Completed: The Scorprio Races

Cover - Scorpio Races

The Scorpio Races
Maggie Stiefvater
2011, U.S.

“Fifty years ago, it was a man they killed up there, just like every year before. The man who will not ride.”

“Why?” I demanded.

Her voice is bored; there’s a real answer, possibly, but she’s not interested in knowing it. “Because men like to kill things. Good thing they stopped. We’d run out of men.”

“Because,” cuts in a voice that I recognize instantly, “if you feed the island blood before the race, maybe she won’t take as much during it.”

This wasn’t the title that I had in mind when I decided to participate in this year’s Once Upon a Time challenge, but it was the one that somehow managed to make its way home with me from the library–and more importantly, get read. I’ve read several of Stiefvater’s books now (the first three books in the Raven Cycle plus this), and she seems to write just the sort of thing I can’t resist. I saw a list–I don’t remember where now–of books from she read growing up that she recommended to her fans for when they run out of her books to read. So many of them–The Dark is Rising series, Arthurian mythology, among others–were stories I either loved growing up or have (belatedly) discovered since. No wonder I am drawn to these.

The Scorpio Races introduced me to a myth I was not previously familiar with (reminding me I still want to read more Celtic mythology), that of the water horse, or capall uisce (or glashtin, capall uisge, cabyll ushtey, aughisky, each uisge, or kepie according to which mythology/language is being referenced), a flesh-eating November-associated, ocean horse. In Stiefvater’s version, the island men race these dangerous creatures each November–and more than one man is almost certain to die. This race is the background for the novel, which focuses on two young people, Sean, a multi-year champion of the races who seems to be one of the only to understand the wild horses, and Kate (or “Puck”), who, out of desperation enters the race–the first woman to do so, a grave challenge to convention, but also a grave risk to her life. Although I suppose I could say that the story is largely plot-based it also focuses much on the characters, specifically Sean and Puck, who both narrate the story. They both have desires and dreams, and it is really their chase after these that forms the heart of the novel; the climatic race is just the means by which they hope to achieve them.

As with the other Stiefvater novels I’ve read, I was completely pulled in by the story–by the magic, of her words, of the horses, of the setting. The Thisby of the novel reminded me of the descriptions of the remote Shetland islands in Ann Clevees’ Raven Black. As I turned the last pages, I found I was reluctant to leave Thisby–and its dangerous, magical horses–behind.

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Midweek Musings

The 21st of May. How is it the 21st of May already? I feel fairly certain it should only be April. Like April 3rd. The spring seems to have entirely gotten away from me this year, and most dispiritingly, I’m not sure why or where. Have I really been doing that awful of a job of paying attention to the passing of time?

The number of renewals on my library card–the library must surely regret upping the renewal limit to twenty–suggest that I’ve been tossing aside time cavalierly, as if it’s of no matter. I don’t even believe I can blame that constant scapegoat, work, as outside of the previous week, I’ve not really put in much in the way of extra hours. No, it all comes down to me.

And it’s really just a matter of taking time. Of where I place it. How I manage it.

This is, I suppose, primarily about my reading. I’ve certainly found time for other things–I have a lovely new, very warm knitted scarf (that I, per usual, finished just in time for spring…), I’m actually caught up on DVR (even as I wonder why I watch so many things). And there’s been work and family things of course. By work, I don’t mean just work hours, no, I mean work events: the grill out for the departing intern, bike-to-work day. This last required much biking beforehand to get anywhere close to being ready–I work with people who train for triathlons–including one woman who’s run at least two (three?) iron-man distance races. I was definitely the slow one! (We met up at a trailhead about 8 miles from the office and were able to ride a rails-to-trails bike/walking path almost all the way to the office.)

But this week I’ve been off (lovely, glorious “staycation”), and along with other miscellaneous odds ‘n’ ends, I’ve been reading. Finally.

I was supposed to read The Piazza Tales for the latest Classics Club spin (by May 15), but have only made it through two, “The Piazza” and “Bartleby, the Scrivener.” Perhaps I’m just out of practice at reading 19th century American authors, but Melville is making me feel rather like I can’t really read and should just shelve the grown-up books and stick with kid’s lit. Thanks a lot Melville.

Fortunately, I had also signed up for the Beowulf read-along hosted by Cleo at Classical Carousel. I started it yesterday morning, and after only a few hours I’m at the 2/3 mark. Thank you, Ancient Epic Poem for restoring my faith in my ability to read above a 3rd grade level! I’m not participating properly, as we’re supposed to read a section a week and comment on it, but I will be good and post my overall thoughts on time. Especially since I think I’ll finish it today.

Of course, now I’m not sure what I’ll read next. I’ve found the downside of not having any specific reading goals or plans–too many choices and not enough direction! I think I’d better go for something off my bookshelves…. Or perhaps another Classics Club book to make some more progress. Any recommendations off my list?

