As I ease my way back into blogging (i.e., struggle to remember that I’m supposed to take some time to actually write about books), I recalled two things:
1) I never remembered to “close out” my Readathon post. If you’re deathly curious, I managed 248 pages over 6.25 hrs of actual reading time. Which, admittedly, in a 24-hour period doesn’t sound like a lot, but a) I was unfortunately rather sleep-deprived heading into readathon and b) for me that’s rather good lately. Those 248 pages included rereads from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (‘textbook’ version, not the movie screenplay version) and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, both by JK Rowling, plus a good chunk of Blood Crime by Catalan author Sebastià Alzamora (accidentally timely, given the recent political upheaval in Catalan/Spain).
2) I had a draft of a post I had started this summer for a book that, given the “spooky season” we are just departing seemed completely appropriate to finish up and share now. [Yes, I’m a little behind. I’m calling this progress.]
I picked ‘Salem’s Lot off my bookshelf this past summer on a whim—I was looking for something that would read quickly, to kick-start me back into better reading habits, but also a “gown-up” book to convince myself that I was capable of reading anything more complex than Beatrix Potter. (Slow reading spring, can you tell?) Though long, it worked—I found I could fly through pages even in just a short sitting, which is often all I have available.
‘Salem’s Lot is Stephen King’s vampire novel, an exploration of the idea “what if Dracula arrived in the 20th century US?” As such, it is—King acknowledges—heavily indebted to the 1897 Bram Stoker novel. But even with my fond familiarity with Dracula (I’ve read it twice) and the clear direction of the story—I had a fairly good idea shortly in who would/wouldn’t survive—I found it compulsively readable.
This was actually my first King novel, and really one of my few forays into the horror genre. I didn’t find it particularly frightening or even chilling; perhaps I’ve been jaded by the realities of actual events, but I find I am frightened not by fictional monsters, rather the real ones. Interestingly, King investigates this: some characters struggle to accept the reality of vampires in their community, because aren’t vampires fiction? Which forces the reader to realize, hey I might not be scared by this book, but if vampires really DID exist, really DID have such power—would I recognize it in time? More importantly, the vampires are ultimately a stand-in for the real monsters that King—and the reader—knows exist. The horror is not the something supernatural lurking in the dark of abandoned houses, it is the something all-too-human committing unspeakable acts, whether behind closed doors or openly but without correction.
In the end, what I found most interesting about the novel—though I enjoyed the story—is how it serves as an artifact of its time. The descriptions of hair styles and clothing. The references to wars, both Korea and Vietnam that are current in a way they aren’t today. The “politically incorrect” speech of the era, and the casual references to political corruption from an era in which the Watergate Scandal still poignantly stung. And yet we can still find parallels today, reminding us that though technologies may change (how would this story be different with cell phones?!), the human condition has not.
Although after one book, I’m not yet so much a Stephen King convert as to say I wish to read his entire backlist, I could see reading more at some point down the road—recommendations welcome!
I feel as if I’ve been shamefully neglecting the blog. Neglecting reading other’s posts. It’s a Sisyphean task, that–keeping up with everyone, everything. Especially when I already have the feeling of being underwater elsewhere, at work most especially. I keep plodding away at the reading, though, my Sunday morning reading the one constant. I’m only one week behind (and intend to catch up) on the Deal Me In Challenge. I finally finished Chronicles of Avonlea, which happens to be a short story collection, and which I believe I actually started over a year ago (maybe even in 2015!). Yet I feel as if I’m moving quickly nowhere. Perhaps the long list of unblogged books bogs me down. So many I don’t even properly remember now, not well enough to write about. And perhaps that is why I’ve written nothing.
But I’ve had enough of feeling their weight on my shoulders. Somehow, I’ve managed to dash off a few short posts here this afternoon. Those will be forthcoming. And for those I don’t feel I can prepare a proper post for (but those I still wish to say something about), a few thoughts:
His Last Bow – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Scotland, 1917)
A collection of Holmes stories I read last fall on vacation. A diverting read, though I fear that I don’t remember the stories that well. This leaves just one collection left and I will have finished all the Holmes stories!
