Sunday, October 15, 2017

Something on Sunday, 10/15

Jenny at Reading the End has been doing a 'Something on Sunday' event, where we post something good or inspiring.  It's been a pretty rotten week in the world outside, so we all probably need it.

I got all inspired this week with a quilt idea.  (I have a lot of quilt ideas.)  I belong to a quilting guild, and they have a challenge every two years.  This one starts in January and will have an animal theme.  I'm not much on animal sewing, but I have a brilliant idea for this one.  Hint: it will connect to this blog and my love of reading.  I can't wait to get started!

Another hint

This week I managed to kill my car battery by leaving the lights on (the weird part is that I didn't know they were on at all; it was the middle of the afternoon, I have no idea what they were doing on).  It was a hassle to get a jump, and I was feeling pretty dumb for killing the battery, but then this Toy Dolls song that I had never heard before came on my playlist and I laughed all the way home.  Play the first 30 seconds and see if you don't crack up too:

Less cheerfully, here in northern California we're all riveted by the fires in Sonoma County.  Stories and video are starting to come out, and it's horrific.  From what I hear, about 10% of the population of the county is now houseless.  It turns out that evacuation orders only went out over landlines, and people without them didn't get any warnings (keep your landline, people).  The fires moved so fast that many people only had a few minutes to get out, and a lot of them spent those minutes rousing neighbors instead of packing.  That part is pretty inspiring, even if the rest of it is awful.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Norse Mythology

Norse Mythology, by Neil Gaiman

Everybody went nuts over this book last year, and I finally got to it too.

I like Neil Gaiman, and I like Norse mythology, so I expected good things, and I got them!  This is a very nice retelling of the Norse myths; it's clear, it's exciting, and it's beautifully written, with just a hint of Gaiman's personality, but not so much that it overshadows the material and becomes annoying.  I mean, this could have been "Neil Gaiman Tells His Own Version of Norse Myths"  -- which would be fine except that the cover doesn't say that -- and it's not.  So, good job Neil.

I don't have a lot more to say -- I just liked this book quite a bit.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

November Events!

There are a couple of fun events coming up in November, and I plan to participate -- how about you?

Brona is hosting her annual AusNovember event, and she has a cool geography bingo theme -- go take a peek!  I'm going to commit to the easiest "Fly by night" level, which is all of one book.  I do have several Australian books on my wishlist, and I will probably read either Cloudstreet or A Descant for Gossips -- maybe even both!

Nonfiction November is a group-hosted event that has a new prompt every week. Check it out at JulzReadsLori at Emerald City Book Review will be posting for the 5th week!  I'll try to write a post for every week; it looks like it's going to be a lot of fun.

What do you think -- will you join me?

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

My Real Children

My Real Children, by Jo Walton

Patricia Cowan is very very old, and she lives in a nursing home.  It's 2015 and she's had a good long life, except that she has two sets of memories.  She remembers raising four children in an unhappy marriage with Mark, and being called Trish.  She remembers a happier life as Pat with Bee and three children.  Which is real?  Are they both real?  Is she switching universes?

Not only that, the world is different too.  The world with Mark in it is fairly peaceful and has moon bases, while the world with Bee has the occasional exchange of nuclear bombs.

In alternating chapters, we see both of Patricia's lives unfold.  (Honestly, it can be a little tricky to keep track of some characters!)  Which one is she, and can they both be true?

I was actually more gripped by this novel than I expected to be.  Sometimes I was a bit annoyed with it, but on the whole it really kept me interested and there was a lot to think about -- again, more than I had expected.  At the beginning, it reminded me just a little bit of Fire and Hemlock; I couldn't help wondering if Walton was a bit inspired by Polly's realization that she has two sets of memories.  The story goes in a completely different direction, but I did wonder if a few phrases were deliberate callbacks.

I am more interested now in reading further Jo Walton books, so that probably means that this novel was a success for me.


In other news, my state is on fire again, and it's really bad this time.  I don't live anywhere near Somona county, where it's the worst; that's where all the terrible news and pictures are coming from.  Here where I live, there have been three fires, and they have not been pleasant at all, but they are nowhere near the scale of Sonoma's.

