Sunday, January 19, 2020

Back to the Classics Challenge 2020: My List

Last year I think I read a book for every category, but I didn't write reviews for all of them. Here is my tentative list for 2020. I haven't read as much as I thought I would in January so far, but I will catch up soon! 

1. 19th Century Classic. Any classic book originally published between 1800 and 1899.
Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville 

2. 20th Century Classic. Any classic book originally published between 1900 and 1970. All books in this category must have been published at least 50 years ago. The only exceptions are books that were published posthumously but were written at least 50 years ago. 
A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller

3. Classic by a Woman Author. The Lais of Marie de France

4. Classic in Translation. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism by Max Weber (German)

5. Classic by a Person of Color. Gitanjali by Rabindranath Tagore / The Souls of Black Folk by WEB Dubois 

6. A Genre Classic. Any classic novel that falls into a genre category -- fantasy, science fiction, Western, romance, crime, horror, etc. Ubik by Philip K Dick/ The Complete John Silence Stories by Algernon Blackwood (I meant to read those last year...) 

7. Classic with a Person's Name in the Title. First name, last name or both. 
Le Morte d'Arthur: King Arthur and the Legends of the Round Table by Sir Thomas Malory 

8. Classic with a Place in the Title. Any classic with the proper name of a place (real or fictional) - a country, region, city, town, village, street, building, etc. Examples include Notre Dame de Paris; Mansfield Park; East of Eden; The Canterbury Tales; Death on the Nile; etc.
The Road to Wigan Pier by George Orwell  
The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer 
Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner 

9. Classic with Nature in the Title. A classic with any element of nature in the title (not including animals). Examples include The Magic Mountain; The Grapes of Wrath; The Jungle; A High Wind in Jamaica; Gone With the Wind; Under the Volcano; etc.
The First Men in the Moon by H.G. Wells

10. Classic About a Family. This classic should have multiple members of the same family as principal characters, either from the same generation or multiple different generations. 

I will decide on this one later... 

11. Abandoned Classic. Choose a classic that you started and just never got around to finishing, whether you didn't like it at or just didn't get around to it. Now is the time to give it another try.

And this one... 

12. Classic Adaptation. Any classic that's been adapted as a movie or TV series. If you like, you can watch the adaptation and include your thoughts in your book review. It's not required but it's always fun to compare.
maybe Tess of the D'Ubervilles by Thomas Hardy   

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Top Ten Tuesday: Top 10 Books of 2019

I am squeezing this in while the linkup at That Artsy Reader Girl (above) is still open! I will have a more general wrap-up post for 2019 soon, I hope.
Reviews for all of these (except the last two) are in the Index of Reviews.

1. The Odyssey - Emily Wilson - This is a reread, but a new translation. (I think I read the Robert Fagles translation the first time.) Loved it!

2. I Explain A Few Things: Selected Poems - Pablo Neruda - More than fifty poems with different translators. This is one of my favorite poetry books! I still need to review it.

3. Why Poetry - Matthew Zapruder - A great book about poetry! I read this for poetry month in April.

4. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold - John Le Carre - The classic spy novel. Such a great book!

5. Metamorphoses - Ovid - I'm glad I finally read this. My favorite stories were Arachne vs. Athena, Orpheus & Eurydice, and Ceyx & Alcyone.   

6. The Social Contract - Jean Jacques Rousseau - I think this might be my favorite nonfiction book of the year. Lots to think about here. It is certainly memorable...

7. The Sound & the Fury - William Faulkner - This was my second attempt and it went much better than the first time. Tough going at times, but a powerful novel.

8. Declare - Tim Powers - Historical fantasy (set during the Cold War). I read this for Wyrd & Wonder in May. I liked it much better than The Anubis Gates, the first book I tried by Powers.


9. Use of Weapons by Iain Banks - My introduction to his work was The Player of  Games, which I read in 2018. I thought it was fantastic. It was pretty bleak, and so is Use of Weapons, but Use of Weapons has nastier characters. That's a slight drawback for me, but I still thought it was interesting. I usually write reviews assuming that people haven't read the book, but I had a hard time figuring out how to review this one. I will probably read it again, but I want to read something else by the author first. (Maybe I will read the chapters in chronological order next time, instead of cover to cover.)

10. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft - I didn't review this either, but I read along for Ruth's discussion at her blog (in four posts).

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Deal Me In Short Story Challenge 2020: My List

This challenge is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis For this challenge, you select 52 stories to read in 2019 and then assign each of them to a card in a deck of cards, drawing one card each week and then reading the story that matches the card. I read most of last year's list, but I didn't finish it. This time, like Jay, I have included a wild card in each suit, so I can pick whatever I want for that card when I draw it. 

This year, I think I will try to have a post every month about what I've read.

◇Diamonds: 19th century-ish poems (a few are 18th century)
A Arthur Hugh Clough: Say Not the Struggle Naught Availeth 
1 Alfred Lord Tennyson: Ulysses (reread)
2 William Shakespeare: Venus & Adonis
3 Swinburne: Garden of Proserpina (reread)
4 John Keats: Ode on Melancholy (reread)
5 Percy Shelley: Ode to the West Wind  (reread)
6 John Keats: Ode to a Nightingale (reread)
7 John Keats: Ode on a Grecian Urn (reread)
8 Percy Shelley: Adonais
9 Robert Burns: To a Mouse (reread)
10 Percy Shelley: Mont Blanc
J Percy Shelley: Ozymandias (reread)
Q Percy Shelley: To a Skylark (reread)
K Wild Card

♤Spades: Science Fiction & Fantasy♤ (from old issues of Asimov's)
A Nancy Kress: Night Win (September 1983)
1 Octavia Butler: Speech Sounds (December 1983)
2 Connie Willis: And Who Would Pity a Swan? (January 1985)
3 Richard Purtill: Gorgonissa (January 1985)
4 Frederick Pohl: Fermi & Frost (January 1985)
5 Bruce Sterling: Dinner in Audoghast (May 1985)
6 Lisa Goldstein: Preliminary Notes on the Jang (May 1985)
7 Pat Cadigan: After the Days of Dead-Eye Dee (May 1985)
8 Michael Swanwick: Anyone Here From Utah? (May 1985)
9 Kate Wilhelm: The Gorgon Field (August 1985)
10 James Blaylock: Lord Kelvin's Machine  (December 1985)
J Robert Silverberg: An Outpost of the Empire (November 1991)
Q Kim Stanley Robinson: Vinland the Dream (November 1991)
K Wild Card

♧Clubs: More Stories from Asimov's
A Rudy Rucker & Bruce Sterling: Storming the Cosmos (December 1985)
1 Tiptree: All This & Heaven Too (December 1985) 
2 Susan Palwick: The Woman Who Saved the World (May 1985)
3 James Patrick Kelly: Solstice (June 1985) 
4 Ian McDonald: Empire Dreams (December 1985) 
5 Norman Spinrad: World War Last (August 1985) 
6 Kim Stanley Robinson: A History of the 20th Century, With Illustrations (April 1991)
7 Greg Egan: In Numbers (April 1991)
8 Lucius Shepard: Shades (December 1987) 
9 Karen Joy Fowler: The War of the Roses (December 1985)
10 Gene Wolfe: The Nebraskan and the Nereid (December 1985)
J  Robert Charles Wilson: Boulevard Life (December 1985)
Keith Roberts: Mrs. Byres and the Dragon (August 1990)
K Wild Card

♡Hearts: 20th Century Poems♡
A Pablo Neruda: Oda a la Critica (Ode to Criticism) (reread)
W.H. Auden: In Memory of W.B. Yeats (reread)
Pablo Neruda: Oda a la Sal (Ode to Salt) (reread)
Robert Hayden: Perseus (reread)
Pablo Neruda: Oda a la Alchofa (Ode to the Artichoke) (reread)
W.H. Auden: The Unknown Citizen (reread)
Robinson Jeffers: Hurt Hawks
T.S. Eliot:  Little Gidding
8 Marianne Moore: Poetry
9 W.H. Auden: The Shield of Achilles (reread)
10 Neruda: Deber del Poeta (The Poet's Obligation) (reread)
Robert Frost: Birches 
Neruda: Migracion (Migration) (reread)
K Wild Card 

Monday, December 30, 2019

Back to the Classics 2019: Wrap-Up

Hosted by Karen @ Books and Chocolate.

