Stuff and Nonsense: reading challenge

Showing posts with label reading challenge. Show all posts
Showing posts with label reading challenge. Show all posts


Silas Marner, Part Two: Chapters XVI - Conclusion

Sixteen years have passed since Silas Marner found a golden-haired child at his hearthside. He is very much a different man from the one who tore into the Rainbow, desperate for the return of his gold. And Eppie? All grown up now and quite beautiful in all the ways that matter most. Twice Eppie's biological father has suggested to his childless wife that they adopt a her, and twice his wife has refused his whim, ignorant there is a particular reason to want Eppie.

But then the squire's shiftless son, missing all these years, is found! Or, rather his body is found, and there can be no doubt it was he who had stolen Silas' money. Eppie's father, finally accepting that secrets will out, tells his wife about his prior marriage and unrecognized daughter. Together, they approach Silas and Eppie about adopting the girl and securing her a better future than Silas ever could. But Eppie, darling Eppie, refuses. She will not leave her dad or the life she has always known. The wealthy-and-socially-well-placed-but-childless couple try to sway her, but are rebuffed and withdraw. And then Eppie marries her own true love in a quiet country wedding and everyone that matters lives happily ever after! Amen.

I have to say that, having read Silas Marner alongside two Charlotte Bronte novels, I find Eliot's blend of Realism and Romanticism quite refreshing. Bronte's writing can become quite overwrought and impenetrable when she touches on religion and Eliot, while she seems to share many of the same opinions, manages to make her points more clearly and, perhaps, more kindly. (I say that having read all of one Eliot novel -- I understand I may be very very wrong about her).

Silas Marner is my second selection for the 2015 Back to the Classics and No Book Buying reading challenges. I claim it as "A Classic with a Person's Name in the Title" for Back to the Classics.

Silas Marner by George Eliot (Harper & Row, 1965)


Silas Marner, Part One: Chapters I - XV

Silas Marner is my second selection for the 2015 Back to the Classics and No Book Buying reading challenges. I claim it as "A Classic with a Person's Name in the Title" for Back to the Classics. I've never read an Eliot before and the challenge(s) seemed like a good incentive. My copy is actually my mom's, but I liberated it from the old homestead manymany years ago with intent to read it, but "so many books, so little time" &etc.

I'm dividing my "review" of the book into two parts, just as the book itself is divided in two simply because I've been reading a lot English literature from this time period and am trying to pace myself -- rather than overdose on it and go off it when there is still so much to read.

So, Silas Marner was an honest, if exceedingly naive, man of faith who has his life destroyed by the wretched machinations of his best friend, William, who persuades the rest of the congregation that Silas stole money from the church. Not only does the church turn against Silas, taking away his spiritual home, but his beloved takes up with traitorous William. Fickle, fickle love! Embittered and depressed, Silas takes himself off to the countryside where he ends up working as a linen weaver in a small village. His neighbors find him strange, if not downright suspicious, and his lack of sociability keeps him on the outskirts of society. Where Silas seems happy to be. Betrayed by kith and kirk as he has been, why should he trust or love anything else again? Better to put all his adoration and faith in the gold coins he keeps buried under some loose floor bricks.

Alas, the local squire has a shiftless and unscrupulous son who, seizing an opportunity, robs Silas of his gold. Silas is despondent and, for the first time, willfully throws himself into village society in an attempt to get his gold back. Certainly, his neighbors are interested in his disaster, but no-one seems capable of doing anything about it. Folk are torn -- was the money taken by a tramp, as some say, or was the gold taken away by whatever diabolical powers Silas consorts with?

So, no gold for Silas! But, you know, some sympathy from the neighbors is no small thing when you're a weird, myopic outlander in a small, completely self-centered English village. And then Heaven brings Silas a new source of gold in the form of a small motherless child.

You see, the local squire has another son who made a bad match by marrying an opium addict. He's kept the marriage secret and been bribing his wife to stay away, but now she's come for her reckoning. "Happily," she dies of hypothermia (and/or overdoses) practically on Silas' doorstep and the squire's son is now free to marry the Right Sort Of Girl and make totally legitimate babies with her. He's pretty sure he should do something for the child Silas has taken in, but not right now ...

Meanwhile, Silas is totally enamored with this small child who reminds him so much of his dead sister and, under the gentle tutelage of his new friend, Mrs Winthrop, he sets out to raise Eppie up as a proper village girl, rooting himself even more deeply in the village and slowly becoming One Of Us.

Have to say I am really impressed by Eliot's story-telling abilities. She creates a universe in a village, fills it with ordinary people, and makes all it seem both perfectly real and important. It's impossible not to wince as Dunsey so easily spots Silas' "carefully camouflaged" hidey-hole or mourn with lonely Silas over the loss of the one thing that gave his life not necessarily joy, but purpose. No character in this book is flawless or heroic and yet there is basic human goodness found in all of them. Well, except William, Dunsey, and Molly. It was a little disappointing that William and Dunsey, responsible for such wickedness, should pass so easily from the story without ever coming to account. And that Molly should be so one-dimensional when even the old parish clerk gets a full fleshing, well, that seemed unfair. All very moral, though.

