In the High Peaks

Thursday, December 31, 2015

At Long Last! My Classics Club List!

I completed Ken Follett's nearly 1,000-page Fall of Giants by Ken Follett this afternoon. I've been working so non-stop lately that it felt luxurious to allow myself time to settle into the loft bed to spend a couple of hours reading. What a pleasure!

The following is my completed Classics Club List. I've been working on it off and on since September, but finally it's more or less together. I imagine it may alter slightly as the years pass, but it's good to go for now.

The one thing that concerns me about this list is that many titles are exceptionally LENGTHY. My reading plans for 2016 involve reading a number of books on the Classics Club List, but many other books as well.

1. The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper

2.  Persuasion by Jane Austen

3.  Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

4.  Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak (rereading because I last read it when I was barely 15 years of age) Winner, Nobel Prize 1957

5.  Flush: A Biography by Virginia Woolf

6.  Dr. Finlay Stories—Omnibus by A.J. Cronin (Scottish)

7.  Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell

8.  The Professor’s House by Willa Cather

9.  The First Circle OR The Cancer Ward by Alexander Solzhenitsyn 

10. Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain

11. German Classic   Heinrich Boll   

12. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

13. Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol  finished 09/2015

14. The Professor by Charlotte Bronte

15. Shirley by Charlotte Bronte

16.  Kristin Lavransdatter Vol. 2 The Bride  by Sigrid Undset

17.  Kristin Lavransdatter Vol. 3  The Cross (I read Vol. 1 fifteen years ago—excellent!)

18.  Snow by Orhan Parmuk (Modern Turkish Classic)

19.  Vanity Fair  Thackeray

20.  Poldark by Winston Graham

21  The Adventures of Tom Jones by Henry Fielding

22. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

23. Shirley Jackson   Short Stories

24. A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers by Henry D. Thoreau done 10/2015

25. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

26. Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

27. Bleak House by Charles Dickens

28. Beowulf   award-winning translation by Seamus Heaney  11/2015 in progress

29. Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane

30. *The Painted Veil or Short Stories by W. Somerset Maugham

31. Pilgrim at Tinker’s Creek by Annie Dillard (American classic)

32. Kamouraska  by Anne Hebert   Canadian Classic   Quebecois

33. O Pioneers! by Willa Cather

34. The Emigrants by Vilhelm Moberg   First vol. of Swedish classic (trilogy)

35. Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson

36. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

37. The Fountain Overflows by Rebecca West

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

39. The Golden Notebooks by Dorris Lessing (South African—English)

40. The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck

41. The Storm by Margriet de Moor  (Dutch classic about historic storm in early 1950s)

42.  In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

43. Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger

44. The Things They Carried and other Stories by Tim O’Brien

45. And Quiet Flows the Don by Mikhail Sholokhov  Soviet Russian classic (Reading Vol. 1 of 4) .

46. The Harp in the Park by Ruth Park (1948 Australian classic)

47. Greengage Summer by Rumer Godden

48. Quartet in Autumn by Barbara Pym

49. Home of the Gentry by Ivan Turgenev (heard about fr. Danielle)

50. Nectar in a Sieve by Kamala Markandaya   published 1954

51. Heat and Dust by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala   Booker Prize 1975.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

I'm thoroughly enjoying Ken Follett's epic Fall of Giants, the first in his twentieth-century trilogy. The hardest part since Thanksgiving has been finding an hour each day to read. I am doing it at least five days a week, but it's been tricky to manage. I've found that I love relaxing with a book in the late afternoon, from about four to five pm. And that relaxation is key to my well-being, (or so I tell myself). Of course, I walk at least an hour each day, so there goes two hours for the well-being quotient. Still waiting for snow!! So late this year.

And most readers of this blog know of my predilection for books of Christmas Froth. I've read one--The Mistletoe Inn by Richard Paul Evans. It was published this fall, and though I found it restful before falling asleep, it was really very mediocre. Oh dear, yes, I was disappointed. Dull characters--in a romance? ugh.
I have much higher hopes for another because it received two separate starred reviews. It's What Happens at Christmas by Victoria Alexander. I'll be starting it tonight.

