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?
Reading · Reading England 2015 · The Classics Club

Completed: The Valley of Fear

Cover: The Valley of Fear by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The Valley of Fear
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
(1915, Scotland)

Holmes laughed. ‘Watson insists that I am the dramatist in real life,’ said he. ‘Some touch of the artist wells up within me, and calls insistently for a well staged performance. Surely our profession, Mr. Mac, would be a drab and sordid one if we did not sometimes set the scene so as to glorify our results. The blunt accusation, the brutal tap upon the shoulder–what can one make of such a dénouement? But the quick inference, the subtle trap, the clever forecast of coming events, the triumphant vindication of bold theories–are these not the pride and the justification of our life’s work?’ (75)

I read this seventh title in my adventures through the Sherlock Holmes mysteries this past fall, both as seasonal reading–there just seems to be something about autumn that goes well with Holmes–and as an entry for the Reading England 2015 challenge (which I completely forgot to mention in my Northanger Abbey post – the bulk of that novel in Bath, Somerset County). Though I am geographically challenged as comes to England, I now know that the action of The Valley of Fear takes place in Sussex County, located in southeastern England, on the coast.

That is, I should say, the action of the first half of The Valley of Fear. For much like the earlier A Study in Scarlet, the short novel is split in two parts, with Holmes solving a crime in the first half–that of a murdered country gentleman, felled by a sawed-off shotgun in his moated and locked country estate–and the second half’s explanation of the long-past history that led to this crime. And much like A Study in Scarlet, this past history is set in the American West, specifically a small hard-scrabble mining town. I’d be tempted to make comment on Doyle’s stereotype of the American West, were it not for daily news evidence that the U.S. has clearly never moved past an affinity for violence.

Unfortunately, I didn’t find myself caring for The Valley of Fear any more than I did A Study in Scarlet. And now I can no longer excuse him as still being a young writer. This time the problem was less the split of the narrative–the narrative in both parts was equally interesting–but that in both halves I knew the answer of the mystery well in advance of the end. Perhaps Doyle laid too many clues, perhaps I’ve simply read/watched too many mysteries, but it was too easy for me to “solve.” Though, my fondness for reading The Hound of the Baskervilles proves that knowing the solution isn’t always a problem, it’s what surrounds that solution. But where Baskervilles oozes in atmosphere, the predominant memory I have of The Valley of Fear is action and violence. The plot might an action-thriller make, but I find I like it less than the more tightly woven Baskervilles. It is more a diversion than a masterpiece.

 

Reading · The Classics Club

Completed: The Return of Sherlock Holmes

Cover: The Return of Sherlock HolmesThe Return of Sherlock Holmes
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
1905, Scotland

 “Come, Watson, come!” he cried. “The game is afoot. Not a word! Into your clothes and come!”

(“The Adventure of the Abbey Grange”)

Just a quick post to note that I’ve finally finished the 6th of the Sherlock Holmes titles on my Classics Club list (or 5th book in the 8-volume set I’ve borrowed from my Dad).  This is hands down the longest of the books, which, without actually checking to confirm this assumption, I believe is because the short stories in this collection are lengthier than those in the other collections, not because there are more stories. Certainly, it seemed to take longer to read each story. Although I’ve stated in the past that my problem with the short stories is that it often felt as if there weren’t enough Homes–here that is no problem–the problem here was that it felt at times as if the book was endless! (I’m so fickle.) I’m sure that had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that since starting this collection I’ve finished four other books. Nope, can’t possibly be my fault.

That said, I did enjoy the stories for the most part. Some I worked out much to early in the story (“The Adventure of the Norwood Builder” in particular). Some I was just “meh” about. But I quite enjoyed “The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist” and “The Adventure of the Priory School.” My memory of the earlier story collections my not be accurate, but it seemed that in this collection–the two last mentioned stories being examples–we see much more of Holmes outside of the murky London that I more strongly associate with Holmes. There are even two stories set in university towns (I envision Cambridge or Oxford), a setting that reminds me of the Inspector Lewis TV series rather than Holmes–and it was a delight to see Holmes there.

Of course, these being stories of their time, there is also on occasion the tidbit to make the 21st century reader squirm a bit. In “The Adventure of the Six Napoleons” (which my notes emphasize refers to busts of Napoleon, not the pastry!), specifically, the terms “simian” and “ape-like” are used to describe the villain–an Italian. Although Doyle evidently had an interest in phrenology (see The Hound of the Baskervilles), and could perhaps just be using this to emphasize the evil nature of the character, the knowledge that many people of the time had an anti-Italian bias, makes me think this plays a factor. Squirmy…but also illustrative of the period. For that matter, the Holmes stories also often illustrate the limitations placed on the women in the era. (Examples here are “The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist” and “The Adventure of the Second Stain.”)

