In the High Peaks

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.