In the High Peaks

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.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Big Reading Update--Late January is Tops

I don't think I've ever posted two entries in one day, but today is an exception. I needed to do a review of Frankenstein, but also wanted to do an update of what else has been going on in my bookish world.

Winter weather upheavals abounded in the past week. We had 2+ feet of snow  over two full days last weekend, which was immediately followed by wind chill temperatures of 24-36 below zero F on Monday. I went out that day to unbury my car, and when I inhaled, it was unbelievably painful to breathe. Surprised me, really. I don't recall being such a sissy in past years.
Then! Guess what? The temperature suddenly rose into the 30s F and then 42 F and we had well over 2 inches of rain--how impossible is that? And now we're going down to 4 degrees F tonight after crazy, blinding  snow squalls all day today. And somehow or other, in the midst of all this, I managed to get myself a little bit sick, really. It can't be connected to the weather, can it? Sigh.

I felt so crummy that all I could do today, after going out to our two bird feeding stations and after a little bit of tax work, was READ IN BED.

And the  reading was a delight. How wonderful it is to cast aside all cares for a time and retire with lots of books. I continued knitting a scarf and hood set while I listened to the 2018 definitive biography of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg by Jane Sherron de Hart, written over a period of decades, and which is 735 pages long. The listening will take a while, but it's fascinating so far. It's entitled Ruth Bader Ginsburg: A Life.  

I just finished Messenger of Truth, the 4th Maisie Dobbs mystery. Oh, how I love this series. What makes the Maisie Dobbs series different, or unique, is in the way these books plummet the depths of human experience. We are carefully carried right into the battle zone of the full range of experience. Although  it is now 1931, and the Great War has been over for 13 years, there are still tremendous repercussions in the lives of individuals and families who experienced the enormous losses. There is also a worldwide depression  that is having a negative impact on the lives of people everywhere in England. This book takes us into the heart of an upper-class family and its favorite artist son, and into a poor working-class family, who must struggle for every meal.
I do heartily recommend the Maisie Dobbs series. And although I've read the first four sporadically over time, I'll continue to read at least one book now per year. They are very fine indeed.

And what else today? I'm enjoying a romance, with dogs. In Dog We Trust by Beth Kendrick is set on the Delaware Coast in summertime and is peopled (or doggled) with a good number of Labrador Retrievers who are the ultimate show dogs. Jocelyn signs on to be their caretaker, and before she knows it, the owner dies, leaving all of his wealth to the dogs and to Jocelyn in trust of them. It's very quickly paced, and is a fun, funny read. Romance abounds, and includes strictly Labradorish hijinks. If you know Labs, or if you're acquainted with other sporting dogs or retrievers, I recommend this as a fun, relaxing change of pace.  I learned about this January 2019 book from Book Dilettante and immediately snapped it up at the library last Saturday. Lucky me.

A Review of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

I read Frankenstein by Mary Shelley for the Back to the Classics Challenge, hosted by Karen at Books and Chocolate (see sidebar). I'm also reading it for the TBR Challenge 2019 hosted by Alex at Roof Beam Reader (see sidebar).

To be forewarned, yes, there are spoilers here. 
Although I've thoroughly omitted specifics, I can't review Mary Shelley's Frankenstein any other way.

I truly enjoyed Frankenstein 44 years after my last reading. This time I was drawn in to Victor Frankenstein's story, his growing up, his family, and then his young adult leave-taking to a Swiss city to study with a number of professors or "great minds."

In the vacuum left from his close attachments in Geneva, his home city, he loses his moorings and becomes obsessed and overwhelmed by ideas, by his learning, to the point where he loses sight of his reason. He embarks on what seems at first a glorious design, to create a human being. He becomes so involved in this mission that he scarcely sleeps, scarcely eats, throws off all his associations with professors and other students. He goes truly mad for a time and does not recognize himself.

And when he achieves his goal, he is stunned when his creation comes to life and abandons the place where he was created--where to, Frankenstein has no clue.

At this point Frankenstein's fate has been sealed. He dared to create life and now he will suffer the consequences.  I was most affected by the first meeting of the Creature and Frankenstein, when the Creature tells the entire narrative of what has happened to him in the world and how he wants Frankenstein to fix it. One feels enormous compassion for the Creature who terrifies and horrifies people. The story of how he tries over a period of more than a year to come close to one family is the most powerful and really, the  most tragic, yet fascinating tale in the novel, a time when the reader sympathizes totally with the  Creature.

But Frankenstein is a tragic character, and because he dared to create this abomination, all of his close family and human ties are destroyed, one by one. Frankenstein suffers, the Creature suffers mightily, and all of Frankenstein's family and associates suffer. 

If you were on the fence about reading this classic, I would recommend that people read Frankenstein because as tragic as it is, it is infused with the passion of young people to create life. Frankenstein's passion to protect his loved ones never dies.  As I've discussed in previous blog posts, to read Mary Shelley, on the cusp of adult life when she wrote this, from ages 17-19, is to reconnect with the passion of our own youthful years. I would say, "Don't miss it."