All in all, I enjoyed making my way through the collection, but am more than happy to take a bit of a break from Holmes. Apparently I’m not a true Holmesian! (On the other hand it was quite fun to recognize references or stories used in the most recent series of Sherlock, references I had not previously known.)

R.I.P. · RAL · Reading

Reread: The Hound of the Baskervilles

The Hounder of the Baskervilles 1st Edition CoverThe Hound of the Baskervilles
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
1902, Scotland

But it was not the sight of her body, nor yet was it that of the body of Hugo Baskerville lying near her, which raised the hair upon the heads of these three daredevil roysterers, but it was that, standing over Hugo, and plucking at his throat, there stood a foul thing, a great, black beast, shaped like a hound, yet larger than any hound that ever mortal eye has rested upon. (Ch. 2)

When I first read The Hound of the Baskervilles last fall, I couldn’t help but compare it to The Castle of Otranto, the grandfather of the Gothic novel. This year, at a further remove from my reading of Otranto, it is less that specific novel that I am reminded of and more of the general idea of “ghost story.” Certainly, at least, the legend of the Baskerville family–that of a diabolical hound that killed the blackguard Hugo Baskerville–would all on its own be a perfect campfire story.

The deliciously spine-tingling atmosphere of the Baskerville legend continues throughout the short mystery, with a gloomy, autumnal setting in the moors; eerie, unexplained sounds filling the air; and an escaped convict just to complicate things. It is only a little too bad that this is a Holmes mystery and so therefore the end seems a bit of a sharp contrast–all must be explained by light of day in Holmes’s stark logic. And really, for being a mystery, it is the atmosphere that keeps me returning. Although I don’t foresee myself rereading again next year, it does seem that visits with some of the movie adaptations may perhaps be in order.

The Hound of the Baskervilles is my third read for this year’s R.I.P. Although several people expressed interest in reading it with me a while back, the only post I’ve seen so far is Christine’s at The Moonlight Reader – let me know if I missed any!

R.I.P. IX Logo

R.I.P. · RAL

The Hound of the Baskervilles Readalong Begins!

The Hounder of the Baskervilles 1st Edition Cover

It’s finally here, October 1, and The Hound of the Baskervilles readalong can begin! (Confession: my brain’s been convinced it’s October for a couple weeks. This will be a deliciously long month.) Whether you’ve never read Baskervilles before or are returning to a much-loved tale, I hope it is a pleasurable visit. I aim for low-stress reading experiences, so there’s no set schedule or questions to answer, just an opportunity for all who wish to read along together and discuss at the end of the month. (Though, if you’re really ambitious, I think there might be enough textual evidence to read most of the story on the days of the month it takes place.) During the final week of October, return here to share links to your posts, and join in the discussion. I will let this post serve as the links post for the month, and will link it in my sidebar. And it’s not too late–even if you didn’t express interest in my earlier post, feel free to join in at any time this month. This should be fun!

Happy reading!

Reading · The Classics Club

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?

On Reading · Reading · The Classics Club

(Completed): A Series of Posts in One

I’ve had a fairly good reading year to date. I haven’t quite managed to get everything read I wanted (especially in anticipated time frames), but I’ve read books I hadn’t planned on as well as some I really wanted to get through. Unfortunately, my blogging activity: not so great. That leaves me with books I don’t remember well enough to write full posts on. (Well, to be fair, I may not have had enough to say on one or two of these in the first place. After all, I’ve managed a full post on Quiet, and I read that one in May.) And a few weeks back (when I actually started writing this) I reached a point when I felt I couldn’t read any more until  So I decided to just clear the deck and write up some brief thoughts here, for my own records if nothing else.  Presented in order of completion:

The Memoirs of Sherlock HolmesThe Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
1894, Scotland

Alas, I don’t recall much of my thoughts on this Sherlock Holmes collection. I do remember that I enjoyed it more than I did the similar The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, but I think that is more likely due to reading mood than any real difference between the two collections. One thing I found: these stories are just the perfect length for reading at lunch at work. In fact, I probably read more of this book on lunch breaks than any other book this year!

There were two stories I did find memorable: the infamous “The Final Problem” (of course) and “The Yellow Face,” which I noted offered a view of the restrictive life of women in the Victorian era: the client comes to Holmes concerned over what his wife is up to because she wasn’t home when he returned. However, it surprised me in the end, for a completely different social reason. I can’t say why without giving away the end (which I am reluctant to do for a mystery). Suffice it to say, not quite what I expected from a story from the 19th century.

Up next in the series, The Hound of the Baskervilles, which will hopefully be read for this year’s edition of R.I.P.