The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins (Britain/Zimbabwe, 2015)
The publicity surrounding the movie prompted me to pick this one up. A psychological thriller, I found it much more unputdownable than Gone Girl, but I didn’t feel the need to run out to see the film version. Though I did like the end much better.
Tuck Everlasting – Natalie Babbitt (U.S., 1975)
On learning of Natalie Babbit’s death late last year, I immediately had to pick up Tuck Everlasting for a reread. I had last touched this one in late elementary school, and so both found that I couldn’t remember the story and yet it was completely familiar. A sweet story of a young girl who accidentally meets up with a family who has drunk from the fountain of eternal youth, it is in a way a touching meditation on death and life and the consequences of immortality.
She folded her arms and nodded, more to herself than to Winnie. ‘Life’s got to be lived, not matter how long or short,’ she said calmly. ‘You got to take what comes. We just go along, like everybody else, one day at a time.’ (Chapter 10)
Although I read it as a nostalgia piece/for my Children’s Classics project, Tuck Everlasting could also be assigned to my Reading Ohio project, as Natalie Babbit was originally from/grew up in Ohio. It’s also a nice segue to add a little reminder that the 5th Classic Children’s Literature Event is coming up in just a couple weeks! I’ve already a collection of books waiting for me temptingly…
I’ve been more absent from here lately than I’d like–it seems like February is just a month that I don’t get along with. But now it’s March, the sun is shinning (and it’s supposed to be half-way warm this week!), and that means the 5th edition of the Classic Children’s Literature Event is just around the corner: April–less than a month away! I can’t believe this is the 5th year.
As in years past, I will be reading an optional readalong title. I really waffled over what to pick this year, but finally opted for one of the runners up from last year’s poll: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. It’s been many, many years since I last/first read this–I believe in fourth grade, so I don’t remember it all that well other than that’s is odd, something that must surely appeal to many, as evidenced by the recent movie adaptations (confession: I haven’t actually seen them). Although I have an illustrated version that also contains Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, I decided to pick up The Annotated Alice from the library. Still a coin toss as to which book I’ll read from.
During the month of April, read as many Children’s Classics as you wish and post about them on your blog and/or leave a comment on the event page on this blog. I will have a link page starting the first of April to gather posts so that we may share as we go.
The optional RAL title: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. (Optional: also read Through the Looking-Glass. I’m guessing I won’t get through both.) I plan on discussion the weekend of April 21-23.
I’m not going to be the “children’s classics” police. Use your own judgement for what fits the category but if you want some guidelines, these are what I’m going by:
I think many of us have read more recent children’s books that we may already deem “classics” (for example, many people feel that way about the Harry Potter books), but for this event, I’d prefer if we read books that were written prior to 1967. This will still allow a lot of options, and will hopefully avoid the “but what is a classic” dilemma! (And yes, 1967 is rather arbitrary. Rebel if you wish, but 50 years old seems a good age.)
Defining “children’s,” especially prior to 1900 or so can be a challenge as some books we think of as “children’s” today may not have been intended that way at the time. Personally, I’d say books appropriate for approximately an elementary-school aged child or preteen (to read or to have read to them) should be fine. I’d personally also count the various fairy tales, even though some of the earliest versions were not exactly family friendly.
Feel free to include books from any country, in translation or not. I have limited exposure to non-American children’s lit, so I’d love to learn about books from other countries myself.
Feel free to double up with other events or challenges if you wish.
There is no deadline for joining or participating (other than, of course, the end of April).
Most important: Have fun!
Please let me–and other participants–know in the comments of this post if you are interested in participating, and let me know if you have any questions. Also, please feel free to use any of the event/RAL images on your own blogs.
Image sources: The event logo illustration is “Merry Christmas” from The Way to Wonderland (1917, Mary Stewart), illustrated by Jessie Wilcox Smith (1863-1935). The RAL logo illustration is from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865, Lewis Carroll), 1907 edition illustrated by Arthur Rackham (1867-1939).
