In the High Peaks

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Outlandish Weather

I have so wanted to respond to everyone's post from last Friday and have not succeeded. We are coming out of a very unusual  bad weather turn, and I was feeling really out of sorts for a while. No illness, but a sheer lack of will.

We had 8 inches of wet snow on Sunday night, with very cold temps and gusty north winds before and after. Wild weather, and we're grateful we did not lose electricity, though a huge fir tree fell near our house and just barely missed the power lines. Sandy and I trooped through the woods on Monday, through all the snow, which was loads of fun for her, and watching her, I must admit I enjoyed it, but it was raining and the chill and damp went deep into my bones and I could not get warm afterwards. And out with my body heat went my mood, I'm very sorry to say. My body does mind going from 62 degrees on Friday to 30 degrees on Sunday.

I'm enjoying what I'm reading now and hope I can post tomorrow.
I'm listening to a wonderful audiobook while knitting, Epic of Solitude by Katherine Keith, about a young woman who seeks wilderness in very edgy places, the most notable of which is Alaska, where she eventually becomes deeply involved in sled-dog racing, including the Iditarod. There  is so much to this book--adventures galore.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Fri. Bookshelf Traveling for Insane Times #6

The top shelf of my favorite bedroom bookcase is home to three very large first-edition biographies, none of which I have really read from cover to cover. They are beautiful, pristine copies, and as I took them down and browsed through them, I realized I hope I will read one in the next few months, from cover to cover. But it will be a difficult choice.

Jane Goodall: The Woman Who Redefined Man by Dale Peterson, published in 2006, is the one I'm most likely to tackle first, and at 685 pages (very small type),  it will be a job to "tackle." But because I've always been drawn to her work over many decades, and because she has led such an extraordinary life, I think I will submit to it. (A 4.19 rating on Goodreads.)
Goodall turned 86 years this year (born April 3, 1934), so this book was published when she was a very young 72 years and still accomplishing a great deal. Goodall and Dale Peterson collaborated on a number of books previous to this one, so he is very much familiar with her life's work and who she is as a person.  I remember I bought it because it was so highly acclaimed when it was published.

The other biography I've been meaning to read for so very long is The Peabody Sisters: Three Women Who Ignited American Romanticism by Megan Marshall (2005). Once again, I purchased this hardcover immediately after publication because it was so highly and universally regarded, and also because the Peabody Sisters lived in Massachusetts, growing up in Salem. They were friends and colleagues of their contemporaries Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. The most interesting thing about them was that in the 1830s and onward, they were the opposite of the ideal American woman, in that they were very highly educated, extraordinarily intellectual, did not keep their opinions to themselves, and inspired the men in their circle by igniting philosophical debates. They were very much a part of the Transcendentalist Movement. The  youngest sister Sophia married the author Nathaniel Hawthorne. The middle sister Mary married and inspired the most noteworthy American educational reformer of the 19th century, Horace Mann. And the oldest sister Elizabeth was fire-and-ice involved in all the philosophical discourse of the day. Her name is linked with many more reformers than I can list here. An extraordinary family of sisters, who are often referred to as "the American Brontës."  (A 4.12 rating on Goodreads.)

The third biography is another blockbuster. And a chunkster, at 830 pages, with another nearly 200 pages in notes.  It is Juliet Barker's The Brontës, published in 1994 in the UK and in 1995 in the US.
 I have the first American edition and have used it as a reference book many, many times, though I have not read it cover to cover. It, too, has been the most highly acclaimed work about The Brontë Family to date. But for a time it went out of print, which I have NEVER understood. Then it was revised and republished as The Brontës: The New Edition in the UK and in the US as The Brontës: Wild Genius on the Moors. For more information, please follow the link. (Another 4.19 rating on GoodReads.)

Friday, April 17, 2020

Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times #5: My New Books Stack

We'll be having at least two inches of snow tonight, so Ken is not out of the woods yet (re: my header photo.)