Classics Spin 9

Question Mark - cover place holder

It’s been a long while since I participated in a Classics Club spin, and I’d been thinking recently that it would be nice if they hosted another one–let someone else decide what I’m reading! As I’ve done in the past, I used a random number generator to make my picks, which led to quite an interesting–and intimidating!–list, I think. Good thing I only have to read one of these. (Fingers crossed it’s not one of the really long ones!)

1. Morrison, Toni: The Bluest Eye (1970)
2. Melville, Herman: The Piazza Tales (1856)
3. Jackson, Shirley: The Haunting of Hill House (1959)
4. Dickens, Charles: Bleak House (1853)
5. Camões, Luís Vaz de: The Lusiad (1572)
6. Ford, Ford Madox: Parade’s End (1928)
7. Swift, Jonathan: Gulliver’s Travels (1726)
8. Atwood, Margaret: The Handmaid’s Tale (1985)
9. Tomasi di Lampedusa, Giuseppe: The Leopard [Il Gattopardo] (1958)
10. Steinbeck, John: East of Eden (1952)
11. Asimov, Isaac: Foundation Trilogy (1951-53)
12. Hugo, Victor: Les Misérables (1862)
13. Tolstoy, Leo: War and Peace (1869)
14. Huxley, Aldous: Brave New World (1932)
15. Marías, Javier: All Souls [Todas las almas] (1987)
16. Kafka, Franz: “Metamorphosis” (1915) and The Trial (1925)
17. Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan: The Valley of Fear (1915, Scotland)
18. Verne, Jules: Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870)
19. Collins, Wilkie: The Woman in White (1860)
20. Vargas Llosa, Mario: The Feast of the Goat [La fiesta del chivo] (2000)

The Classics Salon 1

About a week ago, Saari of the blog Mangoes and Cherry Blossoms posted on her idea to begin a Classics Salon as a way for readers of classics to gather and chat, with the discussion prompted by a rotating series of questions that should apply to any books we’ve been reading, whether finished or not. I love this idea–for the relaxed nature, the allowance for the reader to be in the middle of something that makes it easy to participate, and it just seems so inspirational to me–Saari makes me want to get back to more serious reading. (Really, this slump has to end sometime…..)

I’m a day late this week–yesterday was a bit busy–, but I did want to participate.

What are your first impressions of the current classic you are reading?

Ah, I can’t really answer this about my current reading–all of the books I’m currently reading are either too new to be classics or rereads. Ahem. So I’ll go back to the last two, both of which I read (and blogged about) in January.

Treasure Island was in a sense a reread–my mom had read it to my brother and me when we were little. But I’d never read it for myself and didn’t remember much of the plot at all. I was surprised at how much time was spent early in the novel just getting to sea. With a title like “Treasure Island,” I would almost expect–and it would certainly be true, I think, of more recent novels–that the narrator/protagonist would be at sea almost in the first chapter. Mustn’t wait too long to get to the heart of the matter! But Stevenson knew his story–the adventure and suspense were there from the first page, and the background he set up in the opening part would prove to set the stage for the later sections of the novel.

What is interseting about this question–which I realize when I’m looking back at books I’ve already finished–is that word “first.” My first and last impressions of Pinocchio, another January read, were, I realize now, completely different. The first, though, what was my first impression…? I knew that it would not be like the Disney movie before I ever picked it up. Only a few chapters in, it seemed that it was a comedy. I recall–have in my notes–the fight between maestri Anotnio and Geppetto–they seemed like little kids in their behavior. And when Pinocchio ran away from Geppetto after first learning to walk, I thought that perhaps I was reading a picaresque novel. These were my first impressions. But as I said, I had a different view of the book by the end–where Treasure Island was consistent throughout, Pinocchio proved to be a much more complex novel. It’s interesting to contemplate how sometimes our first impressions can be spot on, but other times they are compelled by experience to change.

Thanks to Saari for hosting the Classics Salon! Check out her blog for her and others’ posts.

Week’s End Notes (24) – Once Upon a Time

 Once Upon a Time IX 

I’ve been in the midst of quite a reading/blogging slump lately. Part work (super-busy until about two weeks ago), part weather (just…winter…), part not quite finding the right book, part other distractions. I’ve only finished one book since January (The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper), but I recently started rereading Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, and I think that’s going to be just the thing. I’ve been missing 19th century lit, and didn’t even know it.

There’s also been the persistent idea worrying away at the back of my brain that I want to read some fairy tales, or adaptations. Maybe some writing about fairy tales. Something, I’m not sure just quite what yet. And when I saw–and I confess, I had completely forgotten that it would be coming soon–that Carl is hosting yet another edition of his “Once Upon a Time” event, it seemed that I simply must poke my head back in here and participate. Carl’s events are always fun (the number 1 and 2 rules), they don’t require much–one book is participating–and with the arrival of spring–actually here on time this year!–it seems the timing just right.

Now…what to read?

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