Looking Back, Looking Forward (Yet Again)

JANUS  (from Vatican Collection)Photo Credit

I’ve used this photo before, but it seems so appropriate to this time of year. January is well named, indeed!

It’s been an interesting year, and in many ways an unexpected year. I had no expectation at the start of the year that I would finally have a new job, especially quite so quickly or easily. And it’s proven to be a wonderful place to work. The only downside remains the drive, but I’m sort of used to it. At least it’s a pretty one.

There have been some not-so-great parts of the year in terms of friends and family health issues, but we are all thankful for what we have, and for those who are still with us. And hopefully 2014 will be better–my mom has this crackpot theory that even-numbered years are better than odd-numbered! (Not to mention, any year not ending in ’13’ has to be an improvement… 😉 )

As far as reading, I can assess my year a bit quantitatively. I made a list of goals last year–more as guidelines than anything I actually expected to meet. However, I feel like I did pretty well, especially considering I hadn’t expected a job that would take up so much time!

  • I aimed for 26 books read–I only made 21, (err…20, one of those was a short story), but I’m in the middle of three.
  • I didn’t manage to read a book in Spanish. Alas. But I read a few pages, was surprised at how relatively easy it was (vs. my expectations), and I’ve been working on bringing back my Spanish vocab outside of reading. I’d make the same goal for 2014, except I don’t think I’ll have time. But I’m going to keep poking away at the general vocab.
  • I successfully completed not one but two challenges in their appropriate time-frame! The first was Venice in February, the second Austen in August.
  • I didn’t manage a book for all of my project lists, but I did make it through two from both Sensation! and Mysteries & Detective Fiction and a play from Shakespeare & Co. I’m also partway through Mansfield Park, which is on Realists and Romantics.
  • My non-bookish project finishing goal–major fail. I only finished two projects in my basket. I’m not worried about that, though. I’ve decided I’d rather just take my time and finish as I get to things. More relaxing that way.
  • And an even worse failure: my Cinematic Treasures project. I didn’t watch a thing. I didn’t watch too many films at all in 2013, actually.
  • I only read 6 books from my Classics Club list. No, wait–I read SIX books from my Classics Club list! Four of those would be in my top reads for the year…
  • And I only managed two books from Adam’s 2013 TBR Challenge. I guess I didn’t do a very good job of selecting books I would actually read this year. I’d say that this means there’s a reason these books are still unread, but actually it doesn’t. I have a very loooooong list of books to read.

Now, as to what I did read. Two themes seem to have unexpectedly crept into my 2013 reading: YA fiction and fiction touching on social (specifically economic) issues. Neither was planned, but interestingly they overlap rather well. Perhaps what this actually means is that economics (and poverty) have such a great impact that much of fiction touches on it in some manner, and I just happened to notice it this year. The poverty and desperation of District 12 that shaped Katniss’s actions in The Hunger Games and the popular uprising across the series. The proud poverty of the Bundren clan in As I Lay Dying. The uncomfortable truths of how poverty and wealth shape our interactions in The Casual Vacancy. Even in Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys and The Dream Thieves, books ostensibly more about fantasy-adventure-romance than economics, venture into this territory with one character trying desperately to escape poverty on his own terms and another uneasy with his one wealth, conscious of the separation it can create between him and others.

Of course, there were other books as well–mysteries, children’s classics a couple non-fiction titles. Glancing down the list I seem to have read about evenly books by female and male authors (helps when one reads a series by a woman). Not a single book was in translation, however, as every book completed was either from the U.S. or Britain (and one I’m in the middle of from Canada). Assuming I actually read the Tolstoy I’m planning on, that will be improved next year!

As for my top reads for the year–a nebulous concept made up more of enjoyment and whim than anything–other than the first, in no particular order:

  • As I Lay Dying – while not my most enjoyable read, definitely the best book I read all year.
  • Little Women, Part 1 – A promising start to the year, a delightful return to childhood .
  • The Hound of the Baskervilles – I enjoyed it so much that I’m already contemplating a reread
  • The Casual Vacancy – For what it made me think about, and how it directed my thoughts on many of the other books I read this year
  • The Raven Boys & The Dream Thieves – The two books I most purely enjoyed this year. As book bloggers I think we can sometimes get caught up in reading to find something to blog about that we may forget that sometimes a book is just something to be enjoyed. Also, now I want to read mythologies from the British Isles and reread Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising series…maybe 2015?