I have had a lot of fun purchasing quite a few books this year thus far, and I seem to show no sign of stopping. My stack of new books is perched on one side of the double bed in the loft, where I sometimes read, especially in the summer months. Because it sits up a flight of stairs from the living room, it's well air-conditioned. On frigid winter days, I also retreat to read here, because my bedroom reading spot is quite exposed to our coldest winds from the northwest.

I won't wax on about new books you know and have heard about, but I will mention that Hilary Mantel's The Mirror in the Light is waiting patiently for me to turn to it.

I won't be reading it in the next month because I'm dying to tackle one of my very new "old" books, Gulag by the American Russian scholar Anne Applebaum. This work of history made a huge splash when it first appeared in 2004, because Applebaum was one of the first scholars to produce a major work of Soviet history after the opening of archives in Russia following the demise of the Soviet Union.
Gulag was a Pulitzer Prize Winner, a National Book Award Finalist, and it received high acclaim from English and American Russian historians. In 1952, approximately 2.5 million Soviet citizens were shipped to the gulags in the hinterlands of the Soviet Union, many in Siberia, but loads of them in provinces elsewhere. And that was not an unusual year. In 1953, the year  of Stalin's death, more than this number were shipped to the gulags. In the mid-late 1930s about 1.5 million each year. And so on. With the ascendancy of Nikita Khrushchev in 1954-55, many imprisoned in the gulags started to be released and started to make their way home.

My next book in the stack is an exciting new novel, Greenwood, by Michael Christie, a Canadian author. I was stunned by the 4.4 Goodreads rating for this novel. (Were these reviews submitted by frustrated book marketers desperately disappointed by their inability to promote this book the way they'd like?) Just wondering. Most reviewers gave it a "5." This does not often happen when I search for info on Goodreads. This novel, set in the future of 2038, is set on an island off the coast of British Columbia, and revolves around the near-legendary existence of very old, old-growth trees there. Definitely check out the link for more info. Michael Christie won awards for his previous novel, published in 2015.

For all of us crime-novel devotees, I did some more research about the books by the Icelandic crime author Ragnar Jonasson. I know some of you have read Snowblind.  I really, really liked it, and have contemplated reading another in that series of books, but it is difficult, because they were translated and published in English out of the order in which they were published in Iceland. This is what has been reported that I've read. If I am wrong, or if you have updated info, I beg you, please do set me straight.
Because I'm desperate to return to Iceland with Jonasson, I landed and purchased The Darkness: A Thriller, which is the first novel in the Hulda series. It's set partly in Reykjavik and partly in the "Icelandic Highlands." Yrsa Sigurdardottir said, "The Darkness is a true masterpiece of a crime novel, introducing an original protagonist, a plot full of twists and turns, and an ending that leaves you gasping for air." Hulda is supposed to be retiring, but she is allowed one last cold case. Doesn't that tempt you?

One last teaser: Quite frankly, I have four books ongoing at the moment. After reading another 50 pages in Stalin's Daughter today (it's so good-reads like the best page-turner novel), I continued reading an ARC I happily received and am now so sucker-punched into it. omg.
I'm delighted by Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas, to be published on May 12th by William Morrow, a division of HarperCollins. It is deeply gothic, a coming of age novel but NOT YA, with many sci-fi genre elements to twist and turn it. Very cleverly written by a young writer in her 20s, who is a graduate of Yale, a resident of Brooklyn, and who works as an archivist at a modern art museum. I will be saying much more about this one... HELP! I think I should stay in bed all day tomorrow and finish it. That good.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

A Quick Book Catch-Up Before Friday's Bookshelf Travels

I'm definitely established in a daily routine. And so is Sandy. And  more recently Ken.
Those of you who have known  and  loved dogs surely know how dogs thrive on  routine.
I wake up, wash and get dressed,  take  the dog for an early am walk, then coffee for Ken, which starts his 90-minute book-reading escape.
I then grind my coffee beans and make my snobbish special coffee with cream, read the New York Times online, and have breakfast. I do the dreaded stretches I must do in order to walk the dog 4 miles up steep hills and down. And then out we go. It is NOT spring here, although the snow is gone.