I read and reviewed eight books for this challenge. My favorite, unsurprisingly, was The Odyssey, but  I really liked all the books. Honorable mention to The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, The Sound & the Fury, and Macbeth.

19th century: - 
20th Century Classic: The Spy Who Came in From the Cold
Classic in Translation: The Odyssey
Classic by a Woman: -
Classic Comic Novel: Three Men in a Boat
Classic Tragic Novel: The Sound and the Fury
Very Long Classic: - (I read Bleak House and didn't review it, so I assume I don't get to count it)
Classic Novella: The House on the Borderland
Classic From the Americas or Caribbean: One Hundred Years of Solitude
Classic From Africa, Asia, or Oceania: Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things
Classic From A Place You've Lived: -
Classic Play: Macbeth

I will have a wrap-up post later for the other books I read this year.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Review: The Metamorphoses

The Metamorphoses The Metamorphoses by Ovid
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In 15 books and more than 200 stories, with transformation as his unifying theme, Ovid chronicles the history of the world from its creation to the time of Julius Caesar. I have read some of these before, in Tales from Ovid: 24 Passages from the Metamorphoses by Ted Hughes.

I read the Horace Gregory translation. From the translator's introduction:

It can be said that The Metamorphoses, written at the beginning of the Christian era, was the last long-sustained major work of a great age in Latin poetry -- and it was also evidence of a peculiarly Italian genius which places it at a middle distance away from the Aeneid, since it was not a true and heroic epic, toward the novellas of Bandello and the lyricism of Petrarch. In English literature, The Metamorphoses held sustained appeal for Chaucer, Spenser, Shakespeare, Chapman (whose famous version of Homer shows debts to Ovid), Dryden, Swift...

The nineteenth century, even among its poets, lost contact with The Metamorphoses, or rather, The Metamorphoses showed aspects of mythology as well as of human conduct that the age did not care to advertise. An extremely un-Italian Victorian Olympus came into view... the Metamorphoses was read as the work of a capricious poet, one who was irreverent, decidedly un-Olympian, and at times immoral. He was no longer the poet's poet, but belonged to readers who were looking for a collection of naughty stories. As studies in classical literature declined, it had become easier to discard Ovid in favor of Horace and Virgil; had lost the prestige he had held for so many hundreds of years.

The translator goes on to say that Ovid was newly appreciated in the 20th century due to interest frm anthropologists and psychologists.

It is in the play of emotional extremes, the forces of illogical & conflicting impulses that Ovid offers the richness of psychological detail to the reader. His many heroines are set before us in dramatic moments of their indecision. Actually they do not meditate; they waver between extremes of right and wrong. They live & act within a world of irrational desires which are as vivid to them as things that happen in a dream. they are in heat and caught up in disaster. One might complain that their motives, however complex and contradictory, are not subtle. ...We are asked not to forgive them but to see them. It is by their dreams (desires) and their actions -- that we know them.

My favorite stories were probably:
Arachne (Bk VI) -- The woman who challenged Athena to a weaving contest.
They took delight in speed and craftsmanship
And there upon the looms Tyrian purple
Shaded to lavender and violet-rose
As though one saw the sun strike passing rain
Its arrow like a ribbon across the sky,
A thousand colors streaming light within it,
Each melting into each where no eye sees
One fade into the other, yet both far ends
Colors of distant hue -- gold thread to bind them,
To weave the story of long years ago.

Orpheus & Eurydice (Bk X-XI) -- This is probably the most famous story in Ovid, but still worth reading even if you already know how it goes. 

O king and queen of this vast darkness where
All who are born of Earth at last return,
I cannot speak half-flattery, half-lies;
I have not come, a curious, willing guest,
To see the streets of Tartarus wind in Hell.
Nor have I come to tame Medusas children,
Three-throated beasts with wild snakes in their hair.
My mission is to find Eurydice...