And what of next year? I know enough to know that I really can’t say. My goals aren’t so rigorous as last year; I have joined only one challenge. But such as they are:

  • To participate in The Classics Club’s Jan. 4th readathon–a fun way to start of the reading year.
  • To have fun reading as many children’s classics as possible in January. The must-read is The Wizard of Oz, but I should also a least have a post on Anne of Green Gables and a book with an Ohio link.  (It’s a tease–I’m not going to tell you what yet!)
  • An Ohio link because once February rolls around, it will be all mostly Ohio-based reads (authors from Ohio, either living in or grew up in) for a good stretch of time. I won’t post a list, but I have several “definites” I would like to get to. Some of these may even tie into The Classics Club’s Twelve Months of Classic Literature, but I’m not going to force it.
  • Actually manage a book in translation (downside of the Ohio project: it’s ALL from English) by reading something for o’s Russian Literature 2014. That book of Tolstoy  stories I showed off in the last post? Purchased just for this challenge.
  • If I have time, and I’m not still immersed in Ohio-lit, join Richard in reading Don Quixote at the end of the year.
  • I’d still like to make some sort of return to the Cinematic Treasures project. I actually did create a little bit of a plan last year that I could go with, or I might just continue with the Ohio theme and go that direction–to give you a hint what that might mean, I’m currently sitting about 20 minutes away from Lillian Gish Drive. I’m not going to aim for a particular number, however.

And that’s almost it. 2014 is to be the year of low-key, no pressure reading. I’m over self-created non-necessary deadlines. It’s not worth the artificial stress. Hopefully, this won’t mean I go so low-pressure I don’t get anything read–I’d still like to average about two books a month, so I guess that’s a background goal!

But one last project before wA Year of Masterworkse go. A fun one, I hope. Not one I may blog much about–for I’m not sure I’ll have much, if anything to say. But I have a Photoshop habit, so I created a button. I’ve been wanting lately to become better acquainted with Western Art Music–or classical music of the Western culture–my “Understanding Music” textbook in school used the former term as being more accurate. I have a decent familiarity with most of these already, actually, thanks not only to the above-mentioned course, but also years of piano lessons  and growing up in a house that listened to a lot of classical music. I’ve been to quite a few symphony concerts and have a decent classical CD collection. But I don’t feel I know it as well as I should like. So I’ve decided that 2014 shall be the year of deeper exploration. Get to know the pieces that are familiar in sound by name. Listen to some of the best recordings. Learn more about their histories and their composers. Thanks to the internet, it’s easier than ever to listen to just about anything. And thanks to my long commute, I have plenty of time to listen to anything I can download. To save myself time, I’ll be using The NPR Guide to Building a Classical CD Collection as my primary resource in selecting works to “meet,” going through each section in chronological order. This will be a background project, but I hope a fun one.

And with the goals finished, the old year fast fleeing, I wish you a Happy New Year! Welcome 2014!

Week’s End Beginning Notes (8)

  • Well, this was meant to post yesterday but I forgot to take pictures. I think my brain has been on a mental organization break over the holidays. Time to whip it back into shape!
  • It rather seems to be the fashion just now to show off all our recent acquisitions. I’d hate to be the spoiler and buck convention…no, nix that, I actually don’t mind bucking convention, as long as it doing so doesn’t place me in the spotlight…but I’m just going to share anyways.
  • My family actually went a little counter-cultural and deliberately chose a small Christmas, so the only remotely bookish thing I received was the one book I most wanted:
Book: Sense and Sensibility
Sense and Sensibility, Annotated edition
  • However, it’s not the only book that’s come into my possession lately. I, err, may have taken advantage of and unexpected site visit for work that just so happened to pass right by a bookstore. This bit was on my own time, I hasten to add! Regardless, I walked out with two new books that I think will come in very handy in 2014:
Books: The Bluest Eye; The Death of Ivan Ilyich & Other Stories
The Bluest Eye
The Death of Ivan Ilyich & Other Stories
  • Russian Literature 2014, I have choices! (There are quite a few novellas in the Tolstoy)
  • But I’ve saved the best for last. Meet Rufus, my very own robot tea strainer. My brother knows me well–I told him he  “won” Christmas. Not that it’s a competition.
Rufus, the Robot Tea-Strainer
Rufus, the Robot Tea-Strainer
  • Rufus’s little arms/hands adjust to the tea cup/mug size. He works rather well, too, and oh so charming. 🙂
  • I can’t believe tomorrow is the last day of 2013! I’ve been seeing lots of year-end and best-of posts. Mine’s planned for tomorrow. Hopefully I’ll start 2014 right and actually have the end-of-2013 post up in 2013.
  • In the meantime, I really should try to finish up the book I’m reading that don’t really mesh with my 2014 plans. I think there’s still time…