In raising Eppie, Silas grows away from the lonely, untrusting man experience has rendered him. Slowly he opens his heart and becomes reconciled with his past. All the ways he could have become a sorrier or more wretched creature are neatly sidestepped by his love for this small child and, more wonderful to him, her complete unquestioning love of him. Don't usually see father-daughter relationships portrayed with this kind of sympathy or fineness in novels like this, so it's quite charming to see.

And, "Eppie in de toal hole!" What a scene! Mrs Winthrop has gently suggested Eppie needs some disciplining lest she grow too wild and Silas cannot bring himself to do the usual thing, like strike her, so tries Mrs Winthop's other suggestion, which is to lock her in the coal hole. Of course, he's made wretched over the whole thing and lets Eppie out at her first cry ... only to later find her popping in an out of the coal hole as if it is a new game. Poor Silas! To have gone from a young man of place and some prospects, to unloved outcast, to father of this little minx! And Eliot has written the scene so clearly that it is like watching a scene unwind in a film -- the small child craftily acquiring the forbidden scissors, the escape, the desperate search, the relief at finding the child, the grief at punishing her, her cheerful inability to be punished.

Reading historical fiction always makes me want to Know All The Things, so here's a few videos about how flax would have been turned into linen way back when:

Silas Marner by George Eliot (Harper & Row, 1965)


Shirley: The End

A double wedding! Isn't that what I wanted for Caroline and Shirley and yet ... frankly, their weddings leave me feeling dirty. Caroline and Robert have come to their marriage seemingly as equals, both having been tempered by time and experience, but since so much of that suffering could have been avoided altogether by just talking to each other (I know, Shirley isn't that kind of novel), it's a bit frustrating.

What follows is a bit disjointed as I am full of FEELS and insufficient amounts of literary criticism to support them:

Shirley and Louis have a real master-servant relationship going that squicks me out. It's what Shirley wants, she says. But she fell in love with him as a school girl and he her teacher and the whole "new" master-dog relationship smacks of a return to that juvenile state.

I just find it rather confusing, because Bronte has set Shirley up as a sort-of model for the equality of women. She is wealthy and independent, free to dispose of her property however she pleases, and marry or not marry as she desires. But then, of course she will chuck that equality straight out the window when she gets married, because she's a woman and everything she owns becomes her husband's under law. So, I can see why Shirley wants to marry a strong man (if marry she feels she must -- and she's no Carolyn, so necessarily bound for "natural state of marriage") who will challenge her, but I don't quite see why she wants a "master."
Tartar looked, slavered, and sighed, as his manner was, but yet disregarded the invitation, and coolly settled himself on his haunches at Louis Moore's side. That gentleman drew the dog's big, black-muzzled head on to his knee, patted him, and smiled one little smile to himself.

An acute observer might have remarked, in the course of the same evening, that after Tartar had resumed his allegiance to Shirley, and was once more couched near her footstool, the audacious tutor by one word and gesture fascinated him again. He pricked up his ears at the word; he started erect at the gesture, and came, with head lovingly depressed, to receive the expected caress. As it was given, the significant smile again rippled across Moore's quiet face.
Mind you, I'd been suspicious of the whole Shirley-Louis Thing since the above scene where Louis mastered Tartar -- his smiles so clearly smacked of foreboding. Shirley was proud beast to tame and Louis brought her to sit quietly at his side just as he did with Tartar. Maybe if Shirley hadn't delayed the wedding date for months or chafed at the bars of her matrimonial cage, but Bronte tells us that is exactly what she does and so it's hard to believe Shirley is truly happy with her choice. And I want everyone to be happy.


I am very dissatisfied with the romantic wrap-up.

(IDK, Charlotte Bronte, but a lot of your romantic heroes seem like dicks and I have a hard time buying into the relationships you're peddling. Even Rochester, obsessive crush of my youth, is not a dude I'd recommend to any of my friends).

Anyway ...Shirley was my first selection for the 2015 Victorian Bingo, Back to the Classics, and No Book Buying reading challenges. I claim it as a 19th Century classic for Back to the Classics and "name as a title" for Victorian Bingo.

Shirley by Charlotte Bronte (Penguin Classics, 2012)


Shirley: Two-Thirds Through

Set in Yorkshire toward the end of the Napoleonic Wars, when the Luddites rioted over the mechanization of mills and the mill owners suffered from the collapse of cloth exports. In spite of all this, the half-Belgian Robert Gerard Moore rents an empty mill and proceeds to introduce the latest "labor-saving machinery" -- much to the ire of the local poor who, after being stirred up by out-of-area agitators, attempt to destroy his work.

