Reading · Reading Ohio · WeeksEnd Notes

Week’s End Notes (32)

Cuyhoga River in Winter - Kent Ohio
A view of the Cuyahoga River just over a week ago. Would you believe I took this from a busy bridge facing downtown Kent? It’s all about the framing…!

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…

Happy Reading!

Purple Orchid in Full Indoor Bloom
Who says winter isn’t growing season?
Classic Children's Literature

Open to Suggestions – Children’s Classics

Yellow Rose Bouquet
Happy Valentines Day!

I’ve long had pleasent memories associated with Valentines Day, although these are the memories of childhood rather than more mature associations. My mom would always–still does, actually–make frosted heart cookies, double stacked–yummy! My brother and I could always, growing up, count on a chocolate heart or a small bundle of wrapped chocolates from the local candy shop. And for several years, a new paperback as well. I still have my first copy of Pride and Prejudice, which arrived on Valentines of 8th grade. (Though it is considerably more visably battered now.) Before that, it was always a YA or Middle Grade book, almost always award winning. My mom has good taste.

So it shouldn’t be any surprise that on Valentines Day, my thoughts always turn to favorite books. This year I’ve been thinking about the upcoming Classic Children’s Literature Event (April! Just around the corner…), and when not panicked about getting my act together to get ready, I’ve been musing over what to suggest as a readalong title. And I must admit, nothing in particular is really calling to me this year. Sure, I have a great long list (and if pressed today, I would say the Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault, which have the advantage of being available in an English translation online), but I just haven’t settled on the right book. So I’m throwing it open to suggestions: is there a children’s classic (at least 50 years old, please) that you would love to read–either for the first time, or revisiting–this year? I’ll take suggestions until the end of the month and announce the RAL title at the start of March.

Happy Reading!

Personal Great Books · Reading

Completed: Silence

Cover: Silence by Shūsaku EndōSilence
Shūsaku Endō
Japan, 1966
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.

 

The Classics Club · WeeksEnd Notes

Week’s End Notes (31) & Classics Club v2

I just realized that I haven’t taken a single photo this year, excepting some really exciting work pics (of markups on drawings – see exciting). Not helpful in learning to use my camera better this year. I will have to add that to my February priorities. I made a list at the start of the month of my January priorities, and so far it’s been really helpful in keeping me focused. I also just this week finished listening to Laura Vanderkam’s 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, and that’s really the point of the book: you have to prioritize and focus your time. I wouldn’t call it life-changing for me–I already knew that was my problem–but her suggestion that we need to plan even our leisure time in advance if we’re to maximize it really hits home, because that’s exactly what I’ve been doing lately. (And no, she doesn’t mean planning out every minute, just knowing what activities you want to do so that instead of frittering away hours online or in front of the TV or what have you, you actually read that book you’ve been meaning to get to.) I’ve categorized every weekend so far this month: one for DVR catch-up/knitting, one for reading, one for misc. to do’s (this weekend!), and it’s left me feeling a lot more productive. Even if I feel like I haven’t actually managed to read all that much this month so far.

Part of that is the season: winter is for knitting and I don’t knit and read at the same time. I do knit and TV watch at the same time. I suppose I could knit and audiobook… Part of it is the general sleepiness winter seems to bring. Part of it is the Deal Me In Challenge. So I’m reading, but short things, and it doesn’t feel as much of an accomplishment. But I’ve been keeping up so far!

  • Week 1: Q of Clubs – Fray Luis de León, “Oda III”
  • Week 2: 8 of Clubs – Francisco de la Torre, “Soneto V,” “Soneto XX,” and “Soneto XXIII”
  • Week 3: A of Diamonds – Ben Jonson, “To the Memory of My Beloved Master, William Shakespeare”

The first two weeks were challenging as both were from Clubs, which are all Spanish poems. I have a copy of Renaissance and Baroque Poetry of Spain (ed. Elias L. Rivers) which I’m reading from and it does have prose translations, but those are…okay. So I’ve been challenging myself to really read the Spanish closely, which takes a good chunk of time. “Oda III” was the easiest, a poem in praise of Francisco Salinas, a music professor at the University of Salamanca. The Sonnets by de la Torre were more challenging, especially as their language included words (or spellings?) that the online translation dictionary couldn’t always find, I assume obsolete or archaic. I also have never done as well with Sonnets as with other poem types. “To the Memory of My Beloved Master, William Shakespeare” I read with much greater pleasure. Both as it was far less work and as I was familiar with the subject. I was amused to find that Jonson predicted that Shakespeare would continue to be performed/read for centuries to come – how prescient! It also seems that Jonson’s words could be used in the who wrote Shakespeare battle as pro-William Shakespeare, as Jonson both praised Shakespeare’s words (over contemporaries) and clearly refers to him as the “Swan of Avon,” though also, famously, reminding us that Shakespeare “small Latin and less Greek.” I have yet to read this week’s selection (a short story – finally!).

