Translated from Catalan by Maruza Relaño and Martha Tennent, 2016
This is the problem of human freedom: as soon as an individual believes he has attained it, the first thing he does is concentrate on eliminating his congeners. Order is reestablished when another person takes his life; almost without exception, order entails repressing the appetite for crime by committing another crime. That is why, more than anything else, war is the simultaneous fulfillment of the desire to kill accrued to all the individuals of a generation. A moment of collective deliverance, an enormous, devastating sigh exhaled from the depths of the souls of victims and executioners alike.
It is hard at first to know how to categorize Blood Crime. Is it a thriller, a vampire story, historical fiction, a war novel? It is all of these things, and so it is ultimately a horror novel of the most serious sort: a literary indictment of man’s capacity for evil.
Blood Crime is set in the opening months of Spain’s Civil War, focused on Barcelona and the horrors perpetrated there. Against a backdrop of bombings and political intrigues and murders–or massacres–a crime is committed that stands out even amid war’s horrors. An old priest and a young boy are both brutally murdered and drained of their blood. There are those who believe it to be the work of a monster, a vampire. And those who cannot believe, for there are already too many things too terrible to comprehend, how to add one more?
But fantasy monsters of various types and stripes linger, echoes of Dracula and Frankenstein, Gothic terrors, whose horrors become tame in comparison of the depravity of the minds of men–depravities justified in the name of War and Power.
Freedom, courage, and boldness, went the song, and it sounded like sarcasm to Brother Darder. Though, come to think of it, was was a colossal macabre joke. Brothers sacrificing brothers, parents informing on children, and children killing parents or having them killed; merchants of misery and whoremasters of death, gossipmongers of crime and peddlers of depravation. (Part 3)
There are glimpses of light throughout, however. The Mother Abbess’s tender concern for Sister Concepció, a young novice tormented in mind and spirit by the war and an impossible request, and with a looming danger she isn’t even aware of. Though the darkness closes in, both Sister Concepció’s very youth and the compulsion of those around her to protect her provide hope. There is the belief that man can effect positive change–despite war’s evidence to the contrary–championed by both Judge Carbonissa and Doctor Pellicer. The steady moral principles of Superintendent Muñoz, even in the face of unbeatable odds. These and other examples combine to bring a bit of uplift to an otherwise dark story. And in turn hope, that no matter how monstrous a person may turn, there will be those fighting against such monstrosity.
I do so like even-numbered years. There’s just something pleasing about the symmetry of a number divisible by two. (Not that I necessarily dislike odd numbers—I’m rather fond of nine, actually. But then again, it’s a perfect cube…) And, although I find I’m customarily optimistic at the start of a new year—it’s like opening a new notebook to that first fresh, clean, page—I still can’t help but think that 2018 is going to be a good year. It just feels that way.
As I was trying to get started here, though, I was actually poking around in last New Year’s post, and found I want to quote myself from last year:
I know many people are happy to see 2016 gone. It wasn’t kind to many of us[…]. Personally, however, I don’t believe it was quite the worst year I’ve had, as despite the negatives–and there were plenty–there were plenty of positives as well. And while there may be reasons to be concerned about what 2017 may bring, I find that I’m an optimist at heart, and have observed that although at times life may seem bleak, if we look hard enough we may find something to hearten us. While I don’t believe that it is wise to hide ourselves away from negative news, nor do I think it is healthy to focus solely on what distresses us, but better to look for the good as well and for what we may do, no matter how small. At unexpected times, I was reminded last year of how something as simple as a smile or holding out a hand to another can uplift someone when they are feeling down. And while I will lay out plans and goals for the coming year below, if I can just remember this, if I can endeavor to be always kind, even to those I dislike or cannot trust, then I will have accomplished something more meaningful than plowing through a list of books.
In many ways this still holds true—2017 wasn’t great, at least not for many people around me, but for me at least there were still many high points and experiences, from goals met to work accomplishments to new skills learned (Pottery! Can I tell you how excited I was the first time I successfully threw a bowl on the wheel? 🙂 ).
Of course, most of the goals met were work-related. Which I guess is still something, but I didn’t do as well with the goals I laid out here last January:
Deal Me In – lasted about a month and a half. Although it was nice to actually read some short stories for a change of pace.
Back to the Classics – big fail. Only read two books and didn’t blog about either.
Yeah, no, I didn’t read 8 titles from my Classics Club list. Only two, and I didn’t write about either. Whoops.