If you're wondering why California suddenly seems to be on fire, it's because October is actually the most dangerous part of the fire season, and this year has been a bad one.  We had a good wet winter, so everything grew a lot and then dried out.  We don't really get rain again until winter, and in October we often get strong winds.  On Sunday, it was very windy indeed; I went for a lovely walk and enjoyed it, but by the evening several fires had been sparked and with the winds they grew quickly.  These fires are usually in hilly, brushy areas that are hard to get to.  This is the worst year since 1991, when the Oakland hills burned, and it may get even worse, as the Sonoma fires are not yet under control.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Boris Godounov

Boris Godounov, by Alexander Pushkin

A year or so ago, I was browsing in the used bookstore and found this great edition of Boris Godounov by Pushkin, illustrated by Zvorykin.  But it was kind of on the pricey side, so I thought I might get it later...and then of course it wasn't there any more, and I regretted everything.  But!  Then I started this volunteer job sorting used books for the library, and the very first thing that happened was that the same book came across the table!  So I finally got to read it, and for free too.  It turns out to have a companion volume of fairy tales, so I'd like to get that as well.

Boris Godounov is a play written in blank verse, but I think more people are familiar with it in the Mussorgsky opera based upon the play.  (Comment and tell me!)  It's a historical play, and I had to learn some Russian history before I could make head or tail of the story.  The quick version: Ivan IV (the Terrible) murdered his son and heir in a fit of temper, which posed a massive problem of succession, because his second son was "feeble" -- he couldn't really reign.  Ivan made Boris Godounov and a couple other boyars into a regency council, but pretty soon Godounov was reigning as tsar all by himself.  Ivan had also left a tiny son, Dmitri, who was not officially legitimate or in line for the throne, but he died at the age of ten, and his mother accused Boris Godounov of having the boy assassinated.  (Official cause of death: he cut his own throat during a seizure.  So you can see where people might be skeptical.)  This history sets the scene for the play.

At the opening of the play, Russia has no tsar; the feeble and childless Feodor has died and there is no heir.  A ruler must be elected, and Boris Godounov is an obvious choice, but he is publicly reluctant until compelled to accept the crown.  Now Boris is tsar, his son Feodor is tsarevich, and surely all will be well.  And so it is, pretty much, until a disgruntled young monk decides that he'd make a pretty good Dmitri, coming out of hiding and now old enough to be the rightful tsar.  All of Godounov's reprisals, punishments, and fighting avail him little; he dies of a stroke, his heir is murdered, and Dmitri is crowned tsar.

This is all history too; Boris Godounov really was succeeded by an impostor Dmitri.  And then another one, and then it was all a big mess for a few years (the Time of Troubles) until the Romanovs got started.

This edition of the play is beautifully illustrated by Boris Zvorykin in a beautiful, very intricate style.  It's clearly influenced by Bilibin, though to me it seems more florid; I must admit that I prefer Bilibin, but it's still a lot of fun to look at.  Some of the illustrations, especially the portrait of Godounov, recall Russian icons and evoke their remote mood.

I sure do wish I could read Russian well.  It's very nice to read Pushkin in English, but it would be an awful lot better in the original.

Now that I've read this play and figured out a little bit of  the history, I'm hoping to tackle the history of the Romanovs that has been sitting on my shelf.  It's huge and intimidating.  The number of huge and intimidating books of Russian history on my shelf is getting a little out of control, though, so I really need to work on actually reading them!  (I also have The House of the Dead, The End of Tsarist Russia, and Gulag.  And one on the Cold War.)

Monday, October 9, 2017

RIP XII: The Castle of Wolfenbach

The Castle of Wolfenbach, by Eliza Parsons

Here it is, the first Horrid Novel!  Eliza Parsons wrote it in 1793, just a few years into her career.  She wrote to support her family, and turned out 19 novels and a play in her 17 years as a writer.   This was a fun read, and I zoomed right through it (weeks ago now).  It starts off in the trackless forests of Germany, but ends up traveling all over the place, to France and England and Italy, and even further!

On a dark and stormy night, a poor German peasant couple receives an exhausted lady and her manservant.  They direct the lady to a nearby castle, but warn her that it is haunted!  She is undaunted, however, and when the groans and rattling chains start, she simply grabs the nearest candle and starts exploring.  Thus she meets a lady, secretly imprisoned, and as they become instant friends, they start to confide their stories to each other.  Our heroine is Matilda, escaping from the nefarious intentions of her guardian uncle (if he is her uncle at all).  The other lady plans to tell her story the next day, but instead she is abducted from her prison!  Matilda is bound to try to locate her despite the lack of all clues, while also still evading her own wicked uncle, so she heads off to Paris to find the lady's sister....and pretty soon everyone is rushing all over Europe!