Certain inventions in machinery were introduced into the staple manufacturers of the north, which, greatly reducing the numbers of hands necessary to be employed, threw thousands out of work, and left them without legitimate means of sustaining life ... Misery generates hate; these sufferers hated the machines which they believed took their bread from them; they hated the buildings which contained those machines; they hated the manufacturers who owned those buildings.

Meanwhile, Moore's young cousin, Caroline Helstone, is in love with him ... but she senses that affection is not returned. And how could it be, she asks herself? She, the penniless niece of a country rector would be no great match for a mill owner desperately in need of capital. Better he should marry Shirley Keeldar, a wealthy and independent heiress very used to being the master of her own destiny. Better Caroline should quietly creep away and become a governess. (If only the governess she knows would stop telling her what a terrible idea that is!)

Take the matter as you find it: ask no questions, utter no remonstrances; it is your best wisdom. You expected bread, and you have got a stone: break your teeth on it, and don't shriek because the nerves are martyrized; do not doubt that your mental stomach—if you have such a thing—is strong as an ostrich's; the stone will digest. You held out your hand for an egg, and fate put into it a scorpion. Show no consternation: close your fingers firmly upon the gift; let it sting through your palm. Never mind; in time, after your hand and arm have swelled and quivered long with torture, the squeezed scorpion will die, and you will have learned the great lesson how to endure without a sob.

Add in dozens of secondary characters, subplots, and (possibly unnecessary) plot twists and you end up with a novel dense as a plum pudding (as Doris Lessing might say). And yet, dense as it is, I also found it wickedly compelling. This is probably not surprising as I love just about any novel that wants to discuss industrialization's impact on labor, the Napoleonic Wars, the social and economic plight of unmarried/unmarriageable women, and the institutionalization of poverty in 1800s England. And it has two unmarried women remaining good friends even though there's a totally marriageable man (kinda-sorta) standing between them.

I feel that I should warn prospective readers that Shirley is a decidedly different book from Jane Eyre and, if you approach it expecting to feel about it as you might feel about Jane Eyre, you are going to be disappointed. Even though I was forewarned and attempted to start Shirley with no Jane Eyre-influenced bias, I found the first few chapters hard going -- who cares about grasping, self-important curates and their dinner habits? But then I realized Caroline was a completely estimable heroine and quite fell in with the story.

Despite her seemingly gentle demeanor, Caroline's private thoughts are actually quite unconventional and satirical. As she grows into womanhood and realizes that marriage may not be in her future, she strives to embrace the mindlessly feminine tasks that are to make up her life ... while also clearly chaffing against them. Why, Caroline wonders, can't she be a useful spinster? Rather than some kind of genteel placeholder, sewing clothes for the Jew's basket and making visits until she dies? She's self aware enough to know her position is untenable, but she lacks the freedom or power to change it. (And I suspect her situation would have resonated with many a female reader of the day).

At heart, he could not abide sense in women: he liked to see them as silly, as light-headed, as vain, as open to ridicule as possible; because they were then in reality what he held them to be, and wished them to be,--inferior: toys to play with, to amuse a vacant hour and to be thrown away.

And then there's Shirley! A young woman of wealth, beauty, and breeding who cares little for traditional feminine tasks and enjoys referring to herself (and acting as) Captain Shirley Keeldar, Esquire! Is it any wonder she and Caroline should be great friends? Even though Caroline fully expects Shirley to marry Robert and lives daily with that heartache? But does she begrudge Shirley her beauty or wealth or love? No, because (and unlike the other unmarried ladies of her neighborhood) Caroline is not a husband-hunter who schemes, plots, and dresses to ensnare a husband. (Granted, I would really have liked Caroline and Shirley to talk about the elephant/man in the room and hashed everything out, but Shirley isn't that kind of novel).

If men could see us as we really are, they would be a little amazed; but the cleverest, the acutest men are often under an illusion about women: they do not read them in a true light: they misapprehend them, both for good and evil: their good woman is a queer thing, half doll, half angel; their bad woman almost always a fiend.

Anyway, I've still a third of the novel to get through and I have guarded hopes that Caroline and Shirley will somehow manage to make marriages of equals and turn Moore's impoverished mill into a worker's utopia.

Shirley is my first selection for the 2015 Victorian Bingo, Back to the Classics, and No Book Buying reading challenges. I claim it as a 19th Century classic for Back to the Classics and "name as a title" for Victorian Bingo.

Shirley by Charlotte Bronte (Penguin Classics, 2012)


Back to the Classics Challenge 2015

I'm doing the No Book Buying Challenge 2005 and it occurred to me that I own so many classics signing up for Karen's Back to the Classics Challenge 2015 at Books & Chocolates seemed like a no brainer.