For the Season

Adolf_Hölzel_Anbetung
Anbetung [Adoration (Nativity)], 1912
Adolf Hölzel (German, 1853–1934)
Kunstmuseum Stuttgart

 Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love Divine,
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and Angels gave the sign.

Worship we the Godhead,
Love Incarnate, Love Divine,
Worship we our Jesus,
But wherewith for sacred sign?

Love shall be our token,
Love shall be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.

“Love Came Down at Christmas”
Christina Rossetti, 1885

Merry Christmas to you and yours ~ Amanda

Children’s Classics: Suggestion List

Classic Children's Literature Event 2014 Logo 300w

We’re fast approaching the start of January and The Classic Children’s Literature Event start. Although I linked to last year’s suggestion list in my introductory post, I believe I promised a revised suggestion list for this year. Actually, rather than a revision, it is composed entirely of titles that weren’t on last year’s list. Of course, I haven’t actually read most of the suggestions in this list yet, but I’ve heard/read good things about most of these. I also can’t speak for how easy or difficult it is to find copies of many of these (especially the translations). The list is in approximate chronological order by original publication date.

  1. Hoffmann, E.T.A: The Nutcracker and the Mouse King (1816, Germany) – One to read now, perhaps?
  2. Marryat, Frederick: The Children of the New Forest (1847, England)
  3. Afanasyev, Alexander: Russian Fairy Tales (1855-63, Russia)
  4. Busch, Wilhelm: Max and Moritz (A Story of Seven Boyish Pranks) (1865, Germany)
  5. Dodge, Mary Mapes: Hans Brinker, of The Silver Skates (1865, U.S.)
  6. Carroll, Lewis: Sylvie and Bruno (1889, England) and Sylvie and Bruno Concluded (1893, England) – I don’t know much about them–which makes me curious, knowing what the Wonderland books are like.
  7. Alcott, Louisa May: Under the Lilacs (1878, U.S.)
  8. Macdonald, George: At the Back of the North Wind (1871, Scotland)
  9. Pyle, Howard: Merry Adventures of Robin Hood of Great Renown in Nottinghamshire (1883, U.S.)
  10. Kipling, Rudyard: Just So Stories (1902, England)
  11. Grahame, Kenneth: The Wind in the Willows (1908, England)
  12. Nesbit, E.: The Story of the Treasure Seekers (1899, England)
  13. Burnett, Frances Hodgson: The Secret Garden (1911, England)
  14. Montgomery, L.M.: Magic for Marigold (1929, Canada) – One of many alternatives to the more familiar Anne stories
  15. Burroughs, Edgar Rice: Tarzan of the Apes (1914, U.S.)
  16. Colum, Padraic: The King of Ireland’s Son (1916, Ireland)
  17. Lindsay, Norman: The Magic Pudding (1918, Australia)
  18. Kästner, Erich: Emil and the Detectives (1929, Germany)
  19. Ransome, Arthur: Swallows and Amazons (1930, England)
  20. Field, Rachel: Hitty: Her First Hundred Years (1930, U.S.)
  21. Streatfield, Noel: Ballet Shoes (1936, England)
  22. Atwater, Richard and Florence: Mr. Popper’s Penguins (1938, U.S.) – Why do I get the feeling that the recent movie version had little to do with this book?
  23. Volkov, Alexander Melentyevich: The Wizard of the Emerald City (1939, USSR) – I understand that this was a Soviet-era version of Baum’s famous first Oz book – perhaps a comparison of the two would make a fun project?
  24. Eager, Edward: Half Magic (1954, U.S.)
  25. Goudge, Elizabeth: Linnets and Valerians (1964, England)
  26. Jansson, Tove: Finn Family Moonmintroll  (1948, Finland)
  27. Henry, Marguerite: King of the Wind (1948, U.S.)
  28. Thurber, James: The 13 Clocks (1950, U.S.)
  29. Taylor, Sydney: All-of-a-Kind Family (1951, U.S.)
  30. Norton, Mary: The Borrowers (1952, England)
  31. Green, Roger Lancelyn: King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table (1953, England)
  32. Sutcliff, Rosemary: The Eagle of the Ninth (1954, England)
  33. Boston, L. M.: The Children of Green Knowe (1954, England)
  34. DeJong, Meindertt: The Wheel on the School (1955, Dutch-U.S.)
  35. Juster, Norton: The Phantom Tollbooth (1961, U.S.)
  36. Dahl, Roald: James and the Giant Peach (1961, Britain) – Or any of his, really.
  37. Rawls, Wilson: Where the Red Fern Grows (1961, U.S.)
  38. L’Engle, Madeleine: A Wrinkle in Time (1962, U.S.) – The first in a series.