Matilda is brave, sensible, and intelligent (if rather given to fainting later on in the story).  In fact nearly everybody is.  Not only that, this novel is not notably anti-Catholic!  Matilda heads off to a convent of her own free will, and everybody there is pretty nice.  The abbess isn't even a secret Protestant or anything.  There are relatively few villains: two evil men and two women, one spiteful and one simply foolish.  Even the Turkish pirate turns out to be a good man. 

So this was not nearly as bonkers as most Gothic novels.  I have a lot more respect for the author and her characters, but on the other's not as entertaining either.  I open a Gothic novel expecting ridiculous mayhem, and The Castle of Wolfenbach only sort of delivers that.  Still, it's a perfectly good read and quite fun, and at least your average English miss wouldn't have imbibed awful ideas about Catholics, or even French people, from it.

Here's a bit that really cracked me up -- just a musing on the foolish lady's character:
 That woman, thought he, has many amiable qualities, but she wants steadiness and respect for herself: an imbecility of mind makes her resign herself up to her passions, from the want of resolution or fortitude to subdue them; she has naturally a good and generous heart, but she is easily led aside by others more artful than herself.
I look forward to reading more Horrid Novels!

A side note: Gothic novels seem to be a little preoccupied with the name Matilda.  The daughter in Castle of Otranto: Matilda.  The acolyte/girlfriend/demon in The Monk: Matilda. Our heroine: Matilda.  Seems funny to me.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Mount TBR Checkpoint 3

Now I've been so lazy that I have a lot to do on the blog, as well as actually talk about the books I've been reading.  So let's get going already and see how Mount TBR is doing.  Bev says:

For those who would like to participate in this checkpoint post, I'd like you to do two things:

1. Tell us how many miles you've made it up your mountain (# of books read).  If you're really ambitious, you can do some intricate math and figure out how the number of books you've read correlates to actual miles up Pike's Peak, Mt. Ararat, etc. 

2. Complete ONE (or more if you like) of the following:
A. Who has been your favorite character so far? And tell us why, if you like.
B. Pair up two of your reads. But this time we're going for opposites. One book with a male protagonist and one with a female protagonist. One book with "Good" in the title and one with "Evil." Get creative and show off a couple of your books.
C. Which book (read so far) has been on your TBR mountain the longest? Was it worth the wait? Or is it possible you should have tackled it back when you first put it on the pile? Or tossed it off the edge without reading it all?
D. Choose 1-4 titles from your stacks and using a word from the title, do an image search.  Post the first all-eyes-friendly picture associated with that word.

I'm actually nearly to my goal of 24!  Here's my list:
  1.  They Walked Like Men, by Clifford Simak
  2. Dirt, ed. Mindy
  3. The Best of Leigh Brackett
  4. Shakespeare's Planet, by Clifford D. Simak
  5. The Broken Citadel, by Joyce Bellou Gregorian
  6. Castledown, by Joyce Bellou Gregorian
  7. Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston
  8. My Universities, by Maxim Gorky
  9. Germania, by Simon Winder
  10. The Heart of Mid-Lothian, by Sir Walter Scott
  11. Storm in the Village, by Miss Read
  12. Further Afield, by Miss Read 
  13. The Lottery, and Adventures of the Demon Lover, by Shirley Jackson 
  14. Steppenwolf, by Hermann Hesse
  15. The Histories, by Herodotus
  16.  Half a Crown, by Jo Walton
  17. The Foundation Pit, by Andrei Platonov
  18. The Long Earth, by Pratchett and Baxter
  19. The Go-Between, by L. P. Hartley
  20. Marie Grubbe, by J. P. Jacobsen 
  21.  My Real Children, by Jo Walton
  22. The Treasure of the City of Ladies, by Christine de Pisan
  23. The Castle of Wolfenbach, by Eliza Parsons
I haven't actually written about those last three yet, oops.

I'm going to do option D, but since the first images of my search were usually boring, I decided to choose the first interesting images. 