I’m also in the middle of two longer reads, a reread of Blue Lily, Lily Blue (Maggie Stiefvater) and The Epic of Gilgamesh. Which brings me to the next topic. I’m fast coming up on the deadline for my original Classics Club list, in March. Five years! Already! And…well, it hasn’t gone so well. Of the 125 items on the list, I’ve only completed 14 (nearly 15). I’ve read 26 individual books/plays, but a number were combined into one list item. (Or 28 books if one counts the volumes of The Lord of the Rings separately.) At the same time, I’ve been itching to update/revise the list. I’ve read some books for my Ohio project that could have counted on a Classics Club list, but I hadn’t included them. And there are others I still want to read. I also have a Great Courses series, “The Western Literary Canon in Context,” which has added other (admittedly white male) titles to my TBR list. Then I also seem to keep dipping back to rereads that weren’t on my original list. Not to mention quite a few other books lining my shelves that never made it to/were purchased after the original list was made.

So, in the spirit of the New Year (it’s still early enough to say that, right?), and in the excitement that list making always brings me, I announce The Classics Club v.2, my ten year reading list. It’s long, at 150 items, so I’ll spare you scrolling through. But if you really want to read it, it’s HERE. I had some trouble cutting down (ha!), and it’s longer than the original list. Even assuming that the revisions/additions help me stay more focused, I’m still never–based on current reading rate–going to get through this list in only five years. So I’m blithely disregarding the 5-year guideline.

Some notes regarding the list:

  • Most unread titles from the original list are still here. I swapped out some of the Greek plays (largely based on the Great Courses series reading list) and dropped a couple other titles that aren’t actually on my shelves, but I tried to keep the variety of genre/country I had on the original.
  • I’ve added a number of rereads. Mostly Austen. I can’t help it.
  • The only book that I read on the original list that makes a reappearance is Beowulf, which I want to reread in another translation.
  • I’ve added some Ohio reads.
  • Most of the additions are ancient/medieval lit. I’m a little scared of some of those actually…
  • I also added three Faulkner which I’m really looking forward to. I only had one title on my original list because I wasn’t sure if I’d like him. It was a mistake.

I’d ask you what to read first, but current read The Epic of Gilgamesh is item #1. When I’m not mired down in Spanish poets…

Happy Reading!

 

 

Reading · The Classics Club

Completed: Pride and Prejudice

Cover: Pride and Prejudice (Dover Thrift Edition)Pride and Prejudice
Jane Austen
England, 1813

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.

Challenge

Back to the Classics 2017

Okay, so I didn’t exactly complete the 2016 Back to the Classics challenge (mostly for not blogging about–more details in my year-end-wrap up post this weekend). But it was fun anyway, and I like the categories this year, so I’ve decided that this would be my second and likely final year-long challenge for 2017 (not counting my own plans).

Button - Back to the Classics Challenge 2017
Karen from Books and Chocolate is hosting again, and describes it this way:

Here’s how it works:

The challenge will be exactly the same as last year, 12 classic books, but with slightly different categories. You do not have to read 12 books to participate in this

  • Complete six categories, and you get one entry in the drawing
  • Complete nine categories, and you get two entries in the drawing
  • Complete all twelve categories, and you get three entries in the drawing

And here are the categories for the 2016 Back to the Classics Challenge:

1.  A 19th Century Classic – any book published between 1800 and 1899.

2.  A 20th Century Classic – any book published between 1900 and 1967. Just like last year, all books MUST have been published at least 50 years ago to qualify. The only exception is books written at least 50 years ago, but published later, such as posthumous publications.

3.  A classic by a woman author.

4.  A classic in translation.  Any book originally written published in a language other than your native language. Feel free to read the book in your language or the original language. (You can also read books in translation for any of the other categories).