This book qualifies as a Classics Club selection, as one of my 2013 TBR Challenge selections, and as part of my Mysteries & Detective Fiction project.

outsilentplanetOut of the Silent Planet
C. S. Lewis
1938, Britain

I find myself forced to admit that I find it rather easy to forget that I read Out of the Silent Planet this summer. And that I needed to post on it. So, yes, not really my favorite Lewis. For one thing, it was far more work than I had really expected–trying to picture the environment, keep up with the made-up words. I don’t know if that’s a failing of the book or the reader (I don’t often read books with extensive world-building). That said, I will likely finish out the trilogy at some point.

“Yes,” said Oyarsa, ” but one thing we left behind us on the harandra: fear. And with fear, murder and rebellion. The weakest of my people does not fear death. It is the Bent One, the lord of your world, who wastes your lives and befouls them with flying from what you know will overtake you in the end. If you were subjects of Maleldil you would have peace.” (Ch. 20)

This is Lewis’s science fiction. Of course, it is also Lewis, so there is underpinning theology which shapes things, and which, I suspect, is what ultimately causes it to deviate from the expected. On the one hand, it is science fiction in the most expected sense, I think: space flight, alien planet, extraterrestrial beings. But what else we expect–that other is dangerous to man, that man is at the top of the totem pole–that is not necessarily so. Lewis really seems to flip some of the science fiction tropes around*–as well as act as a sort of commentary on British colonialism. (I think. It seems…) Although mention is made of “white man’s burden” and it is clear that villains Weston and Divine want to take the traditional colonizer’s/explorer’s route of raping and plundering a new world, main-character Ransom’s interactions with the “natives” are so radically different. While there may be some hint at the concept of “noble savage” in the inspiration of the three different groups of Malacandra, I think what Lewis really presents is an alternate Earth, one where the Fall (of man) hasn’t happened: Malacandra shows us what might have been. Thus, the hnau are friendly, open, welcoming. They are not innocent, i.e., they have knowledge that evil and darkness exists (something Ransom seems not to recognize at first, as he attempts to shield them from knowledge that there is evil on his home planet), but they are good. I think Lewis’s theology is more subtle here than in the Narnia novels, but it is still present. Indeed, this reminds me more of Tolkien’s Silmarillion than Narnia. (Also, I thought the last chapter, the one that could almost have been left off, the best part.)

*Legitimate question: would Lewis have been writing this before some of the standard SF tropes existed?
The-Raven-BoysThe Raven Boys
Maggie Stiefvater
2012, U.S.

I believe I mentioned earlier this summer that I’ve been experimenting with listening to audiobooks while driving home from work. I know many people love audiobooks for their commutes, but I seem to have a great difficulty with attention paying when listening to books. Which is odd given that my dad read to my brother and I for many years–if we made it through The Lord of the Rings why can’t I listen to a professionally produced audiobook without frequent rewindings as my attention constantly wanders to other things? I’ve found that “easier” books or rereads work a bit better, so I took advantage of a summer series of free YA offerings through audiobooksync.com. I’ve only listened to a couple so far, but it was Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys which really grabbed my attention–so much so that I stopped listening to the audiobook and picked up a paper copy at the library. You can throw your “but audiobooks are real books” at me all you like; I simply can’t listen well enough to stick with an audio version of something I’m enjoying so much. Of course, this means I was next hit with the unfortunate reality that The Raven Boys is the first of a (length unknown to me) series, and the second book didn’t come put until mid-September. Ah yes. I don’t mind waits, it’s remembering the earlier book(s) in the meantime that’s the problem.

The Raven Boys qualifies, I think, as a contemporary fantasy. Maybe. I’m vague on definitions. It’s set in the U.S. south, Virginia specifically, in the present day. The main characters are all high-school students, most of whom attend an elite private school, and all of whom are on a quest for a mythical ley-line, with a few added psychics thrown in for good measure. There is much mention of a Welsh king, Glendower. I am rather reminded of Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series, which is perhaps the best comparison I know for the type of fantasy this is. (I am rather under-read in fantasy and definite terminology is beyond me.) Oddly though, while reading I was actually more reminded of Marisha Pessl’s Special Topics in Calamity Physics. Both are set in the south, with…unusual…high school students as the main characters, both have important scenes in the woods. And both give the name “Blue” to the main female character. (Is that a southern name then? Or just a “quirky” girl’s name name?) There’s perhaps not really any reason to compare the two, but I couldn’t help making the connection. It did make me think that perhaps I ought read more U.S. southern lit, as I seem to be fond of it… Also, perhaps mythologies and legends from the British Isles.

I actually don’t have much else to say beyond that I really enjoyed it–I think for both the characters and the atmosphere–I kept listening to Loreena McKennitt’s Celtic influenced music while reading, which seemed completely appropriate. (What? Doesn’t everybody match their playlist to their reading?)

In terms of atmosphere, this seems appropriate for seasonal R.I.P. reading, but as I read it this summer, I’m not including it on my list. Also, if audiobooks are your sort of thing, I thought it very well narrated.

Phew. All caught up. Now I can return to reading guilt-free. Let’s just not let this happen again, shall we?