For my Classics Club read this month, I'll be reading a volume from Washington Irving's Sketchbook, "One Christmas," published in the early 1800s. More about this title later.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

First Snow and a New Sprawling Epic

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

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


Saturday, November 21, 2015

My "Not Yet Completed" Classics Club List

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

1. Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol   completed 10/2015

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

3.  Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

4.  Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak (rereading)

5.  A Song of Sixpence by A.J. Cronin

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

7.  Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell

8.  The Professor’s House by Willa Cather

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

10. Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain

11. Short Stories   Heinrich Boll   

12.  A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

13. Shirley by Charlotte Bronte

14. The Professor by Charlotte Bronte

15. Gunter Grass?? 

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

       Kristin Lavransdatter Vol. 3  The Cross

17.  Snow by Orhan Parmuk

18.  German classic women writer  

19.  Vanity Fair  by William Makepeace Thackeray

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

21  Adventures of Tom Jones by Henry Fielding

22. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

23. Short Stories by Shirley Jackson

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

25. More American Women Writers???

26. Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

27. Bleak House by Charles Dickens

29. Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane

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

31. Pilgrim at Tinker’s Creek by Annie Dillard

32. Kamouraska  Anne Hebert   Canadian Classic  Quebecois

33. O Pioneers! by Willa Cather

34. The Emigrants by Vilhelm Moberg    Swedish classic

35. Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson

36. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

37. The Fountain Overflows by Rebecca West

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

39. Doris Lessing. The Golden Notebooks.

40. The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck


Thursday, November 19, 2015

A Quickie Post Today: Thomas Cromwell

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

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

Sunday, November 15, 2015

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 9, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 6, 2015

Classics Club and Seamus Heaney's Beowulf

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Arnaldur Indridason's Reykjavik Nights

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Home Now after an Unexpected Absence

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

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

Friday, October 16, 2015

Snow Tonight?? Thoreau and Autumn

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 9, 2015

Russian Nikolai Gogol's Dead Souls

Quite frankly, I'm very glad that I read Nikolai Gogol's Dead Souls. I read it without knowing much about the author other than the era in Russian history in which he wrote it. I trusted my knowledge of Russian history and literature to help guide me through. I wanted the text to speak for itself. I thoroughly enjoyed the sometimes pompous, sometimes bombastic, and at other times overly humble people of the middling and lower nobility in provincial Russia. What a crazy, wild scene!!

What's interesting is that Gogol was born in the Ukraine, not Russia--the son of a low-to-lower middling landowner. He seems to have had an excellent education, which may have been due to the fact that he was the oldest son of supposedly doting parents.

Throughout his writing career, he was known to be a wild fantasist--writing plays, dramas, short stories, and folklore adaptations. But it's clear from viewing his history that Gogol was not a stable individual by any means.

Dead Souls was supposedly a prose poem--a genre that I must admit I cannot understand. It read like a novel to me, in other words. Volume One of Dead Souls was very well received by the public. Gogol moved on to write Volume Two, but his health declined and he began to suffer from deep depression and religious obsessions. He continued to write, with tremendous difficulty. Then at the age of 42, Gogol began a fast to purify his soul, according to the accounts I've read. His decline was swift, largely because Gogol had always been unusually small and never a robust person.

Despite encouragement from friends and clergy, he continued to starve himself during which time he decided to burn as much as he could of Volume Two of Dead Souls as well as some of his other works that had disappointed him. His depression and self-enforced starvation caused his death in 1852.

Many Russian writers, including Tolstoy and many other more modern authors, credit Gogol's realism and confrontation with Russian society and psyche as having been an inspiration to their work.