Basic summary of the Back to the Classics Challenge 2015:

  • All books must be read in 2015. Books started prior to January 1, 2015 are not eligible. Reviews must be linked by December 31, 2015.
  • All books must have been published at least 50 years ago; therefore, 1965 is the cutoff date. The only exception is books published posthumously, but written before 1965.
  • E-books and audiobooks are eligible! Books may also count for other challenges you may be working on.
  • Books may NOT cross over categories within this challenge. You may NOT count the same book twice for different categories in this challenge. One book per category -- otherwise, they won't count.
  • Signups must be completed BEFORE MARCH 31, 2015.

There are twelve categories to the challenge, of which I'm striving to complete nine reading books I already own:

1. A 19th Century Classic -- any book published between 1800 and 1899. Shirley (1849) by Charlotte Brontë.

2. A 20th Century Classic -- any book published between 1900 and 1965. Man Who Was Thursday (1908) by G.K. Chesterton.

3. A Classic by a Woman Author. Mill on the Floss (1860) by George Eliot.

5. A Very Long Classic Novel -- a single work of 500 pages or longer. Great Expectations (1861 as a three volume book) by Charles Dickens.

6. A Classic Novella -- any work shorter than 250 pages. Breakfast at Tiffany's (1958) by Truman Capote.

7. A Classic with a Person's Name in the Title. Silas Marner (1861) by George Eliot.

9. A Forgotten Classic. The Vet's Daughter (1959) by Barbara Comyns or Cassandra at the Wedding (1962) by Dorothy Baker

10. A Nonfiction Classic. The Enormous Room (1922) by E.E. Cummings -- I've seen this listed as both a memoir and an autobiographical novel, so further research is needed.

11. A Classic Children's Book. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1903) by Kate Douglas Wiggin.

I may, of course, change my mind about any one or even all of these titles!


Failing At Reading Challenges; Or, I Said I'd Do What Now?

It occurs to me I was registered for two reading challenges in 2013 and I see, as I foretold last January, I did indeed start out strong with regular posts and then petered out after a few months. At least, that was so with the 2013 Graphic Novel Challenge.

I didn't read anything for the E-book Challenge. Which isn't to say I haven't been reading things on my Kindle. I just never wrote them up to count them against the challenge and now it is too late. Also, I've added about 20 new titles to my Kindle since starting the Challenge so am in even worse straits. Surprise.

Books I actually read for the 2013 Graphic Novel Challenge:
  1. Dawn of the Arcana, Volume One
  2. Twin Spica, Volume One
  3. Twin Spica, Volume Two
  4. Lola: A Ghost Story
  5. Adventure Time with Fiona & Cake, Issue One
  6. The Drops of God, Volume One
  7. Chi's Sweet Home, Volume Eight
  8. Yotsuba&!, Volume One
  9. Polly & the Pirates, Volume Two
  10. Ignition City
  11. Three Shadows
That's eleven out of twenty-four. Fabulous. Simply fabulous.

No challenges in 2014!


Therefore, Be It RESOLVED

Too many books! Too. Many. Books. Toomanybooks. TOO MANY. Books for my birthday. Books for Christmas. Books unread from last year's birthday and Christmas. Incalculable free Kindle downloads. Half-forgotten Amazon pre-orders. A steady trickle of Kickstarter projects. And the library books! Oh, the library books.

Library cards are a gateway drug leading to rampant bibliophilia and book hoarding.

So I've signed up for two reading challenges to help me get through my enormous pile of unreads! Admittedly, I don't have the best record when it comes to reading challenges. I'll start out strong with regular posts and then peter out after a few months. Oh, I'll intend to catch up, but guilt and ennui will overrule the best of intentions and I'll fail so hard. However, neither of the challenges I'm signed up for require anything more strenuous than reading books and linking to my reviews, so ... success in 2013?

To the challenges!

Challenge the First: The 2013 Graphic Novel Reading Challenge! This challenge is being hosted by Nicola. I'm signed on for Advanced Level 2 of this challenge and am supposed to read 24 books, 12 of which need to come from these categories:
  1. manga: The Drops of God, Volume 1
  2. superhero: Batgirl: The Darkest Reflection
  3. classic adaptation: Jane Eyre: The Graphic Novel
  4. memoir: Marzi: A Memoir
  5. fantasy: The Last Unicorn
  6. translated from a foreign language: Three Shadows
  7. a single-issue comic book:
  8. science-fiction: Ignition City, Volume 1
  9. crime or mystery: Dark Rain: A New Orleans Story
  10. fairytale or mythology: Fairy Quest: Outlaws
  11. children's book: Zita the Spacegirl, Book One: Far From Home
  12. anthology: No Straight Lines: Four Decades of Queer Comics
  13. Womanthology
  14. Courtney Crumrin, Volume 1
  15. Fun Home
  16. Polly and the Pirates, Volume 2
  17. Unterzakhn
  18. Greek Street, Volume 1
  19. Greek Street, Volume 2
  20. Emma
  21. Road to Oz (preordered -- out April 2013)
  22. Tank Girl, Volume 1 (remastered edition)
  23. Chi's Sweet Home, Volume Whatever I'm On
  24. Underground
This challenge runs from 1/1 through 12/31. I'll tag each post "graphic novel challenge 2013" and I may or may not create a page for the challenge, grouping all the posts together. Click here to sign up and get more information on this challenge.