Honestly, by the time all of this is done, it's early afternoon. I then have my happiest time of the day. From two to five pm I read. I am so grateful, and so thankful for these sacrosanct hours to retreat from the world and read. I wish for a longer escape than 3 hours.
I'm making great progress with Stalin's Daughter, the biography of Svetlana Alliuyeva. It's been an  utterly fascinating history, reaching from 1926, the year of Svetlana's birth, through all her years in the Soviet Union, and now, currently, I'm mesmerized by the intricacies  of  her defection to  the  West, and to the United States, in  1966-67. When have I read a history or biography where I totally lose track of all the pages I'm reading? I'm well over halfway through the 637 dense pages.

I'm also loving What Happens in Paradise by Elin Hilderbrand, the second novel after the first  in the series, Winter in Paradise. It is such a  relief to read, to retreat to the island of St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands and be swallowed up by the many stories affecting the people in two families. I'm well over halfway through this one, too, and I think I'll finish it this weekend.

And I've been borrowing and buying books like MAD as well.
I just borrowed from the New York Public Library an ebook published in mid-March that's set in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1630.  Beheld by TaraShea Nesbit. I was very lucky to be able to borrow this one as it's a new book. It starts out thus:
"We thought ourselves a murderless colony. We created a place on a hill overlooking the sea, in the direction from which we came. For a while, God's favor seemed possible. But it pleased Him to have other plans...  I remember that day, in the year of our Lord sixteen hundred and thirty, that the first colonist was murdered."
For those of us celebrating the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower Landing in Plymouth, and the founding of Plymouth Colony, this novel has been highly acclaimed and most of all sounds like fun and is supposed to be illuminating about the lives of colonists. Did you know that at least three million Americans and people from around the world claim ancestry from a Mayflower passenger?  So it's not a big deal, really. My ancestor was not a Puritan. He was a "stranger"  and was  an indentured servant to Stephen Hopkins, who also was not a Puritan. They both survived the deadly illness and starvation that plagued the colony during its first winter and that killed off well over half of the settlers. My ancestor was named Edward Doty.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Friday's Bookshelf Travels: Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia and Burnett

We had snow falling off and on all day long. But it did not accumulate. Wild and wooly walking the dog through it, though!
Can you believe this is Week Four of Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times? I sure can't. I was finally able to buy a very small steak for the two of us, our first piece of beef in weeks. It's been hard up here. Because so many people who have vacation homes are now here, the grocery stores have not been able to meet the increased demand at a time that was not expected. Oh yeah, we expect it in July. But not now.
And I certainly don't mind people from NYC or New Jersey or Long Island or Pennsylvania who have fled their homes to come here, but I DO MIND the ones who travel back and forth, back and forth to their homes in the city and then back here again and again! People who live on my road. If you come, please stay put and don't travel for our sakes. We absolutely do not have the hospital resources that NYC has. As one local public health official put it, "You can come, but don't expect the hospital services you would get in the city. If you get sick, you will be straining our very, very limited health services. Amen!
That's quite enough of my rant for a Good Friday.
To the topic:
Another bookcase in my bedroom is seven feet tall and solid oak. While I'm getting dressed in the morning, I gaze at the books, allowing my eyes to focus on those I haven't thought about recently. I also think of those I have yet to read. I exchange the books here much more often than is the case with  my other bookcases.