I can see clearly that Gogol's recreation of provincial Russian society and its strangling bureaucracy made a satire that would have fully entertained the better-educated middle classes. Knowing Russian history, and even if I hadn't known it, his characterizations were very amusing and enjoyable to read. It's a shame about Volume Two, however, though I would still recommend the book to readers interested in Russian writers of the nineteenth century.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Peak of Fall Hiking

A very good friend took this photo of me standing behind a recently fallen giant, an old-growth upland white ash tree that was alive and well less than a year ago. It fell sometime between winter and spring this past year. Another naturalist friend was quite devastated by its toppling, because it was really, really old, long pre-dating the timber clearing of the mid-19th to the early 20th century in the Adirondacks. This old ash had a girth of greater than 10 feet. Actually, the 10 feet might be its measure in diameter. Humungous.
I am very surprised by how dwarfed I am by it in this photo. It didn't seem so at the time, and granted, it's not the best photo, but you get the idea that my 5 foot 8-inch frame is obliterated by this **massive** tree. (Given that I'm not as svelte as I once was, that's probably a good thing!)
Glorious multi-color foliage that knocked our socks off during this climb on the southwestern slopes of Crane Mountain. Lots of fun! No wonder I'm not doing any reading. I am working away on work as much as I can, given the distractions and handicaps of the beauty of nature at the moment, but no leisure reading at all this week. The weather has been phenomenally cooperative during this foliage season, I must say--unusually so, to the detriment of work. Oh, phooey on work.

This glorious fall time of year is so terribly short-lived, you can rest assured I'll be catching up on reading before you know it.

I'm waiting for the arrival of Patterns of Childhood by Christa Wolf, which I'm reading for German Literary Month. 446 pages. Wow.
And I must post my Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol post! Gads--I just can't seem to catch up with myself.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Library Book Sale Haul & Scottish Writer A.J. Cronin

A stellar day! I didn't realize it but today marked the first day of Crandall Library's Book Sale. They hold three per year. I have not been able to attend for quite a number of years due to my former teaching schedule.

Classics Club Loot!  I found decent copies of six of my Classics Club List titles, each for 50 cents per book. A lucky day!
I found a very good copy of The Red and the Black by Stendhal.
A top-notch copy of The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane.
A decent copy of Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
O Pioneers! by Willa Cather--a very good copy
A "bathtub" copy of The Painted Veil by Somerset Maugham (wavy pages but readable)
A very good copy of The Deerslayer by James Fenimore Cooper

I found a halfway decent copy of A Song of Sixpence by A. J. Cronin. I must read it, and perhaps I'll have to decide it's a classic. After all, it was shelved in the "Classics" section at the Library Book Sale. Due to my deep affection for A. J. Cronin's books and the intriguing plot description of A Song of Sixpence, I bought it. 

After I finished my genealogical course last month, I found myself hankering for a series about a country doctor in Scotland, England, or elsewhere in Great Britain. Katrina of Pining for the West searched her brain for me, and she told me about the Scottish writer A.J. Cronin's Doctor Finlay stories, which were once serialized on the BBC. (A.J. Cronin was born in Argyllshire in 1896 and died in 1981.)

I read two A.J. Cronin (Archibald Joseph Cronin) novels when I was a freshman in high school. I read them for pleasure, not for a school assignment. My favorite was The Citadel. I fell in love with the doctor in that novel, who tries so hard against all odds to help his patients, first in a mining village and later in London. And the other was The Green Years, which is about a young boy and teen who has ambition to become a doctor. He encounters enormous obstacles, not the least of which are his origins as an orphaned Irish-born relative of dour, severe Scottish relatives with whom he is sent to live. Actually, not all of them are terrible, because several of them help him to go to school and take his exams for the university and medical school. Perhaps some of you saw the Hollywood film The Green Years? That's what made me eager to read the book. By the way, Cronin's characterizations and plotting are exceptional.

So, I have been reading Cronin's Doctor Finlay's Casebook. I've read numerous stories so far of a fictitious Scottish country doctor and find them to be wonderful, comforting stories, although not all of Cronin's medical fiction, as I've mentioned, are comfort reads. The Citadel is notable among his realistic and gritty novels of medicine. Top-notch, unforgettable drama! And with Cronin, as in all his novels, there is always a keen focus on character.