Challenge the Second: The 2013 Ebook Challenge, because I keep downloading free ebooks to my Kindle and then not reading them since there are so many interesting physical books right in front of me. This challenge is hosted by Workaday Reads. I'm attempting the "Floppy disk" level which means I'll read 5 e-books:
  1. Charlotte Collins: A Continuation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice by Jennifer Becton
  2. Ridiculous by D.L. Carter
  3. The Inconvenient Duchess by Christine Merrill
  4. The Exploits of Lydia by Angela Darcy
  5. One Thread Pulled: The Dance With Mr. Darcy by Diana J. Oaks
Challenge runs from 1/1 through 12/31. I'll tag each post "Ebook Challenge 2013" and, as with the above, I may or may not create a page blahblahblah. Click here to sign up and get more information on this challenge.


Gothic Challenge: Mistress of Mellyn

Mistress of Mellyn by Victoria Holt (Doubleday, 1960) 
"There are two courses open to a gentlewoman when she finds herself in penurious circumstances," my Aunt Adelaide had said. "One is to marry, and the other to find a post in keeping with her gentility."
Martha Leigh, a gently bred orphan, had been given a crack at the marriage mart and failed to make a success of it. Too proud to live on charity, she becomes a governess to Alvean TreMellyn, a motherless girl with a cool and uncaring papa. Alvean is a handful, but Martha is sure she can rein the girl in and make a success of the situation. Her aloof papa, Connan TreMellyn, intrigues Martha and, while she knows better, she finds herself falling in love with him.

And growing up side-by-side with that love is the terrible suspicion Mrs. TreMellyn did not die in a train accident whilst eloping with a neighbor. No, the more Martha investigates, the more unlikely it seems Alice would ever have done such a thing. So what became of Alice? Does the key lie with Gillyflower, the housekeeper’s fey bastard granddaughter?

Mistress of Mellyn is a compelling read. I was immediately drawn into the mystery surrounding Alice's death and the many little details of daily life at TreMellyn. The mystery builds slowly, but satisfyingly, as Holt fully immerses us in Martha’s world which is full of well-crafted secondary characters that help give the story real depth and flavor -- I was especially fond of the housekeeper, Mrs. Polgrey, with her whiskey-laced cups of Earl Grey.

I must admit to be less fond of Connan TreMellyn. I didn’t doubt Martha’s affection toward him, but I was never really certain of his toward her. The entire time Connan said he was madly falling in love with Martha, he was carrying on an affair with a married neighbor. He doesn’t deny it, nor does he indicate he’s spent those months trying to break off the affair. No, to me, it seemed like Connan decided it would be a good time to remarry, the TreMellyn household liked Martha, the silly thing hadn’t hidden her affection as well as she’d thought, and he did find her both desirable and companionable ... so why not marry the governess?  A man could do worse.

Even though the romantic elements of the novel felt a bit false, the novel’s central mystery was very fascinating and I thoroughly enjoyed its resolution -- it was just so over the top and so thoroughly gothic!


Gothic Challenge: The Lord of the Far Island

The Lord of the Far Island by Victoria Holt (Doubleday, 1975)
I could hear the whispering voices and my eyes were fixed on the door. It was slowly opening and there came to me the terrible realization that doom was just on the other side of the door.
Ellen Kellaway, orphaned at young age and sent to live with wealthy distant cousins, has reached adulthood and knows that her future will be vastly different from her young cousin’s. No teas, no balls, no opera for Ellen. No, soon Ellen will be sent into service as a governess or companion. Or, perhaps not ...

To her astonishment, her childhood friend, the handsome younger son of a very rich family, asks for Ellen’s hand in marriage. Oh, the bliss! The joy! The sense of triumph! The relief! And then tragedy strikes ... six days before their wedding, her fiancé commits suicide.

Overwhelmed by disbelief and grief, Ellen accepts an invitation from her hitherto unknown guardian to visit her father’s estate, Kellaways Island, off the coast of Cornwall. There Ellen begins to fall in love with her guardian despite suspecting he is up to no good. Long buried family secrets come to light, murder is attempted, and bad dreams come true.