On one of the middle shelves, the fifth hardcover edition of Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia sits. It's 1,200 pages, is reference-book size, and is "a completely revised and updated edition of the bestselling encyclopedia of classic and contemporary world literature." It was published in 2008 and is the most recent edition.
My older brother gave me the first edition for Christmas when I was 19 or so, although it was not a first printing. I fell in love with it immediately, and I still have it, with his inscription. About ten years ago, I picked up a paperback copy of the third edition at a library book sale for a dollar. And the fifth I bought at Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, Vermont, on a day trip to celebrate my birthday about ten years ago. If you ever, ever find yourself in southern Vermont, do honor your bookish self and make a beeline to this MECCA of bookstores. I assure you, it cannot possibly disappoint!
The individual entries in Benet's discuss authors of all genres of literature, important or classic titles of works, famed literary sites and their significance, important battles and historic events, religions, philosophies and schools of thought, literary movements, etc.
Here are some entries from a typical page:
 Charles Bukowski, a 20th-century American poet and novelist; Mikhail Bulgakov, the Russian playwright and novelist, who became famous after the Russian Revolution; Ed Bullins, American playwright, novelist, and poet; and Silvina Bullrich, one of Argentina's best-known novelists. There is even an entry for Mr. Bumble, the character in Charles Dickens's Oliver Twist, and an entry for Natty Bumppo, the central figure in James Fenimore Cooper's series of books known as The Leatherstocking Tales.
It seems that the 5th edition is out of print, although used copies are available. I wonder if there will ever be a 6th edition, because reference books of this type are tending to not be published any more. Sigh! Although  it's true that all of this information is available quickly on the internet, it is not possible to browse Wikipedia by the letter B or C or Q.  Much of the pleasure of this book is browsing. And finding new authors, new reading material, etc.

Yesterday, from the same bookshelf, I lovingly took down Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden and The Little Princess, both illustrated by the New England illustrator Tasha Tudor (1915-2008). These two editions of the older classics, were both published in the early 1960s. But the two I own today are not the ones I owned as a child. Those latter volumes went with me when I started teaching sixth grade, to place on the classroom bookshelves for students to borrow. After ten years, when I left teaching, they were in pretty bad shape.
So about thirteen years ago, I contacted a rare books seller in Saratoga Springs to help me find "Fine" replacements, with dustcovers intact. He had no problem with that, I didn't spend more than $30 per book, and the stories and especially the illustrations that meant so much to me as a 10- to 12-year old came home in all their glory to live with me again.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Interesting Developments in Books--Internet Archive Breaks Loose!

I'm imagining that some of you may know about the Internet Archive. This wonderful resource has for years made out-of-print books and books in the public domain available via its portal. I've been especially appreciative of its works of local history, county histories, town  histories, family genealogies, etc. 
However, in the past two weeks, due to the Coronavirus pandemic, they have started to digitize thousands and thousands of books, whether they are in the public domain or NOT. Loads and loads of books still held under copyright. Books that are fiction, nonfiction, and books that you may want to read.
I searched for Mary Stewart books, since we've just been talking about her. And for free, I was able to borrow Airs above the Ground, her suspense novel set in Austria. I have read it, but it was fun to see what this is all about.
Sorry to say, though--these digital images are created from print hardcover books. Not as legible by an means as the quality you expect from a regular ebook you purchase. Still readable, mostly, but there it is.
This development has publishers and authors all aflutter and damn mad, as you can imagine. 
But note, Internet Archive is not digitizing works that have been published within the past five years.
And it contends that this is an Emergency Measure, available only until June 30th, while there are no libraries in the U.S. that are open and while students are struggling to find resources for their coursework.  
I think Internet Archive is pressing the envelope, as loads of people, especially academics, are pushing and pushing for open access for all, and are, to make a point, stretching the limits of copyright infringement to make a point.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times: Treasures from the 60s and 70s

The top shelf of one of my bedroom bookcases is home to hardcover gothic suspense novels published in the 1960s and 1970s. Loads of women were writing gothics in those two decades. And then, suddenly, poof! Sometime in  the early 1980s it seemed none were being published. Historical romances hit the bookstore shelves to replace the gothics, and I was cut adrift, with no interest in a genre that was mostly romance with a smattering of highly questionable history. Although I searched at every bookstore I could find in Greater Boston, it was clear that contemporary gothics were gonesville. Romantic suspense novels were still in vogue, however.