Ceyx & Alcyone (Bk XI) -- They were king and queen of the city of Trachis. Ceyx undertook a sea voyage to visit an oracle and was shipwrecked. The goddess Juno arranged for an apparition of Ceyx to appear to Alcyone and tell her of his fate, and the gods turned both of them into kingfishers.

There are some wonderful descriptive passages in this one; here is the description of a shipwreck:
 ... Like a siege engines ram in iron against a fort,
So the waves struck port and starboard of the ship,
Or as great lions charge at hunters shields,
So waves that rode the winds crashed the ship's sides,
And mounted at their will. Then decks began
To crack, pitch, wax, and ropes gave way, boards broken,
Sides gaping, while Death's sea poured in the hold.
Rain fell in curtains from black clouds; you'd think
The very heavens had joined the sea, or that
The sails hung like pale sheets of sea and rain;
The starless night above them closed in darkness,
And from that dark came ragged lightning flashing
Red fires that danced across the waves; then sea
Poured, rippling over each foot of deck and hull.

I had not heard of this one before reading The Metamorphoses, but it was a great discovery.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Review: The Dreaming Vol. 1: Pathways and Emanations

The Dreaming Vol. 1: Pathways and Emanations The Dreaming Vol. 1: Pathways and Emanations by Simon Spurrier
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the first of the Sandman Universe volumes, written by Simon Spurrier and illustrated by Bilquis Evely.

synopsis: Lord Daniel's absence triggers crimes and calamities that consume the lives of those already tangled in his fate. Until he is found, his realm's residents must protect its broken borders alone. But the most senior story-tellers are tormented by invasive secrets, Lucien is doubting his own mind, and beyond the gates, something horrific awaits with tooth and talon. [from GoodReads]

The Dreaming focuses on supporting characters from the series, such as Lucien the librarian, Matthew the Raven, and Merv Pumpkinhead. There's also a new resident of the Dreaming, Dora, a woman who is trying to recover her memory & identity.

I really like the art. The pacing is a bit slow. It is interesting so far, but it's taking a long time to resolve anything. I am still somewhat on the fence, but I'm interested in reading more.

I will definitely be reading House of Whispers Vol. 1: The Power Divided, the first volume of a different spinoff. I read the first issue of that one (as a single issue) and I thought it had a lot of potential.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Review: The Children of Húrin

The Children of Húrin The Children of Húrin by J.R.R. Tolkien
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

9/25/2019: This is a repost for the Tolkien Blog Party 2019. 

Id also like to highlight this essay, which I think is pretty insightful -- it will make more sense if you have read the book, however:

Children of Húrin Is Not Relentlessly Depressing (I KNOW IT DOESN’T LOOK GOOD, BUT HEAR ME OUT) -- by Lintamande

(I am on Tumblr but not very active there. If you'd rather not click the link, here is the important bit:
It’s a hard sell, but I’m going to try to make the case that a) the characters in Children of Húrin have unprecedented-for-Tolkien agency over their choices and leverage to live their values, and b) they go ahead and do that and save tons of lives as a result, and c) this fits into the rest of the legendarium as a testament to the human spirit in the darkest hour, one that sustains their people until the War of Wrath and influences their ability to fight there.

12/22/2018 - I finished reading for the 2nd time.

1/17/2019 - My thoughts on reading this again:

This time I read the physical book, which includes illustrations by Alan Lee. They're all great, but I would have liked to see more of them. (I know Jenny Dolfen has done some of the scenes that Alan Lee skipped, like Turin and Beleg.) I still think that reading this on its own more or less works, but The Silmarillion surpasses it for me, because its most iconic moments make it overall the better book, even though it has parts that are far more dry than this book.

The conversation between Hurin and Morwen in Chapter 1 is one of my favorites: a quiet scene full of foreboding, with some great dialogue.

Chapter 2 of this book is an abbreviated version of the Battle of Unnumbered Tears; the part that is left out covers what happened to the forces from East Beleriand. In a nutshell, what happened is exactly what Morwen was afraid of in chapter 1, that is, the Noldor were betrayed because the doom of Mandos was not done with them yet. And the traitors were the same people who occupy Turin's homeland in this book. 