I DID read two recent works in translation (Zlata’s Diary and Blood Crime), but didn’t write about either. (Yet—there’s still hope for Blood Crime, since I just finished it.)
I only made it to 24 finished books instead of the goal of 26, but that’s right around where I usually fall—and I had a couple reading slumps this year—so I’m not really disappointed by that.
And of course, as already mentioned, I did NOT do a good job of writing about my reading in 2017. I really hope to improve upon that this year.
Outside of reading, I did much better:
I learned how to use many more of the settings on my camera, from adjusting aperture to shutter speed to a simple trick for cutting down the harshness of the on-camera flash (hold a tissue in front of it – it works!) Now it’s just a matter of practice, practice, practice.
I blew past my knitting goal (3 decent-sized projects)–I think I know where my reading time went!
I didn’t spend much time on Spanish so…oops.
And I didn’t go through all my various folders of papers, papers, papers. Another year. This year?
As far as the reading I did do, nothing really jumps out for highlights. There were a lot of rereads—among them, I finally started in on a reread of the Harry Potter series (I’ve been thinking about this for years), and I finished a reread of the first three books in the Raven Cycle before I read the final book in the series. There were a lot of fairy-tales, including many—many—versions of Beauty and the Beast. It turns out there can be too much of a good thing…
I did, for the first time ever, successfully read the entire Bible in a single calendar year. Although I wasn’t reading it as literature per se, there were a few “literary” highlights that jumped out: On finishing I Samuel, the thought that sprang to mind was that it really read as quite the action adventure story (Saul v David – plenty of intrigue and excitement!). Also, the introduction to the book of Ruth in the Norton Critical Edition I have highly praised its literary merits—for its tight structure, especially.
I also read The Epic of Gilgamesh, which was good–but I read it in a prose edition, and really want to reread it in a poetic translation (which is why I haven’t written anything about it, actually.) And there were a few other new-to-me books – the above mentioned translations, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Mary Barton [Classics Spin selection which I’m about 1/3 away from finishing], ‘Salem’s Lot – but nothing really jumps out.
So that’s my reading goal for 2018: read great books. Not just books I love or enjoy or comfort reads, but GREAT BOOKS. I ended 2016 with a couple, but it just didn’t happen in 2017. So no grand reading plans–short of the 2018 TBR Pile Challenge–I don’t have any set lists or goals. No numbers to reach. No challenges to hit. Just find and read really good books, books that won’t leave me alone after I finish them, books that will reward reread after reread. (Oh, and write about them here.)
I’m open to participating in other’s one- or two-month long events, but that’s about it. I’ve mentioned it here previously, but I won’t be hosting a Classic Children’s Literature Event this year. However, if you’re interested, I’m reading A Wrinkle in Time to start the year – I’m planning on posting on January 28th, so if you want to participate in a really informal RAL, please feel free to join right in!
Outside of reading, I’m limiting my goals as well. This year is one I want to make more about being deliberate: with how I spend my time, in what I acquire (or get rid of), in what I create, in what I read. And it is a year when I want to focus on finishing: all those many projects and lists I feel are constantly hanging over my head. These aren’t specific goals, I know. Which makes them hard to measure. (Though, truthfully, if I have fewer projects on my to-do-list at the end of the year than I do at the start, that would be an acceptable measurement.) But right now those ideas–being deliberate, focusing on finishing–are where I’m feeling drawn to focus. Fortunately, my TBR pile qualifies as a very deliberate list to finish…!
All hail to the days that merit more praise
Than all the rest of the year,
And welcome the nights that double delights
As well for the poor as the peer!
Good fortune attend each merry man’s friend
That doth but the best that he may,
Forgetting old wrongs with carols and songs
To drive the cold winter away.
Tis ill for a mind to anger inclined
To think of small injuries now,
If wrath be to seek, do not lend her your cheek
Nor let her inhabit thy brow.
Cross out of thy books malevolent looks,
Both beauty and youth’s decay,
And wholly consort with mirth and sport
To drive the cold winter away.
This time of the year is spent in good cheer
And neighbours together do meet,
To sit by the fire, with friendly desire,
Each other in love to greet.
Old grudges forgot are put in the pot,
All sorrows aside they lay,
The old and the young doth carol this song,
To drive the cold winter away.
When Christmas’s tide comes in a like a bride,
With holly and ivy clad,
Twelve days in the year much mirth and good cheer
In every household is had.