5.  A classic published before 1800. Plays and epic poems are acceptable in this category also.

6.  An romance classic. I’m pretty flexible here about the definition of romance. It can have a happy ending or a sad ending, as long as there is a strong romantic element to the plot.

7.  A Gothic or horror classic. For a good definition of what makes a book Gothic, and an excellent list of possible reads, please see this list on Goodreads.

8.  A classic with a number in the title. Examples include A Tale of Two Cities, Three Men in a Boat, The Nine Tailors, Henry V, Fahrenheit 451, etc.

9.  A classic about an animal or which includes the name of an animal in the title.  It an actual animal or a metaphor, or just the name. Examples include To Kill a Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men, The Metamorphosis, White Fang, etc.

10. A classic set in a place you’d like to visit. It can be real or imaginary: The Wizard of Oz, Down and Out in Paris and London, Death on the Nile, etc.

11. An award-winning classic. It could be the Newbery award, the Prix Goncourt, the Pulitzer Prize, the James Tait Award, etc. Any award, just mention in your blog post what award your choice received.

12. A Russian Classic. 2017 will be the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, so read a classic by any Russian author.

(More details/rules at Karen’s original post.)

This should be fun! I can actually think of a book for just about every category–now as to whether I’ll get to them all or not… I’d certainly love to! I really want to read some Greek classics this year (finally), which would hit #4 and 5; there’s a likely Austen reread in my future (3 or 6) and it’s been a while since I read a Gothic classic (7), but I have a list.

Thanks again to Karen for hosting. Now what to read first…?

Personal Great Books · Spanish Language Lit Month · The Classics Club

Completed: The President [El Señor Presidente]

Cover: The President by Miguel Angel AsturiasThe President [El Señor Presidente]
Miguel Ángel Asturias
(Guatemala, 1946)
Frances Partridge, translator

It’s been months since I read The President and yet I find it still lingers. Parts may be fuzzy and vague, but details still stay sharp—elements of the plot, of the natures of the characters. Even scenes that seemed but loosely tied to the main line of the story still clank around my head. It is a powerful novel.

Señor! Señor! Heaven and earth are full of your glory! The women felt the divine power of their Beloved Deity. The more important priests paid him homage. The lawyers imagined they were attending one of Alfonso el Sabio’s tournaments. The diplomats, excellencies from Tiflis perhaps, put on grand airs as if they were at the court of the Sun King at Versailles. Native and foreign journalists congratulated themselves on being in the presence of a second Pericles. Señor! Señor! Heaven and earth are full of your glory! The poets felt they were in Athens, so they announced to the world at large. A sculptor of saintly figures imagined he was Phidias, smiled, rubbed his hands and turned his eyes to heaven when he heard the cheering in the streets in honour of their eminent ruler. Señor! Señor! Heaven and earth are full of your glory! A composer of funeral marches, a devotee of Bacchus and also of religion, craned his tomato-coloured face from a window to see what was happening in the street. (Chapter XIV, “Let the Whole World Sing!”)

The titular President shows up but little directly—just a scene here or there—but his presence haunts every moment, every interaction. He is authoritarian, a tyrant, and the poisonous atmosphere his government engenders enables those beneath him to be just as cruel and petty and vindictive. It is such cruelty that sets the plot in motion, as a group of homeless taunt one of their own. His instability will lead to an unexpected murder, which event enables others of more power and position—seeking to consolidate wealth or favor or power—to go after personal enemies, dragging along many innocent citizens in their wake. But there is one ray of hope in the story, in an unexpected romance between a favorite advisor of The President and the daughter of one of The President’s political enemies. Indeed, while The President is an illustration of how fear and lust for power or influence makes monsters of men, it also offers us the redeeming power of love.

The President is a novel set in a county never named, but imagined by many to be author Miguel Ángel Asturias’ native Guatemala. Perhaps Asturias left his setting unnamed to keep distance between himself and the politics at home, but leaving the country anonymous allows the reader to imagine any number of possibilities. This tyranny by man is non-specific, it is possible anywhere, everywhere, in anyone.

Originally intended as a Spanish Lit Month/August Classics Club Spin read, The President counts for the Back the to Classics Challenge as a title which has “been banned or censored”—although written in the 1920s and 30s it was delayed from publication until 1946 by the censorship of the Guatemalan government. It is also on my Classics Club and Libros Españoles project lists.