Thursday, January 24, 2019

My 2019 TBR Pile Challenge Books--Still Time to Sign Up

Alex, the host of the 2019 TBR Challenge Pile for 2019, resides at Roofbeam Reader (see sidebar) .

Alex has kindly extended the sign-up period for the 2019 Challenge until January 31st, if anyone has not yet signed up for a TBR challenge but would like to.
I plan to read 12 TBR books from my shelves and from my Nook, purchased no later than December 31, 2017. Yes, that's right--books purchased in 2018 do not count for this challenge.
In my list of books, you'll notice the overlap with my list for Karen's Back to the Classics Challenge (BCC), which is perfectly legal, by the way, for both challenges.
I've had a number of classics languishing on my bookshelves for years, and this is the year I'm going to look forward to reading them. Yahoo!

1. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (BCC)

2. A Small Town in Germany by John Le Carre  (read early Feb. 2019)

3. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (BCC)  (read Jan. 2019)

4. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins (BCC)

5. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (I started this last year or the year before, but I need to start all over again. With Austen novels, rereading is pure pleasure and certainly no hardship.) (BCC)

6. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (BCC)

7. A Shroud for a Nightingale by P.D.  James

8. Snow by Orhan Pamuk  (BCC)

9.  O is for Outcast by Sue Grafton (read Jan. 2019)

10.  The Dark Flood Rises by Margaret Drabble  (Started reading in 2017, but was distracted by those darn library holds, and I need to start over at the beginning, which will not be a hardship because I loved the bit that I read.)

11. Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper (BCC)
(This one I started years ago, but left it and did not go back due to library book distraction.)

12. Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole (BCC)

Two Alternates: 
Vanity Fair Diaries by Tina Brown
The London Train by Tessa Hadley   (read March 2019)
(I've had this on my Nook for years and purchased it after I read Hadley's book The Past, which I loved.  It's interesting that I love The Past even more a number of years after reading it. I will never forget the house in the country that the characters shared. It had its own personality. I have a sort of nostalgia for it.)

Friday, January 18, 2019

Frankenstein Preview and Loads of other January Books

The good news is I feel so enlivened by what I've been reading since New Year's Day that I feel like I've emerged "from the reading doldrums" that have ensnared me for quite a long time now. I am so thankful for that. I think the presence of the Challenges have helped me as well as the many blogging friends who are participating.

(Portrait of Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley's mother.)
I still need to review Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, coming up soon. I thoroughly enjoyed my reread of this truly classic, powerful novel that does not get old. Did you know that Mary Shelley was the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft, author of The Vindication of the Rights of Women? Wollstonecraft died eleven days after her daughter Mary's birth. When I read Frankenstein for The English Novel course I took as a college senior, I am sure that Professor Ann Corsa, who was at that time the age I am currently (!), and who was the teacher of my 21-year-old self--I am quite sure she informed us of that important fact, but it seems I did not remember it and it probably didn't mean anything memorable to me at the time. I have kept the notebook I used for this course and have never thrown it out.

Yet, side by side with reading Classics, I side-stepped and picked up a  "domestic thriller" novel. Domestic thrillers are now a popular genre, and I'm  stunned by the extraordinary multitude that are being written. I wanted to read one this January, so I searched "Best Domestic Thrillers 2018" and came up with a list. I selected one that sounded intriguing, borrowed it as an ebook from the New York Public Library, and have just finished With You Always by Rena Olsen. I must admit that after the first three chapters I felt a compulsion to finish, which kept me rooted to this novel. But, in the end, this book was no more nourishing than pablum,  a disappointment. Yet, strangely, I thoroughly enjoyed the compulsion over the 3 days I read it, and it proved to be a welcome change of pace. But in the end I wanted more substance from it than I got. The twists and turns in these novels are often the reward, but this one lacked dynamism in this element.

Isn't it interesting? I had an entirely different reaction to the domestic thriller I read last January, in 2018. The Woman in the Window had loads of redeeming qualities, and as a result,  it made it on the list of one of my favorite reads of 2018. Skillful characterization, edge of your seat plotting that built and built, and an intricate neighborhood setting.  I do heartily recommend it, for those who are into high-stakes suspense and thrillers.

So, if you're still reading this crazy post, I've made a change to my Back to the Classics Challenge 2019 List.
When I picked up my Penguin edition of The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, which was my 19th century novel pick, I first read the introduction about his life and writings. I immediately recognized that I must read The House of the Dead first, or as it is also known in English, Notes from the Dead House, before I read The Idiot.  The House of the Dead is a semi-autobiographical work about Dostoevsky's imprisonment in Siberia. How fascinating! I have so much more to say about this selection, and I have only just begun reading it.

Stay tuned for a HUGE CONTROVERSY about RUSSIAN TRANSLATIONS. When I delved  into  this public conundrum last weekend, I was shocked, to say the least. So, the news  is coming within the next week, I do hope.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

The Years Between, a Play by Daphne Du Maurier

The Years Between is a play I've read this month for the Back to the Classics Challenge, hosted by Karen at Books and Chocolate.
Although the play was first performed in November 1944, its publication date is recorded as 1945. The action of the play takes place in 1942 and in 1945 shortly before the war ends in Europe in May.
Deborah and Michael Wentworth are the owners of an estate in the English countryside. They have one son, who is 10 years old. Michael is in the military, and at the beginning of the play, Michael leaves on a mission, only to have his plane crash in the North Sea. When the play opens in 1942, the Wentworth Family is informed that Michael's plane has gone down over the North Sea and he is assumed missing. Months pass and there is no news of survivors.