Lord of the Far Island is a delicious Gothic romance. The plot twists work well, Ellen is a sympathetic heroine -- although, I must admit I wished she could have fallen in love with someone less creepy and manipulative. Jago is the classic dark, brooding, mesmerizing, antihero all Gothic romances need, but he just wasn't my cup of tea.

Regardless, I still had so much fun reading Lord of the Far Island that it made me feel a little less cranky about being without power, phone, and Internet for five days. This is the first Victoria Holt novel I’ve ever read and I look forward to reading many more.


Gothic Challenge: Closed on Account of Rabies

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;

I enjoyed Stories of the Macabre so much that I went looking through my library consortium’s catalog to see what other recordings might be available to me. As soon as I saw the title, Closed on Account of Rabies, I knew I had to give it a listen. I mean, doesn’t it look deliciously disturbing?

The audiobook collects fourteen of Poe’s stories and poems. Some have been set to song and all have accompanying atmospheric background music/sounds. I found the background music distracting as it frequently overwhelmed the performer -- too loud and/or too pronounced. Iggy Pop, Christopher Walken, and Gabriel Byrne performed excellent renditions of Poe's most famous horror stories, but I enjoyed them less than Ralph Cosham's on Stories of the Macabre, because the background music was so darn distracting.

That said, oh, you haven’t heard "The Raven" until you’ve heard it performed by Christopher Walken! (Just ignore the guitar).

Closed on Account of Rabies: Poems & Tales of Edgar Allan Poe written by Edgar Allan Poe & read by various (Mercury Records, 1997)


Gothic Reading Challenge: Stories of the Macabre

"For the most wild, yet most homely narrative which I am about to pen, I neither expect nor solicit belief. Mad indeed would I be to expect it, in a case where my very senses reject their own evidence. Yet, mad am I not — and very surely do I not dream. But to-morrow I die, and to-day I would unburthen my soul."

I’ve been listening to Ralph Cosham read Richard Adams’s Watership Down and he’s doing such a bang-up job that I started looking for other works read by him. Poe’s Stories of the Macabre seemed a good place to start -- being short and appropriately seasonal.

Stories of the Macabre comprises six of Poe's classic horror stories and two of his poems:
  • “The Bells” -- Oh, those bells! They’ll drive you mad, they will.
  • “The Cask of Amontillado” -- Man takes revenge upon a friend who has insulted him by bricking said friend up in a wall.
  • “The Tell-Tale Heart” -- Man kills his landlord who has a blind eye, because the eye is driving him crazy. Police investigate, madness ensues.
  • “The Fall of the House of Usher” -- Out of friendship, Man visits a crumbling house beset by madness and disease. Someone gets buried alive.
  • “The Raven” -- Man is visited by a raven while mourning the loss of his beloved Lenore. Man descends into madness.
  • “The Black Cat” -- Alcoholic Man sinks into depravity, commits murder, and is haunted by Basement Cat.
  • “Berenice” -- Man, affianced to his cousin, becomes inappropriately fixated on her teeth and removes them from her corpse (which, it turns out, is not actually corpse).
  • “The Man That Was Used Up” -- Man meets the famous Brevet Brigadier General, who is more than the sum of his parts. Or is he? (Not a horror story, actually, but a satire)
Cosham’s superb reading is full of enthusiasm and emotion -- there is absolutely no doubting the wild madness or cold, calculating, wickedness that possesses our protagonists. Indeed, the mad little laugh he gives during “The Tell-Tale Heart” sent chills down my spine and the calm, rational tone he uses while reading “The Black Cat” made my flesh crawl.

And, on a mostly related note, I give you a scene from Edgar Allan Pooh's "The Tell-Tale Heart:"

Stories of the Macabre written by Edgar Allan Poe & read by Ralph Cosham (Commuters Library, 2002)


Graphically Challenged

Last week, after I posted about how we lack shelf space to accommodate our multitudinous manga/GN collection, I was struck by the embarrassing realization that I have only read about two-thirds of the manga/GNs we own. Some of it's a series problem -- I start reading a series and, even after I fall behind, keep purchasing the new volumes for "someday." Some of it is very much an author problem -- I'll buy anything if it has Gail Simone or Alison Bechdel's name on it. But, mostly, it's a magpie problem --- we snap up whatever looks interesting, because who knows when or where we might see it again.

So these things are bought, brought into our home, and shelved. I have every intention of reading them, but am easily distracted by all the books I see at work. That new manga can wait, I tell myself, while I read this doorstop Booklist thinks is the bomb. And then I never do read that new manga!

To catch up with our collection, I've decided to read at least one manga/GN a week until I run out (and with my birthday and Christmas coming, I guess I won't run out anytime soon!). Yes, it's a reading challenge. Yes, I've been a miserable failure at my other 2011 reading challenges, but this is a personal challenge and the books are a mere six feet from my reading chair -- I might actually stick to it.