I was initiated into the cult of the 1960s gothic fiction at my high school library and quite by chance.  It was a Friday afternoon in the autumn of 1968, and I was a sophomore looking for something fun to read for the weekend. I bumped into a classmate, who was one of the "popular" girls. I was in awe of her beauty, and she was not a mean popular girl, although I'd never exchanged words with her. 
I tried to figure out why on earth she was in the library, and on a Friday afternoon! She was alone. In fact, we were the only two students in the library, both of us rushing to snatch a book before catching our respective buses home. I was stunned when she actually spoke to me. “You have got to read this book.” And she pulled Mistress of Mellyn by Victoria Holt off the shelf, thrust it in my hands, and  dashed off with another title from the same shelf.

I had no idea that I would be completely swept off my feet by Saturday morning. The young, naïve
governess, the brooding manse, and the two enigmatic leading male characters, all set in Cornwall. Part of the formula for the gothic at this time was that there had to be two men. For the naïve reader, it was impossible to tell which one of the two was bad, evil, and dangerous, and which was trustworthy, good, and heroic. I had to have more.
That next Monday I returned to the library and picked up Bride of Pendorric. My next was Kirkland Revels. I did not mind a bit that the plot was basically identical to Mistress of Mellyn. I did not read Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier until after discovering the Holt gothics, and Jane Eyre came next, which occurred when my mother noticed my absorption in the Holt novels. 
As far as my personal collection of Holt novels goes, I originally owned a number in mass-market paperback. After moving to the Adirondacks, I found lots of the hardcover originals at library book sales and bought them. 

The Legend of the Seventh Virgin, to my mind, is the best Holt novel. It is more creative generally, strays from the "formula," and mixes Cornish history with the modern-day tale. It was the one I forced my mother to read,  and she loved it.
Of course, Victoria Holt was the pen name of the prolific English author, Eleanor Burford Hibbert (1906-1993). Hibbert used many pseudonyms for the various genres she wrote in. (Jean Plaidy, Phillipa Carr, and others.) Hibbert's biography on Wikipedia is fascinating, particularly when one considers all she accomplished. Do check out the section "Writing Discipline." 
I never cared for the Phillipa Carr novels or the Jean Plaidy, despite the fact that I have always loved historical fiction. It was the style of those series that just didn't grab me.

Also on the bookshelf are a number of Mary Stewart's novels of romantic suspense, and a few of Phyllis Whitney's. I did not discover Whitney until my 20s, when I found them a good escape from the stresses of my teaching job. The best Phyllis Whitney romantic suspense novel in my opinion is The Winter People. (It was very hard to find a description online that fits the novel I know. Click on "more" to get the full blurb.) I read that for the first time just 12 years ago. Superb drama, superb suspense. A close second is Snowfire, which I read more recently and which I highly recommend. Not all of Whitney's novels are as interesting as these two, and, yes they are formulaic with one huge exception.
Whitney was obsessively particular about physically, personally immersing herself in the locale for each novel before setting pen to paper. Her settings are richly atmospheric, which as many of you know, is key for me.

Starting in the 1980s, the Holt books became romantic suspense novels set in exotic locales. I did not like them as well as the gothics and read only a couple.

By the way, I love some of the gothicky fiction that's been published since 2010, when the genre seemed to be making a sort of comeback. What I find most interesting in many of these novels is how they combine elements from lots of other genres to create completely satisfying fiction for people who have gothic blood running in their veins. The finest example I can think of is a standalone gothic thriller by Elli Griffiths, The Stranger Diaries (2019). I gave it five stars when I read it last year.


Friday, April 3, 2020

It's Friday--Where is My Post for Bookshelf Travelling?

I spent a minimum of two hours composing a post for Friday's Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times. It's not finished yet. I am determined to get it up on Saturday, however. Until then, hang on.
And Amazon sent me a book in two days' time this week!!
Evidently they have hired that 100,000 workers and are able to fill orders quickly for Prime members. Who knew? Things may change again, of course, at any time.