William Johnston, translator
With a forward by Martin Scorsese
(Picador Modern Classics, New York, 2016)
Nearly the last book I finished in 2016, Silence was certainly among the most powerful I’ve read in the last few years. It is the story of two Portuguese Jesuit priests, desperate for word of their mentor and disbelieving that he could have apostatized, who sneak into 17th century Japan only to find a world vastly different from anything they have previously experienced. Told in the form of letters, 3rd person narrative, and diary entries, Silence is a powerful and thought-provoking investigation of faith and its testing.
I suppose I should simply cast from my mind these meaningless words of the coward; yet why does his plaintive voice pierce my breast with all the pain of a sharp needle? Why has Our Lord imposed this torture and this persecution on poor Japanese peasants? No, Kichijirō was trying to express something different, something even more sickening. The silence of God. Already twenty years have passed since the persecution broke out; the black soil of Japan has been filled with the lament of so many Christians; the red blood of priests has flowed profusely; the walls of the churches have fallen down; and in the face of this terrible and merciless sacrifice offered up to Him, God has remained silent. This was the problem that lay behind the plaintive question of Kichijirō. (Ch 4)
There are no easy answers here, and while it is clear that the Portuguese are out of their depth, tossed into a culture and mindset so different than that they have previously known and a persecution they were not truly prepared for, it also allows the reader to interrogate their own response: in the position of the priest or the Japanese Christian peasant would you act the same? What does it mean to renounce a belief outwardly but inwardly keep it; is this still an apostasy? Is there a penalty for faith hidden rather than professed? Endō does not tell us; in the end we are left to decide for ourselves.
My most recent reread of Pride and Prejudice (I believe this was my third time through Austen’s most famous novel) was over my September vacation, and I confess I wasn’t really reading it for anything other than pure enjoyment of the story. And it was a pure joy. I had forgotten quite how much I enjoy Austen’s writing and her tales; although I reread Northanger Abbey about a year previous, it was one of Austen’s earlier works and its charms are different than those of Pride and Prejudice.
(And from here, I assume you’ve read this or otherwise know the plot and don’t care about “spoilers.”)
But as I thought about it afterwards, I recognized that while on the surface–and this is perhaps the Austen we most commonly see in pop culture–Pride and Prejudice seems in many ways a fairy tale: poor(ish) girl + rich boy = happily ever after (in the case of P&P x 2), this is only the surface, and only the central characters. Elizabeth and Jane Bennett’s marriages to the wealthy Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley, respectively, may have all the elements of happily-ever-after, but even if we don’t question that supposition, there are two other weddings that happen in the course of the novel. To imagine that Lydia and Mr. Wickham will ever end happily…well. I can think of any number of outcomes, one of which Austen actually illustrates in Mr. and Mrs. Price in Mansfield Park – and that’s the best alternative. Let’s just say I imagine that Lydia will hardly be Mr. Wickham’s last conquest.
Without thinking highly either of men or of matrimony, marriage had always been her object; it was the only honourable provision for well-educated young women of small fortune, and however uncertain of giving happiness, must be their pleasantest preservative from want. (Ch. XXII)
And then there’s Charlotte Lucas and the ridiculous Mr. Collins – a marriage of pure practicality. And her reasonableness in entering into a wedded state with such an unreasonably silly man serves to illustrate to readers even centuries later just what the situation was for a woman of Austen’s era. No, the fairy tale may be the surface that pulls us in, but the reality that lies beneath is the reminder of just how fortunate the eldest sisters–and we today–really are.
I know many people are happy to see 2016 gone. It wasn’t kind to many of us–well to be honest, I knew in Dec. of 2015 that 2016 would never be a great year. 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.
But, much the same as opening a new package of notebook paper has long inspired me, turning of a calendar page and dropping of a ball inspires in me an excitement for what this coming year holds. I was determined to end 2016 neatly–cleaning, organizing, finishing. Well not everything. I wasn’t going to make myself crazy/stay up all night just to finish a recently restarted knitting project. But I finished the two books I most wanted to finish to end the year, I finally put away papers that have been piling up since last January! and recycled/shredded others, I finished off reading the last week’s worth of local papers. (Wow–there are so many great things happening locally, including some wonderful building revitalization projects.) And so, despite lacking a fresh coat of snow to give the world a “new” feel (rather, it’s all melted at the colors are muted browns and greys, warmed by winter sun), everything feels fresh and new. I pulled out a couple books this morning, eager to make a start on my upcoming projects and goals.