A. J. Cronin was a physician in Scotland, and his knowledge and experience adds so much to his writing. I'm so sorry that he is not read much in the U.S. any longer, because the themes of his most realistic medical novels, The Citadel and Shannon's Way and one other, which is not coming to mind at the moment (!), resonate with current crises in American medicine.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Classics Club: Thoreau's A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers

Late September through mid-October is the most frantic time of year. Autumn is so brief here! The brilliant fall foliage is upon us, mushrooms are bursting after the recent heavy rains, and enormous inner conflicts emerge when indoor business clamors for our attention as well.

For my Classics Club, I am currently reading several Henry David Thoreau selections. The first is a shorter one, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, a trip that Thoreau experienced with his brother in 1839. The Concord River is in Massachusetts, near Concord flowing northward to meet the Merrimack, which then flows into southern New Hampshire.

Thoreau mixed his philosophical ideas with his nature writing, in some works more than others. I also hope to read several other of his books, but have not been able to narrow down which I'd like to focus on after the Concord and Merrimack. I'm gravitating toward his tome about his ventures in the Maine Woods, because the wilderness in Maine resembles the wilderness in the Adirondacks in several respects, although the Adks can claim the harshest winter weather.

I'll provide a link to the Thoreau Society. What a website and well worth a visit! There is so much information available on this site. Ken and I have canoed the Concord River back when we were living in Massachusetts, so this read is especially fascinating to me. I wish I had an annotated copy by someone who was knowledgeable about the local history and geography in Thoreau's day. I actually wrote to the Thoreau Society reference librarians to ask for information about this.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Dead Souls Finis! My Post to Follow

Peak fall foliage season and perfect weather has been keeping me outdoors all day long. Hiking, tennis, hiking! I will be posting about Nikolai Gogol's Dead Souls in the next couple of days. (I hear there's rain in the forecast on Tuesday. Maybe I'll have a few extra minutes.) I read along with Katrina of Pining for the West and please don't miss her excellent post and summation about this Russian classic.

As I've discussed, I'm in the process of getting lined up for the Classics Club. Before I post my list, though, I'll probably already be reading several of Henry David Thoreau's classic writings for the Classics Club. His memoirs and thoughts about hiking in Maine, for one. I will keep you posted. It's the right time of year for reading a nature writer, because I feel especially close to the wilderness right now. I haven't read Walden since I was eighteen. I remember it so vividly that I'm not sure I'll be reading that title, but The Maine Woods, I'll definitely be reading.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Coming Soon to My Door--Classics Club

After years of reading about other bloggers' adventures with Classics Club, I find that I am now summoning a list of 50 titles, which I am fairly certain I won't be able to finish reading within five years. But who knows? Onward!

I'm making the list not only from my memory of classics unread, but also with the help of Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia. My older brother gave me the first edition of this encyclopedia for my college graduation back in 1975, I believe. What a great gift for a reader!

Then I picked up a paperback Third Edition at a book sale about seven years ago. And finally, I bought the Fifth Edition with my birthday money at Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, Vermont, about four years ago. I love the Fifth Edition, because of its expansive inclusion of World Lit titles.

I am also consulting the Oxford Companion to English Literature and the Reader's Companion to American Literature. The Benet's covers World Literature, but I will also consider other reference lists for World Lit titles. It will be very much a Classics List from my point of view, as I know it is for most people who participate.

At the moment, I'm in the midst of my first Classics Club title. I'm reading the Russian writer Nikolai Gogol's Dead Souls. I'm almost halfway through, but I don't feel I can say a word about it yet. Just where is Gogol going? That is the question. And most important of all, I am reading the book with Katrina of Pining for the West, who has the book on her Classics Club List.

I will post my first 25 titles in the next few weeks. Although it's fun, it takes time and effort to pull together a list of 50 that I'm eager to read.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Reflecting on In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume

Well, it's still summer in the North Country. This week will see temps in the mid-80s all week and lots of that lovely humidity to go with it. Labor Day is late this year--Monday, September 7th--, and its late arrival always feels weird to me. As if it's shortening our already way-too-short autumn. Already lots of the red maples are turning color. "Stop!" I want to shout at them. "Wait until it becomes cool enough for hiking and enjoying the outdoors."