The country guise is then to devise
Some gambols of Christmas play,
Whereat the young men do the best that they can
To drive the cold winter away
So…I did okay in 2016 with the Back to the Classics reading, I just didn’t post on most of the books. And in 2017. Whoops. I guess I read two or three books that qualified, but, again, didn’t write about any. So I wasn’t going to sign up for this (or really any year-long challenge except the TBR challenge)–but–when I looked over my TBR list, I realized that if I finish all my TBR Challenge books I will have completed the basic level (6/12 books) for this challenge. And if I read the two alternates, I will be 1 away from the middle level (9/12). So…third time’s the charm?
1. A 19th century classic
2. A 20th century classic
3. A classic by a woman author
4. A classic in translation
5. A children’s classic
6. A classic crime story, fiction or non-fiction
7. A classic travel or journey narrative, fiction or non-fiction
8. A classic with a single-word title
9. A classic with a color in the title
10. A classic by an author that’s new to you
11. A classic that scares you
12. Re-read a favorite classic
I will admit, even assuming success with the TBR list, I may not get much further–there are a few categories I’m not sure at this moment what I’d do with, especially if I try to stick with books off my own shelves. At least there’s plenty of time to decide!
Thanks again to Karen for hosting. Now what to read first…?
This year I’ll read these. No really, I mean it this time.
Ha! I always have such great reading plans, and usually derail somewhere along the way. But I also have so many books on my shelves I really do want to read (or finally get around to rereading). And it’s always tempting to sign up for TBR challenges, although I’ve yet to successfully complete one.
Adam’s (Roof Beam Reader) is both the most tempting to me (only twelve books!) and most difficult (but I have to pick them in advance!). Especially keeping in mind that twelve books is often about half of my reading for a year. (Too many interests, too little time…) It really took me a long time to decide to attempt the 2018 TBR challenge for this very reason–I’ve learned from experience that I need to have flexibility in my reading plans so that I can either follow a thread of interest (2017’s Beauty and the Beast rabbit hole for example) or impromptu join in a reading event. But the longer I thought about it, the longer my “I intend to read this next year anyways” list grew…so here we go!
1. A Wrinkle in Time
2. A Wind in the Door
3. A Swiftly Tilting Planet
4. Many Waters
5. An Acceptable Time
I’ve already said that I intend to read a lot of Madeleine L’Engle next year, and I’m definitely starting with A Wrinkle in Time. The whole Time Quintet box set has been sitting on my shelves too long unread, so this year–regardless of what else may happen with this list–I WILL read these!
6. Lady Susan
I picked this up to read in October, and it didn’t happen, but it still sits patiently on my TBR pile. (I might even read the starts of Sanditon and The Watsons too, but it’s a bit of a letdown to read an unfinished story, so perhaps not.)
7. The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes
This is the last Holmes book I have to read and I had intended to in 2017, so…it’s time.
8. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell
This has been on my shelf forever. I’m sure I’ll like it. I don’t know why I haven’t picked it up; mostly I think I forget I have it. Let’s make 2018 the year!
9. The Farm
A classic by an Ohio-native author, I’ve been wanting to read this since I started my Ohio reading project a few years back, but somehow other Ohioans kept jumping ahead. If I get this read, I’ll have to make a field-trip to Bromfield’s Malibar Farm, too.
10. The Warden
I’ve never read any Trollope, though I’ve watched any number of TV mini-series adaptations of his novels. I’ve been itching to get back to Victorian writers, and this seems a good place to start.
11. The Secret of Lost Things
One of a small number of books in the “get it read so you can (likely) get rid of it” pile – I’ve been trying to read and relocate at least one a year (in 2017 it was ‘Salem’s Lot which has been passed on to my brother), and 2018 is The Secret of Lost Things‘ year.
12. The Sound and the Fury
I started this. Loved what I read. And it got re-lost on my bookshelf when something else snuck in ahead of it. Not this year!
It was hard to decide which two books to list as alternates instead of on the main list, but here’s another two Victorians that I’ve had around for years and put on so many to-read-this-year lists it’s not even funny. Actually I’m hoping to read these on top of all the above 12. What’s life without a little over-ambition?!
13. The Woman in White
I’ve seen plenty of other lists around, so I know I’m in good company. Good luck and happy reading!
It’s inevitable – no matter how lousy the reading’s been, no matter how many books are currently in the TBR stack next to my reading chair – come December (if not earlier), I’m thinking about the next year. What wondrous reading will be then? Admit it – you do it too. All those lovely end-of-year lists/goals/dreams. Truly, one of the highlights of December for me! (Can you tell I’m a planner/list-maker?)