But first, I really should remember last year–I had quite a few goals and challenges, but how did I do?
Read at least 25 books this year – Met! (Just how many books I read depends on how you count; I only counted books I both started and finished in 2016, and grouped all of the Beatrix Potter 23 Tales into one for the count.)
Focus more on my Classics Club list – Met! (I read eight titles off the list. Sure, there are still plenty to go, but…)
Start adding in some contemporary translated fiction. Oops. I didn’t read any translations more recent than the 1960s, while I wanted to read at least one that was no older than 2000.
Plenty of Children’s Classics! – Met! (I hosted the Classic Children’s Literature Event in April, for which I read Emil and the Detectives, The Jungle Book, and a number of Beatrix Potter tales. Later in the year, I finished off the Potter tales and added in some Susan Cooper and Tuck Everlasting. By my count, a total of 28 different titles.)
o’s Reading England 2016. Goal: level 1 (1-3 counties). – Met! I didn’t write posts for these books (yet…), but I did read two books.
The Classics Club’s Women’s Classic Literature Event. Goal: min. 4 classics by a woman author (not counting contemporary). – Met! (Counting the Beatrix Potter’s as one title.)
Karen at Books and Chocolate’s Back to the Classics Challenge. (All books must be at least 50 years old.) Goal: hit all 12 categories. – Fail! Well, I did read books that would fall into six of the categories, but I only wrote posts for five. And I hadn’t thought to ask, but someone did for this year’s edition, and a poetry collection wouldn’t actually count, so…five books, with four posts. It was a fun challenge, regardless. (Actually, I may have read an acceptable 20th century classic–Silence–, but that depends on whether the cut off is any book written before 1966 or including 1966. Whichever interpretation, again, no post.)
So not too badly, I don’t think. (If you really want to know which titles I read for each goal/challenge, the complete list is here.)
As far as the reading itself, I really felt 2016 was excellent. Just a few months ago, I wasn’t so sure, but as I read more to finish off the year/recalled what I had read earlier, I’m really happy with the titles I finished.
I read quite a wide variety this year, pushing my boundaries a bit: 5 plays, 1 poetry collection, 2 non-fiction titles, 4 translated titles, 3 short story collections, 3 works by African-American writers, and my first ever Japanese novel. Most were good or better; the only title I really was disappointed in was Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which did feel a bit more like fan fiction, but I will acknowledge that it might give a different impression when watching it staged, as it was written for. Although there are 13 different male authors compared to 9 different female authors I read this year (I think I counted correctly), part of the reason for the gap is that one book (Above the Shots) was co-written/edited by two men and Harry Potter was a joint effort between J.K. Rowling and two male collaborators. So much for stats.
My Top Books of 2016
The two books I read this year that I believe will stick with me longest are both translated works. I still can’t believe how well I remember Miguel Ángel Asturias’ The President [El Señor Presidente], the story of a small group of people just trying to live their lives under a tyrant. Highly recommended. And I only just recently finished Shūsaku Endō’s Silence, a novel investigating faith and belief in the most difficult of circumstances. It has already proven a most thought-provoking read and I imagine I will be still thinking of it months from now.
Less thought-provoking, but wonderful to read as well wasA Midsummer Night’s Dream, which I found absolutely delightful. I am keeping my eye for any local productions of this play, which is now one of my favorite Shakespearean plays (along with Much Ado About Nothing). Also delightful was my reread of Pride and Prejudice–I really had forgotten how much I simply enjoy reading Austen.
I had not expected to read any nonfiction in 2016, but I am really happy with the two titles I did read. But What If We’re Wrong?: Thinking About the Present As If It Were the Past by Chuck Klosterman was a bit of a mind-bender and Above the Shots: An Oral History of the Kent State Shootings by Craig S. Simpson and Gregory S. Wilson I found excellent as my first experience reading oral history. By comparing and contrasting the points of view of so many people who were in or around Kent in May 1970 (as well as official records), I came to a better understanding of how any story can be a matter of perspective, and how even those who witness an event my find their own understanding changing over time. This was actually a topic touched on But What If We’re Wrong? as well, so they proved excellent companion reads.