Half a crown

Castle of Wolfenbach


Treasure of the City of Ladies

I'm pleased that I've nearly hit 24 titles, but I hope to do more.  Of course, my TBR pile is larger now than it was in January!  Now that I sort book donations once a week, free books are pouring in much too fast, and I have to be careful or I'll suffocate under a pile of old books.  I even went so far the other day as to actually get rid of some of the books on my TBR pile.  Desperate times...

Sunday post #2

I still seem to be in a posting slump, but I am reading more, so, progress!  You may recall that Jenny at Reading the End is running a weekly event where we share good things about the week.

We've had some very good news this week, as my husband received and accepted a job offer that he is pretty excited about.  That has been a huge relief.

Right now, something that is bringing me joy is that my 14-year-old's two friends are here.  They are sisters, and make an adorable little trio with my daughter.  They used to get together often, but the family moved away over a year ago.  So we were thrilled when they showed up this weekend!  The girls have been having a great time all day and we took them out for lunch.  It's not a big special event, just a sweet reunion for them.

And one more fun thing that I just now thought to include: I took a backwards bicycle ride on Thursday!  I went to pick up a kid and found a guy riding what can only be described as a pushmipullyu bike; it carries two people and one rides backwards.  Each person has to pedal to make it go.  The gear and chain setup is a little complex, and crosses in the middle. 

Riding backwards is fairly terrifying, but it was a lot of fun.  It's especially scary while making turns, if you're going fast enough to lean over.  It doesn't feel at all right to lean over to the right, backwards, while the lead rider turns left.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Something on Sundays

It must be admitted that I've been in a slump, and not just in the reading and blogging realm.  Things have been a little tough all 'round.  Jenny at Reading the End has noticed that a lot of bloggers are feeling this way  -- possibly disasters, politics, and the disaster of politics has something to do with this -- so she decided to ask people to post "something on Sundays:"
The only guidelines are that you write about something that kept you on your feet that week, whether that’s a person that inspired you, an action you took that you’re proud of, a book or movie or TV show that nourished your heart, a self-care strategy that worked for you, a goofy event or moment that brought you joy. Whatever it is, every Sunday, I want you to tell me something that matters to you. If you don’t have enough energy for a post, tweet it at me (you can use the hashtag #SomethingonSunday).
So here we go.  This week I finally started doing some sewing again.  Years ago, when I had just one little baby, I took a class at the quilt shop and made this fun batik thing with a moon and stars on it.  I couldn't think of how to quilt it, so I put it on a shelf and left it for a long time.  Over the summer when I was clearing things out, I came across it at the same time as a large piece of batik, and I finally realized that it would make a great back.  So I pieced together a batt (out of the large bag of big batting scraps), and now I am quilting it -- all without going shopping.  My 14-year-old promptly fell in love with it and wants it on her bed.


So that's my thing I did this week to get myself going.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Young Ardizzone

The Young Ardizzone, by Edward Ardizzone

I shall now dip my toes back into book blogging with a delightful little volume -- Edward Ardizzone's memoir of his younger years.  I grew up on Ardizzone illustrations, what with Little Tim picture books* and The Little Bookroom.  When Lori mentioned this volume in her post about Slightly Foxed Editions, it promptly went on my wishlist...but they're only available in the UK.  Happily, my mom went on a trip to London in June (she accompanied my brother and his family, and thus saw a lot of Harry Potter attractions!) and she went armed with instructions to hunt down a couple of these.

Edward Ardizzone was actually born in what is now Vietnam, in Hai Phong.  His father was Italian and French, and his mother British, and Ardizzone says they were each very good people, but totally unsuited to each other, and so they frequently lived apart.  His mother took them to England when he was five, and they lived a somewhat unsettled existence -- sometimes with their grandmother, and moving every so often -- probably much like many other middle-class colonial families of the time.

Ardizzone was known as Ted, and he candidly says that he was the kind of boy who was an obvious target for bullies.  Teachers did not like him and school was frequently a torment, or at best no fun at all.  Nevertheless, many other things were good, and he writes about childhood in Edwardian England in wonderful detail.  He has adventures with his siblings, cousins and best friend, exploring the docks and surrounding countryside.

Naturally, the book is profusely illustrated!  They really bring the little stories and vignettes to life.

I couldn't help but love this memoir.  I feel lucky that I was able to get hold of a copy!

*I have collected some Little Tim books, but not all of them.  So if you know which one is the one where the first mate spends the whole time moaning "Doooom!" from his cabin, please let me know because I can't find it.