So yes, I already have a pretty good idea of what I’m planning on for next year. And while I usually wait to share until either a) I’m signing up for a challenge I likely won’t actually complete or b) my end of year post, I thought there was one plan that I should mention early. Actually, a non-plan as well: I currently have no plans to continue the Children’s Classic Literature Event for a sixth year. If anyone else wants to host a similar event, please feel free (and I may even read along), but I won’t be hosting one.
However. I am planning some Madeline L’Engle reading for next year, starting with a reread of A Wrinkle in Time. Yes, of course this is because of the upcoming film adaptation. And the fact that I asked for and received a box set of the Time Quintet books several years ago and still haven’t (re)read them. And then I thought, “hey, there’s a movie coming out–maybe I’m not the only one who wants to (re)read this?” So let me know if you think you might want to read along – if there’s enough interest in a A Wrinkle in Time RAL prior to the March release (I’m thinking January), I’d be willing to host. Alternatively, if there’s already a RAL planned/running, please point me that direction as I haven’t found it yet!
The first miracle was this: making the darkness visible.
Sadness is a little like darkness. They both begin in the same way. A tiny, thin pool of uneasiness settles in the bottom of the gut. Sadness simmers fast and boils hard and then billows up and out, filling first the stomach, then heart, then lungs, then legs, then arms, then up into the throat, then pressing against eardrums, then swelling against skull and eventually spilling out of eyes in a hissing release. Darkness, though, grows like a cave formation. Slow drips from the uneasiness harden over the surface of a slick knob of pain. Over time, the darkness crusts in unpredictable layers, growing at such a pace that one doesn’t notice it has filled every cavern under the skin until movement becomes difficult or even impossible.
Darkness never boils over. Darkness remains inside. (Ch. 4)
All the Crooked Saints
When I first heard about All the Crooked Saints, I didn’t think I would rush out to read it when it came out; something about the description failed to grab me. But as it grew closer to publication date, and seeing more about it online, I decided to place a hold at the library and a short time after its release I had it in my hands. It turned out, for various reasons, to be the perfect book at just that time.
Set in 1960s Colorado, All the Crooked Saints is the story of the Soria family, some of whose members can perform the miracle of giving physical shape to another’s darkness. That person must then complete the hard work of overcoming the darkness for themselves, and a Soria must never help—for then their own darkness will be made manifest, and a Soria’s darkness is said to be greater than any other’s.
Although it is not a very long book (around 300 pages if I recall correctly), it is even lighter on plot, with a story spanning only a few short days. But with a wide and varied cast of characters, it is more intent on their inner lives and the desolate, but beautiful, landscape that surrounds them. Each character carries some sort of “darkness,”—either of their own making or of external forces (or a combination of both)—whether or not it has been made manifest for all to see. Just as the physical form of the darkness prevents the pilgrim from leaving the confines of the Soria compound, so their previous internal darkness prevented them from leaving some hinderance behind, from moving forward. Although at times the point seemed overly-direct, All the Crooked Saints is Steifvater’s metaphor for how she feels we should all approach our own inner demons, with hard work that ultimately only we can solve, not anyone around us, a message no less true for its directness. And ultimately it is also a story about hope, something that is so easy to lose when all of the news and social media around us seem to want to inspire us to despair instead.
Her dress was wet, and so was her skin. This was because, despite the porch roof, it was raining on her. Rain originated from nowhere and spattered on her hair and face and shoulders and clothing, then ran off the stairs and formed a fast-running rivulet into the brush. Every part of her dress was covered with monarch butterflies, their orange-and-black stained-glass wings likewise soaked. They clung to her, unable to do anything but slowly move their wings or climb across the fabric. (Ch 3)
Unlike her previous novels, All the Crooked Saints departs from Stiefvater’s beloved Celtic mythology in favor of Mexican folklore, and also sets aside her more familiar fantasy techniques for the realm of magical realism, stretching and straining the bounds of reality in such a matter-of-fact way, that even the more surprising of the miracles seem natural. The previous Stiefvater fiction I’ve read has always remained so grounded in the familiar world, however, that this doesn’t feel so great of a departure, and at times, it seemed to me less “magical realism” and more “tall tale” – prompting me to wonder, what the bounds are of each? A line of investigation, if my library pile weren’t pointedly reminding me of other obligations, I would follow up on sooner rather than later.