I’ve already posted about the two year-long challenges I’m planning on participating in for 2017: Deal Me In and Back to the Classics. I didn’t really see too many challenges I was interested in this year–thankfully! I have some areas I want to focus on as well. After a decent Reading Ohio year, that project will likely be on the back burner as I try to get to some more of my Classics Club titles and (really, this year, I mean it) some contemporary translated fiction.
Since I made my goal of 25 books last year–and it feels like a reasonable number for me–I’d like to hit 26 this year. One every two weeks should be doable.
I’d like to match my 2016 total of at least 8 titles from my Classics Club list.
To define “some” – let’s make it 2 works in translation (written in +/- the last 25 years).
Plenty of Children’s Classics! – so YES, I do plan on another edition of the Classic Children’s Literature Event, likely again in April.
Actually blog about most of those titles in a timely manner.
I also have some non-bookish goals that I’d like to work on this year:
Learn how to properly use my camera. I bought a DSLR last May, and while I have the automatic settings down pretty well, I’m still in the dark on anything else. Fortunately, I have a DVD series to go through to help.
Finish 3 decent-sized knitting projects. I’m thinking a sweater and two shawls.
Resume trying to regain my lost high school Spanish. I started using the Duolingo app; I’d like to make it through all the Spanish lessons this year.
Properly go through all my files/folders/papers. For example, I still have school notes that I, reasonably, saved to study for the Architectural Registration Exam, but then just stuffed them in the closet when the studying was done. It’s been years; I’m not likely to need them again–time to purge.
Here, with the optimism of the first of January, it all seems reasonable. Right?
I’ve been slowly revisiting The Dark is Rising Sequence over the past year and a half or so, inspired to reread this favorite childhood series by my reading of Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys. (And after I started my reread, I learned that she was indeed inspired by Cooper’s work.) I haven’t been blogging about these for the most part, but since I’ve included the last two on my 15 Books of Summer list, I thought I’d write up just a little bit.
The series in general–five books in all–is inspired by Arthurian legend, but set in the present day (roughly 1960s/70s, when it was written, though it really doesn’t feel that dated and could equally be now). The first book, Over Sea, Under Stone, was a grail quest, as the three Drew children sought to retrieve the Hold Grail before a group of adult adversaries can. It ends with the Grail in a museum and the tantalizing suggestion that maybe The Merlin has been helping them along the way. And there, I understand, Cooper originally intended to leave it. It was only some years later that she added on the other four books, to round out a series depicting a great battle between the Light and the Dark, a battle ongoing since at least the time of the great King Arthur. The books from this point bounce between protagonists: Will Stanton, the last (and youngest) of the Old Ones, is introduced in book two, The Dark is Rising, where he must search out and retrieve the six signs by Midwinter’s Night. In book three, Greenwitch, the Drews return as protagonists, when they “happen” to meet Will in a small town in Cornwall (the setting of the first book) where they must rescue the stolen Grail back from the Dark.
The fourth book, The Grey King, returns to Will’s point of view. He has been sent to Wales to recuperate after a severe illness. While there, he meets a strange boy, Bran, and Bran’s dog Cafall, and discovers that he will need their help in retrieving a lost gold harp meant to wake the “six sleepers” whose aid the Light will need in their upcoming battle against the Dark. Over the course of the story, Will and Bran will also learn the surprising backstory to Bran’s arrival in Wales and that Bran’s help may be needed for more than finding the harp.
Although commonly classified as fantasy, The Dark is Rising sequence has long felt to me more akin to the myths and legends of long-gone times: of King Arthur, of Brenin Llwyd. Perhaps, in our cynical, rational age, this is a fine distinction. After all, we know that magic doesn’t exist–at least not as defined in fantasy tales. But when I find myself considering what book might most naturally follow next after these, it is the old legends and stories I think of, not more contemporary writers. Cooper, by drawing in bits of stories she only borrows, pushes me towards seeking out stories I don’t yet fully know. And if that is the result of reading one book, to be pushed toward others, I would say that the writer has been successful in their telling.