Michael's seat in Parliament has been left vacant, and soon Deborah decides to fill his seat and serve out his term. She throws herself into the work of governing and receives great satisfaction from it. She and her son are well supported by Richard, a close family friend who owns a neighboring manor house.

I won't let on anything of what happens in Act II, which takes place in 1945, and I've left out much of Act I (1942).
I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed this play, especially from a historical viewpoint because it reflects the emotions and issues and politics of some upper-class people in England during World War II, of which Du Maurier was undeniably a member.

The play is illuminating regarding many of the themes and undercurrents in people's lives at this time, such as the following:
Women assuming responsiblities for jobs and positions formerly reserved for men and receiving satisfaction and fulfillment  from them.
The problems of readjustment to the status quo when men return from war in 1945, both at home and in the community, which Du Maurier presents as equally difficult for both those at home and those who were abroad.
The questioning of the nature of intimate connections between husband and wife after spending years apart. (This theme is highlighted and is extremely interesting.)
And last, but not least, opposing viewpoints of wartime socialism in Great Britain, the great experiment, which brings the controversy right to the forefront of the play. Will this new way of organizing and conducting society continue after the war? Will there be support for it to continue by the upper classes? By the rest of Great Britain's citizens? And it becomes clear in the Final Act, the author's doubts about the future of such a society.

If you have an interest in this period in Great Britain's history, I'm sure you would enjoy and be stimulated by this play. I found it to be extremely interesting.

This play is difficult to get a hold of in the U.S. I ended up purchasing a copy from a used and rare books dealer  in Rochester, New York, via I'm sure it would be just a bit easier to obtain in the UK.


Sunday, January 13, 2019

A Reading Update on a Frigid Winter Night

We've had a most extraordinary high pressure system sitting over us that has given us day after day after day of cloudless blue skies and very cold temperatures. The bitter cold is just fine so long as the sun shines so brilliantly. So unusual for us to have three days in a row of no clouds with more purely sunny days to come, supposedly.

I have been enjoying my reading tremendously since the first of the year.
As I mentioned, I am long overdue for a write-up of the fascinating 1945 play by Daphne du Maurier, The Years Between.
Late this afternoon I finished a reread of Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley, first beloved by me when I was 21 years of age, 44 winters ago. I'm reading it for the Back to the Classics Challenge.  I will be writing about it soon as well, I very much liked it again, though I can now see why I fell head over heels in love with it when I first read it. How fascinating to see yourself via a book you loved at a much younger age! And let's remember, Mary Shelley started writing this book at age 17 and finished it at age 19.

And this week I finished a book for the TBR Challenge--Sue Grafton's Kinsey Milhone mystery, O is for Outlaw. Kinsey is now 36 years of age, as opposed to the 32 years she was at the beginning of the series. She is even more irreverent and takes more risks, in fact many more nail-biting risks than she did at a younger age. Whew! It was fun, but I'll admit that it was fun solely because of Kinsey and who she is. The plot was good enough, but not compelling without the Kinsey dynamite in the mix.

Now I'm on to the fourth Maisie Dobbs mystery, The Messenger of the Truth. This I've borrowed from the NYPL Simply E e-book program, and I'm not reading it for any  challenge.

I have some reviews to post. I must not allow myself to fall too far behind with those. Eeks.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

So Glad to Have Found a Chunkster Challenge!

This year of all years, I have realized I could use the support of  a Chunkster Challenge.  And I'm fortunate to have found one early in January. If you happen to know that you are reading a number or a lot of long classics and more recent tomes in 2019, you may be interested to know that you can join the chunkster challenge at Becky's Book Reviews. Becky is really into book challenges, so you may be interested in her Georgian Book Challenge or her Victorian Book Challenge or her other interesting challenges. I'm  happy I was referred to her blog by Cleo's Classic Carousel.

So far in 2019, I have finished reading my "Back to the Classics Challenge" play, The Years Between, by Daphne du Maurier (1944-45). Now I need to write the review. I've written up my thoughts in a journal for the books I will read this year ( a new resolution for me!), but my thoughts vs. a review are totally different. My personal thoughts about the book as I've recorded  would be reviled for revealing too much about the book in a blogging world where voices are squashed by the dread of revealing  "spoilers." But how on earth can you discuss the most important points  about what you have read if you have to clamp your hand over your mouth to avoid saying anything at all about a book?. 

Yes, this is a pet peeve of mine. And it's one I eventually mean to do something about. Does The New York Times Book Review or The Guardian care if they drop some hints about the plot and characters and themes of a book? Of course not! Revealing this information does not STOP a reader--rather, it makes them more certain that they desire to  try a book. Of course it would never do to reveal pivotal plot-turning points, but really, when does it get to the point where we're saying nothing about a book other than we liked it or didn't??