Also, to tidy my blog a bit, I've condensed the "manga," "manhwa," and "graphic novel" labels down into one label -- "comic books." I reckon if you're interested in one of those things, you'll be interested in the others, so why not group them together?


Gothic Challenge: Little Vampire Women

Little Vampire Women by Louisa May Alcott and Lynn Messina (HarperTeen, 2010)

The March family are impoverished, humanitarian vampires living in New England during the Civil War. Mr. March, a chaplain in the Union Army is away from home, and Mrs. March does her best to contrive a happy home for her four daughters and send them down a life-path which will turn them into "little vampire women."

I must admit that while I have watched several film versions of Little Women, I have never managed to read the novel in its entirety. However, when I saw the cover of Little Vampire Women with its pale, blood-covered young women, I immediately thought that this might be a version of Little Women I could stand to read. Surely it would avoid the mawkish qualities that drove me from the original novel?

Well, yes, and no. Yes, there's lots of blood, vampire defender training, and slaying of vampire hunters, but there's also plenty of sweet rhapsody over the perfection of "Dear Marmee," Beth's possession of Mr Laurence, Meg's courtship and marriage to Mr Brook, and a million other things that most girlish readers would enjoy. But I didn't. Much of the novel felt as Little Women had felt when I tried to read it all those years ago -- preachy and kind of smarmy in its sweetness.

I feel I should mention that Little Women is the only Alcott novel I don't get on with. Little Men was one of my favorite childhood reads and I adored her semi-autobiographical novel, Work: A Story of Experience, when I read it last April.


The Pyramid & Four Other Kurt Wallander Mysteries by Henning Mankell

The whole situation is insane, he thought.

This collection consists of five short stories and novellas that have been arranged chronologically to trace Wallander's growth from rookie cop to seasoned detective. Any reader (or viewer of the BBC series) who has longed to know Wallander before he became a middle-aged divorced detective should The Pyramid a pretty eye-opening read.
  • "Wallander's First Case"
    Takes place in 1969, when Wallander is a young patrolman in Malmo, just beginning his relationship with Mona, the woman he will marry. One night, Wallander hears what sounds like a gunshot in his apartment building and, when he investigates, he finds a neighbor’s door ajar and a body on the floor. The death is ruled a suicide but Wallander isn’t convinced and he decides to investigate on his own time, acting against the rules of the police department, because it will also help him look like a successful detective-candidate ...
  • "The Man with the Mask"
    Christmas Eve 1975, Wallender's supervisor asks him it check out a grocery store on his way home. The old woman who owns the shop has called several times, reporting a strange individual outside her store. When Wallander arrives, the woman is dead and his is attacked by a desperate man. Wallander's only hope for rescue lies in his wife Mona. Eventually, she will become angry he has not come home from work and call the station looking for him ...
  • "The Man on the Beach"
    1987, Wallander is chief inspector in Ystad with a failing marriage. A local taxi driver picks up a fare who quietly dies in the back of his cab. An autopsy reveals the fare was poisoned earlier in the day. Wallander and his team learn that the victim had been staying in Ystad for the past week, traveling into Svarte by taxi each day to walk on the beach. It's quite a tangled story and the ending felt incomplete to me.
  • "The Death of the Photographer"
    It's 1988 and Wallander and Mona are separated. The body of a local portrait photographer is found in his studio. The victim seems like "regular guy" but Wallander refuses to believe that a normal man could be the victim of such a brutal attack. Eventually, it becomes clear there was more to the victim then met the eye ...
  • "The Pyramid"
    One night in December 1989, Wallander is called out to investigate the crash of a small unregistered plane. This plane, not appearing on radar as it flew into Swedish air space, appears to have been carrying a load of drugs. The crew is dead and there is not a lot of evidence to go on when Wallander called away to investigate arson and suspected murder at a local sewing shop. Why would anyone have anything against two dear old ladies? And why do they have such a big safe full of money? As Wallander tries to connect these cases, his father is arrested by the Cairo police while on holiday in Egypt! His crime? Trying to climb the Cheops pyramid!
Taken all together they paint an unrelentingly grim picture of a life curbed by dysfunctional relationships, senseless crime, and terrible weather. I do not recommend reading them all in one go, as I did, unless you enjoy depressing yourself. Certainly, there are moments of fine black comedy and the dull plod of police work is very realistically presented, but I didn't finish the collection with any feelings of affection for Wallander or his Sweden.

The Pyramid & Four Other Kurt Wallander Mysteries written by Henning Mankell & translated from the Swedish by Ebba Segerberg with Laurie Thompson (The New Press, 2008)


Gothic Reading Challenge: The Canterville Ghost

Even though the Gothic Reading Challenge doesn't officially begin until 1 January, I've already started. Oh, I didn't mean to. No, indeed. I was just on Amazon, looking for something short and free to read on my phone, when Oscar Wilde's The Canterville Ghost just leapt off the screen.