I so very much enjoyed reading In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume, an adult book she labored over for five years, from 2009-2014. A tremendous amount of research went into this novel, which, for most people, will be considered an historical novel, given that it's set in 1951-1952 in Elizabeth, New Jersey, the site of three horrific airline crashes between December 1951 and April 1952.

What makes this novel especially realistic and fascinating is that Judy Blume was a young teen in Elizabeth during this time (Blume was born 12 February 1938). Her characters are rich, and as always, she is so unbelievably in tune with her teenage characters, especially the impressionable 15-year-old Mira, the character at the heart of the story. But what makes this book is that she's not the only character from whose point of view the story is told. It's also the story of her entire family, her neighbors, and her most devoted friends, who also figure prominently. I think Blume's talent of drawing readers into her world of rich characters,  coupled with the extensive research she did that made this book the creation it is. Blume is now 77 years old, which is hard to believe. She's been such a fixture in children's and young adult literature, and in her constant battle against censorship in American letters. Best wishes to her! And please, Judy, may we have another book?

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Very Late August and Fall Reading Bonanza

You may have recalled, months ago, that I hinted at a career change. Since May 12 and due to end tomorrow, August 23, 15 weeks later, I will have completed an arduous course so that I can receive my certificate from Boston University in Genealogical Research. Yes, I will be hanging out my shingle to practice professional genealogy. This jibes perfectly with my intense interests in U.S. History. My initial specialties are in the areas of New York and New England genealogical research, with a special interest in the Colonial Period (1620-1776). I have loads more education to pursue, but I will be doing that alongside professional work in the future.

So! Because the stress of the past weeks have led to a full-blown case of shingles just diagnosed yesterday, I will start, slowly, to resume a more normal, balanced, and hopefully healthier lifestyle, because all I've been able to do, literally, for all this time is study and work on assignments and reports. I learned a tremendous amount, but the human cost was high.

That's why I'm happy to announce that in this initial let-down period, due to begin tomorrow, reading adventures will be a central focus. Walking to regain strength and stamina will be an equally important plan.

Second Life by S. J. Watson was such a huge disappointment! His debut Before I Go to Sleep was so mind-blowing, so original that I almost can't believe that he wrote such a hum-drum thriller as Second Life. Maybe he was too busy writing the screenplay to the Before I Go to Sleep movie, which is supposed to be out? About to come out, starring Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth, among others. Have you read Second Life or the debut novel?

I have so many books to read next. I started In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume last night before bed. Blume grew up in Elizabeth, New Jersey. From the late fall of 1952 through the late winter of 1953, three separate commercial airplanes crashed into this densely inhabited town just west of Newark, New Jersey. Blume was a young teenager at the time, a most impressionable age. In any event, this is a work of fiction, but it's clear she's drawing on her memories of the times. It's reading beautifully at this point and is from the point of view of a young teen.

I haven't read a Julia Spencer-Fleming mystery for at least a year, and it's high time I read one. Thou Shall Not Want is my next title in the series. It's my favorite mystery series, as I know I've mentioned before.

I hope you can expect more regular posts from me in the weeks to come. The grueling part of my 2015 has come to an end.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Finally Reading a Classic This Year

Just as I was about to dig in to another suspense thriller, I was overcome with a hankering for an English classic. My fingers immediately pried the Penguin edition of Anne Bronte's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall from an overstuffed shelf in my treasured bedroom floor-to-ceiling bookcase. I climbed into bed and dug in on a late coolish summer evening, with owls calling all around me. Perfect atmosphere. I was hooked by page 8.

The print is so small, though. The book is 485 pages, so I guess they needed to do that. My eyes are straining, but I can make it. Already, at page 37, I'm bemoaning that soon I will have read both of Anne Bronte's books. Such a spell it casts.