Some of Turin's character flaws are things he has in common with his mother. Her pride certainly leads her to some bad decisions of her own. However, Turin's refusal to listen to the advice of Ulmo, the only one of the Valar who still gives advice to the Elves and Men in Middle-earth, is not really something I can see Morwen doing. And he does this after Ulmo's blessing on the waters of Ivrin restored him to sanity! Because he is incapable of taking a hint, apparently. I think Beren is a really interesting foil for Turin, as someone who made better choices in similarly difficult circumstances. Tuor in The Fall of Gondolin is harder to evaluate because he is less fleshed out as a character than either of them.

Chapters 6-9, the chapters that cover Turin's time with a band of outlaws and his attempts to reform them into the good kind of outlaws, definitely remind me of both the Robin Hood legend and the Rangers of the North in The Lord of the Rings. I can see why some readers lose patience with Turin; the really frustrating thing about him is that his better qualities rarely make as much of a difference as you would hope, while his bad decisions are disastrous.

my first review, written Dec. 2015:
A quick note on the format - there are no illustrations in the ebook, as there are in the print version, and the maps are hard to read in this format. (However, I already have copies of The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales so I could look at those maps.) I read this as an ebook from Overdrive, with my public library account.

The Children of Hurin collected a story that had already been previously published into one volume. The story is a longer, much more detailed version of the “Turin Turambar” chapter of The Silmarillion, and tells the story of the curse that Morgoth, Sauron’s former boss and the Middle-earth equivalent of Lucifer, put on Turin’s family. The style is a bit simpler than that of The Silmarillion, so it might be helpful to a reader who is interested in tackling that book but having a hard time with the style. Of course, the other problem people have with The Silmarillion is that it’s really depressing — and this is a version of one of the darkest tales in that book. Many elements of the story are inspired by the Volsunga saga and the story of Kullervo from the Finnish Kalevala.

Lord of the Rings blends Tolkien’s different approaches in The Silmarillion and The Hobbit, but I think most people who love LotR lean in one direction or the other. LotR is my favorite of Tolkien's works but The Hobbit, although I like it, hasn't made as deep an impression as The Silmarillion. I don’t consider LotR comforting exactly ... but even though it has a very qualified happy ending, it’s still a happy ending, in that it does make an emotionally convincing argument that suffering will ultimately be vindicated.

And yet these stories (The Silmarillion and COH) make it clear that Tolkien understood that reaction better than he gets credit for, which is satisfying. I cried a few times, but not at the very end - having read most of it before, I found that the disturbing part was waiting for the end.

Turin is a pretty exasperating character - he’s arrogant and makes some really terrible decisions - but I have a lot of sympathy for him anyway. Tolkien goes into much more detail about his childhood here than in The Silmarillion, Morwen has some of same flaws as Turin, but I like her too. Nienor gets more of a role in this version than in The Silmarillion, which I like. She’s a bit more sensible than Morwen, and very much her father’s daughter. I kind of wish there was more about her, but I like what there is.

I have read the Volsunga saga, but don’t really have anything to say about its influence on this story. I really like medievalist Michael Drout’s comment on this connection, though:

“I think that at least one impulse in Túrin is to tell the story of a dragon slayer who isn't some kind of Nietzchean/Wagnerian 'ubermensch' (a piece of evidence, I think, is the inclusion of a dwarf named Mîm). Tolkien detested the kind of heroism that Wagner drew out of the Nibelungenlied and the Völsungr Saga: the hero who is superior in some existential way to everyone else and thus somehow deserves to crush everything in his path. By taking the physically most powerful hero, the original dragonslayer, but putting him under the curse of Morgoth and showing how he suffers, Tolkien approaches the Sigfried story in a very different, and more humane, way.”

There are connections with other legends as well.

Back to the Classics Challenge 2020: My List

Last year I think I read a b o o k f o r every category, but I didn't write reviews f o r all  o f them. Here is my tentative list f ...