The Canterville Ghost is comedy in Gothic trappings -- sensible, modern, forward-thinking Americans buy a haunted English country house. Discovering a mysterious bloodstain, they set to cleaning it with Pinkerton’s Champion Stain Remover and Paragon Detergent! Confronted by a chain-clanking fiend, they offer him Tammany Rising Sun Lubricator! Oh, you almost have to feel sorry for the foul spectre -- he's only trying to carry out a job he's had for hundreds of years and here are these wretched, modern Americans, not taking things the least bit seriously! It's humiliating and, obviously, he must have his revenge:

The owl beat against the window panes, the raven croaked from the old yew-tree, and the wind wandered moaning round the house like a lost soul; but the Otis family slept unconscious of their doom, and high above the rain and storm he could hear the steady snoring of the Minister for the United States. He stepped stealthily out of the wainscoting, with an evil smile on his cruel, wrinkled mouth, and the moon hid her face in a cloud as he stole past the great oriel window, where his own arms and those of his murdered wife were blazoned in azure and gold. On and on he glided, like an evil shadow, the very darkness seeming to loathe him as he passed. Once he thought he heard something call, and stopped; but it was only the baying of a dog from the Red Farm, and he went on, muttering strange sixteenth-century curses, and ever and anon brandishing the rusty dagger in the midnight air.

Woooo ...

One of my local libraries has The Canterville Ghost in audio and I'm hoping to get my hands on it before Christmas, as I'm sure it would be a lot of fun to listen to!


Nordic Challenge 2011

Zee from Notes from the North is hosting a Nordic author reading challenge and I've signed up! I blame this on Wallander, I really do. We've been borrowing episodes of the BBC series from Netflix and it has made for interesting watching -- interesting enough that I've been itching to try the novels that inspired them! Now I have the perfect excuse (as if I really needed one).

Dates: January 1, 2011- December 31, 2011

There will be 5 levels. The levels are:

  • Huginn and Muninn: Read 2 books
  • Freya: Read 3-5 books
  • Tor: Read 6-10 books
  • Odin: Read 11-20 books
  • Valhalla: Read 20+ books
There is no need to make a list before hand. Any book by any author born in a Nordic country (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and/or Sweden) or a book set in a Nordic country. They can be from any genre (I will be reading a mixture of classics, children’s books, YA and mystery).
While Zee says there's no need to start a list, I already know I'll be reading several of Henning Mankell's Kurt Wallander novels/stories.  I'm also interested in reading Camilla Läckberg's The Ice Princess, but I'd otherwise like to stay away from thrillers. I might try a contemporary young adult novel like Nothing by Janne Teller ...

Can anyone tell me why there so many Nordic crime novels?  Or is it just that a preponderance of Nordic crime novels make it to the American market instead of, say, poetry or science fiction?


GLBT Challenge 2011

I've signed on to participate in the GLBT Challenge in 2011. The idea behind the challenge is simply to read more books by LGBTQ authors or about LGBTQ issues and, obviously, I think that is a very good idea. (But then, you know, I'm a bit biased).

Under the challenge's rules I can read as many (or few) books as I'd like and I think I'll start with two and go on from there. I expect to read far more than a mere two LGBTQ books in 2011, but these two happen to be books I've been wanting to read for some time now:

Big Bang Symphony by Lucy Jane Bledsoe
As a college sophomore, I read and re-read Bledsoe's Working Parts so often that I pretty much have it memorized. It remains one of my favorite coming of age stories and I will nevernevernever loan my copy to anyone.

Stay by Nicola Griffith
Aud Torvingen returns! *swoon* I loved the first Aud Torvingen book, The Blue Place, and did mean to carry on with Stay ... but the world is full of books and I am so very easily distracted. Anyway, every darn time I see a Stieg Larsson novel go by on interlibrary loan, I am reminded that I still don't know what happened to Aud and I should borrow a copy of Stay. So I have. Finally.


Gothic Reading Challenge 2011

Susan B. Evans is hosting the Gothic Reading Challenge and I, fool that I am, have signed up to read five books in the coming year.

Dates: January 1, 2011 – December 31, 2011
There is nothing better than a great Gothic read – crumbling old castles, mysterious legends, shadowy characters, supernatural beings and unexplainable events, make for some of the most haunting and captivating reading imaginable.

There are four levels of participation to choose from:

A Little Madness – Read just 1 novel with Gothic elements.
The Darkness Within – Read 5 novels with Gothic elements.
A Maniacal Frenzy – Read 10 novels with Gothic elements.
Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know – Read 20 novels with Gothic elements.
I am attempting the Darkness Within level and will be reading:
  • Library of America's Shirley Jackson: Novels and Stories
  • Mrs. Gaskell's Tales of Mystery and Horror
  • The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
  • Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
I will be posting reviews as I finish the books -- probably, one every other month.