Are you or have you been involved in a classic read this summer. Do tell!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Some Good Books in 2015: Part I

Currently enjoying The Seven Sisters by Margaret Drabble. I'm almost positive that JoAnn at Lakeside Musing blogged about this book in the past 2-5 months or so. It's been on my mind ever since. I'm more than halfway through...  I do get a kick out of Drabble, always have. This one is no exception! Recommended.

Some exceptionally good books have tracked me down this year. I have had very little time to browse in libraries or shop or cruise online, but I've managed to find some greats.

The best book of 2015 so far for me has been: Black House, the first book of The Lewis Trilogy by Peter May. (It's in my 2015 blogroll.) This book was much more than mere "crime fiction." The Isle of Lewis is its own character. And the pinnacles of rocks, in the middle of the ocean, to the northwest, where men and special older boys go for a bird hunt annually, is portrayed so realistically, so unfathomably well, that I don't need to visit the Hebrides, or the Isle of Lewis. I was so immersed. The plot was unstoppable, twisting and turning and developing, I was in awe. The characters were portrayed with a keen, psychologically astute insight. You'll notice I've awarded it 5 stars. Very, very impressive. Have you read anything by Peter May?

Monday, June 29, 2015

Trying Hard to Be Back Again

This will be a very brief, modest post. Although this year has seen me hectic and busy virtually all the time, I will say my usual, "Thank goodness for books, thank goodness for the reading habit," which has made it possible for me to endure the tempest. As I stated in a post earlier this year, I am undergoing a career change, and as much as I'm welcoming it, the switch has not allowed me time to do anything but study and prepare. Enough of that for today.

Believe it or not, I've never read Maisie Dobbs, nor a single one of Jacqueline Winspear's series or her other WWI novel published last year (2014). Just this afternoon, after eight hours of work, I relaxed with the very first in the series, entitled Maisie Dobbs, and almost couldn't stop reading. It's a surprise to me I've never read one, but when I think of all the books in the world I've read since its publication in 2003, I understand. Maureen Corrigan, the premier book reviewer for National Public Radio, had this to say upon the publication of the tenth anniversary edition of the original Maisie Dobbs.

My birthday in early June brought with it a Kindle Fire to add to my Nook HD. The Fire may seem superfluous, but it comes with lots of Amazon Prime goodies and incredible Amazon music possibilities (!), which made the $99 for the Fire too hard to pass up. I still love the Nook, but Kindle Fire has its uses, so I'm using both. It has come to the point where I begrudge the public library's loan periods and fines. I'm such a mood reader, always have been, that with e-books, many of which I can get very, very inexpensively, it only makes sense to read e-books. I never thought I'd hear myself say it, but it's becoming increasingly true that I only want e-books. The prime exceptions to this new rule are dense historical works with footnotes and bibliographies, dense historical novels, and science non-fiction.

I hope to be catching up with all of you soon.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Year of Reading...Very, Very Badly

After a horrendously long hiatus, I hope to blog a post in the next few days.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

January Reading 2015

This January my mind has been so full of financial decisions and resultant career maneuvering that I have not had the energy to blog at all.

I'm so sorry to say that I have not been able to host a Russian Literature Month this January, as I'm certain all readers must be aware by now. I still want to host it, but the month and opportunity are not on the horizon for now. Thanks for understanding, and I regret the false advertisement!

So what have I been reading?
I recently finished Bernard Cornwell's The Last Kingdom, the very first title in Cornwell's Anglo-Saxon/Viking series. I did enjoy the time period and the history, and I really liked the character Uhtred, son of Uhtred, but I had less appreciation for the frequent battle scenes, at least not as much as others might. But I must say that the novel has enhanced my interest in the Viking-period in English history. I want to know more! Bernard Cornwell's latest novel in this series (#8, I believe) has just been published in the U.S.--The Empty Throne.

The Girl on the Train! Yes, I have succumbed to all the hype, and the novel is indeed a page-turner which will appeal to readers deprived of sunlight and thrills. I set aside the hour from 4pm-5pm with reading for fun, and this one has made the hour whiz by.