And some post-1963 titles (I’m bending my own guidelines)

  1. Cooper, Susan: Over Sea, Under Stone (1965, England) – The first in The Dark is Rising series, a favorite of mine and for anyone who loves both Arthurian legend and fantasy.
  2. White, E.B.: The Trumpet of the Swan (1970, U.S.) – My favorite White title.
  3. Howe, James and Deborah: Bunnicula (1979, U.S.) – My dad still talks about how much he enjoyed reading this series to my brother and me.

Book Riot also had a fun post recently with a list of children’s classics that many of us know via the movie versions rather than the original books. Check it out!

And after all that–I’m feeling like I need January to be twice as long–I see too many additional books I’d like to read!

Completed: The Hound of the Baskervilles

Why must I be so often of late putting off writing about books I’ve finished? I do it, I know, because I’m  not quite sure what I want to write, but then I find myself too far from the book and it only gets more difficult. Sigh. I think I’ve found my New Year’s resolutions, if I ever made any. But what I do remember:

The Hound of the BaskervillesThe Hound of the Baskervilles
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
1902, Scotland

A long, low moan, indescribably sad, swept over the moor. It filled the whole air, and yet it was impossible to say whence it came. From a dull murmur it swelled into a deep roar, and then sank back into a melancholy, throbbing murmur once again. (Ch.  7)

About halfway through The Hound of the Baskervilles, I realized, this is why I read The Castle of Otranto. For, as lacking as I found the Horace Walpole novel, it was, in fact the first Gothic novel, and therefore the grandfather of all Gothics to come after. While in some instances, it may be just the atmosphere that harkens back to Otranto, with Baskervilles I was starkly reminded of the central plot of Otranto–that of a familial curse. Apparently, Doyle was inspired by an actual legend, but nonetheless the similarity between the two novels strikes me: there are certain building blocks of Gothic novels that appear again and again. The Hound of the Baskervilles prompts a reminder that it is good to read the founding works, even if they may not be as…appealing…as their descendents.

Now, I started this in October. And I have to say, The Hound of the Baskervilles is a perfect R.I.P. read–deliciously creepy Gothic atmosphere, a dash of horror thrown into the mystery, and it’s even set in October. If only I had finished it then! (I’m so late at writing this, I actually finished in early November.) I can see why so many people consider it their favorite Holmes story–not only is it perfectly Gothic, but the mystery is just strange enough and  the pacing is perfect. I don’t often reread mysteries as it seems that more than half the enjoyment is usually in the mystery itself and trying to work it out ahead of the “official” solving of the crime, but this one is such that I could see returning to it. In an October, of course. There may actually be enough textual evidence (primarily from letters and diary entries)–I’m going on memory here–that a reader could work out exactly which day in October each event in the novella takes place. Reading it “as it happens,” as it were, could be quite fun, I think. A plan for next year?