying to post a word or two using the Nook. Basically,  i'm trying to say that I'll be posting soon, although there are two computers ahead of mine. I finished The LIFE OF OBJECTS by Susanna Moore, and I was terribly disappointed by it, which I hope to explain soon.
tothink of the wasted time!  Back soon. I,m enjoying your reading selections!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Riches: A New Library (to Me) and a Must-Have Book for Literature Lovers

We've a bit of a snowstorm moving in for Friday and Saturday, but nothing like the blizzard that will strike New England. Our frigid temperatures have held on tight. I keep reminding complainers that this cold is a good thing--it's especially deadly to some of the destructive invasive insects that have moved north into our area due to the warming climate.

I'm so thrilled that I can post pictures again, thanks to Blogger fixing the problem.

My literary achievement of the week was the discovery that I can borrow up to 10 books at a time from the Lucy Scribner Library at Skidmore College. Who would've thunk? The Scribner Library is a treasure trove, an outstanding academic library that has been building a strong, solid collection since the 1800s. It's beautiful as well, with hundreds of comfortable upholstered chairs and luxurious places to study with natural light and views of the verdant campus out floor-to-ceiling glass windows. Sigh. And it's so much closer and more convenient than the State University of New York's University at Albany libraries. It's also just a ten-minute drive from where I'm teaching this semester. Not since we lived in Boston have I had such a stellar library to visit. They've been enormously helpful with research for my book project.

Calling all fiction lovers, writers, and teachers: My most cherished book find of the week was from my college library, from the "new book shelf." I can't wait to purchase a copy for my personal library because it will be indispensable to me as a reader, teacher of literature, and a wannabe novelist. (I have numerous novels and short stories locked up in my file cabinet, where they should stay aside from the times I gaze fondly upon them.) Shelly Lowenkopf's The Fiction Writer's Handbook:The Definitive Guide to McGuffins, Red Herrings, Shaggy Dogs, and Other Literary Revelations by a Master is a deceptive title. First of all, it is not a guide, as other books about writing are guides. It is an exhaustive, alphabetically organized work that lists, defines, and explains, in writerly terms, the multitudes of literary elements that are in common use today. It is published by WhiteWhiskerBooks (2011). It is available for the Nook and Kindle for just 99 cents, but I want a hardbound copy. I'd like to add a bit more, but Ken is telling me it's time to leave.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Weekend Edition: Bookshop Mountain

The past week has smiled down upon me, giving me opportunities to continue reading The Third Reich by Roberto Bolano. A strange, twisted novel that has perplexed me--I still have no idea what will happen.

Susanna Moore's A Life of Objects is constantly within my grasp as well, and it is an intriguing historical novel. Moore is a new writer for me: She was profiled on the cover of The Writer magazine this month. Her tale of an Irish girl--an enterprising, self-taught lace-maker who is determined not to rot away in her remote village--ventures to Germany to live with a (formerly) high-society Jewish couple. What is so interesting about this story is that the lace maker understands nothing of the politics involved, yet it is the late 1930s. Things are happening to her employers, and she tries desperately to interpret them, though she has no clues, really. This makes for an intensely enjoyable read.

Caroline's Literature and War Readalong for February 28: The Flowers of War by Geling Yan.
I was head over heels delighted to discover that this title is available to me via the Nook for only $2.99, which is much less than everyone in Europe is paying. I feel guilty about it, I do! I can't explain it either, although it does seem from the movie tie-in book cover that SOMEONE is promoting the movie in the U.S., and hence, the cheap price for the e-book. Oh, publishing is so strange these days.

Nonfiction Read:
Keith Lowe's Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II.
I borrowed this from the library and realized immediately that given my current full-throttle exploration of Europe in the immediate post-war period, 1945-1948, that this is a key title in that understanding. I ordered it pronto, and am now delighting in reading it, my comments and notes in the margins all over every page.  A superb history of a neglected period in European history. And it's incredibly readable. Yes, loads of research, notes, a good-sized bibliography, but readable. Of course, I feel everyone needs to read this book, given the fact that it's my current academic focus. Got those blinders on!