Spring Workday

Today started off as a lovely frosty and sunny day in Spring. I had my usual breakfast of porridge with raisins, apple pieces, banana pieces, roughly ground flaxseed with a pinch of cinnamon. No pomegranate seeds, as I’ve run out of those. I love pomegranate seeds and I quite like picking them out of the fruit; it’s meditative and I’m practiced at it and mostly don’t make a mess anymore. As usual, Curious Dog got his share of the fresh apple pieces and a bit of the plain left-over porridge, which he, for whatever reasons, absolutely loves. We took our usual morning walk through the woods, and it was quite lovely. Lots of purple “Leberblümchen” (English “liverleaf”) and violets are growing enthusiastically on the southern side of the hill behind our house, peeking out of the dry leaves.

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When we got out of the woods and were walking along the bike path in the valley, I spied Curious Dog’s worst enemy in the distance. It’s a terrier, maybe a Jack Russell. They’ve hated each other since they first met, which was when CD was only about six months old. Whenever they meet, they both make a huge fuss, barking and pulling at the leash. Usually both the terrier’s owner and I try to avoid meetups. Last time they had turned back, so this time I did and took the way along the main road through the village instead. Usually CD is good about other dogs, but the fuss he makes with this one is amazing. It’s also kind of embarrassing, so I prefer taking another route.

I also had a very productive workday, although I didn’t work on the stuff I should have been working on. Well, “should have” is relative. I’ll do the other things next week. I had a look at my project that has an upcoming deadline a couple of days after Easter and wrote mails to lots of people to check their content and ensure that everything is correct. As I hadn’t looked at the project for a few weeks, there were quite a lot of issues. I planned all the quality steps that I need to do next week because all the checks have to be done before Easter as there’s no time afterwards and, who knows, the responsible colleagues may be on vacation. Next, I had a look at a colleague’s specific problem and decided on what to do about it. We’ve scheduled a meeting for Monday to implement the fix. The poor colleague was being sent from one person to another and no-one felt responsible. Coming up with that fix made me feel virtuous and accomplished although it wasn’t such a big deal. It’s nice to be able to help. A nice change from (figuratively) stomping on people’s toes for not doing their quality checks properly. I’m glad that today was my last workday for the week. I’ve got lots of stuff to do before Easter and I still need to come up with my meticulous new work plan, but first I’m going to enjoy the weekend.

We’ll be returning to my place on Sunday. Saturday is supposed to be rainy, a good day for staying indoors (apart from Curious Dog’s walks) and doing a bit of cleaning. During the night from Saturday to Sunday we’ll have the change to Summer time. One hour less of sleep – I guess it’ll be hard getting up next Monday morning.

Tomorrow I’ll be grocery shopping and hopefully setting up some appointments I’ve been meaning to do the whole week. I need to get the windscreen of my car looked at. It’s got two chipped places due to the impact of small stones thrown up by other vehicles. When that is fixed (or maybe the windscreen needs to be replaced), I’ve got to get the car’s new roadworthiness certificate. It will fail the inspection with the damaged windscreen (although the chipped places are small and not in my field of vision), so that has to be done first and I’ve been procrastinating.

I’ve had Curious Dog out in the yard for a few minutes with his muzzle, which I’m trying to get him to tolerate so that he can wear it on public transport if we ever need it. Baby steps – he doesn’t like it much. He got lots of treats as a reward and to make him consider the muzzle in a positive light. It might also come in useful at the vet’s if he ever has to undergo some unusual treatment. He doesn’t need a muzzle for his yearly vaccinations, but I always have to hold his head in a tight grip. I bet he wouldn’t let the vet look into his ears, for instance. So, it’s good to be prepared. I should have started muzzle training earlier, but it seems to be going quite well now.

Keep safe, world.

Wednesday Waffling


Last week on Thursday we drove to our place in Bavaria once again. We had sunshine followed by sleet, followed by sunshine, followed by snow pellets, followed by snowfall… all the way. The roads were clear, because the snow melted straight away, but my car got very dirty and muddy. No snow when we arrived but it snowed again on Friday and we had about 4cm of soggy snow. Most of it melted away during the day, but I still got a quite nice walk in the snow with Curious Dog. It’s been quite some time since we’ve had snow in the middle of March. Over the weekend it was mostly overcast but today it’s all lovely sunshine (and frost in the morning). All in all, quite nice weather for walking. Lots of birds warbling and cheeping in the fields and woods, welcoming spring.

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I took last Thursday off. Usually when we drive to Bavaria, I take Thursday afternoon or morning off, and work instead on Friday morning so that I don’t have to use up a precious vacation day for the trip. This time my mother had her second Corona vaccination appointment on Friday afternoon, so I wanted to go grocery shopping on Friday morning. No time for work on Friday, so Thursday had to be a vacation day. It all worked very well. At the vaccination centre, there was a computer outage and all the people with their first appointments were sent back home without getting their jab, because their data couldn’t be accessed, but luckily they didn’t do that with the people that had their second appointment. So Mum was duly vaccinated. She had similar side effects as last time for a few days, a bit of general weakness, a bit of a headache, itching and soreness at the site of the injection, some joint pain. But most of that is gone now. She’s got to be careful for the next few days until her immune system has recovered from the vaccination and then she will be safe from Corona. I’m so happy about that.

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I’m currently very busy at work. The additional project that I took on recently has really made an impact on my workload and I haven’t come up with a good organization yet to mitigate the stress. It feels as if I’m jumping from one task to the next with my task list getting longer all the time. Not very motivating. As a result, I’ve been quite tired and not up to blogging or reading anything that’s just the least bit challenging. I haven’t been keeping up with my Samuel Johnson collection or with my short stories at night. Only poetry in the morning is still going strong. Mostly I’ve been reading mysteries and going to bed early. I’ve also ramped up my meditation, as otherwise I find myself thinking about work all the time, which is super annoying. I’m firmly of the opinion that work concerns should not take up my thoughts outside of work hours. I need my brain for other things in my free time. I hope to get a proper reset with Easter. I’ve strongly resolved to set up an efficient work plan before Easter and then stick to it after Easter. Hopefully, four days off over Easter will be a nice mini-vacation and recharging opportunity.

I’m teaching Curious Dog to wear a muzzle. He’s going to need it if we use public transport on our vacation in October. Still lots of time. I’m going slowly, he’s only worn it for about a minute so far. Poor guy, he doesn’t like it. Who would? Maybe I should try it on in the woods and see how he does with it for a short time on our walk. Or at night in the house when he’s tired and usually cooperative.

Last Saturday, Mum was watching a show on TV where a 10-year-old gifted boy and an actress who had trained for six weeks managed to memorize the random sorting of three packs of playing cards (156 cards) in quite a short time. Both of them only misremembered two cards of the 156. Amazing! Last year I had the goal to learn 12 poems off by heart, one for each months of the year, but I only managed one measly poem. So, this year, from the start I decided to only learn one poem (with the aim of an easy goal maybe inciting me to learn more than one). That feat of memory shown on TV has motivated me to get started with the poems. Last year I learnt “On His Blindness” (and still know it off by heart – I have to keep at it, otherwise I forget it again). The second poem will be one by Emily Dickinson.

Keep safe, world.

Tuesday Tidbits

On the weekend, we watched WandaVision on Disney+. WandaVision is set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and is the tale of what happened to Wanda and Vision after the events shown in the film Avengers: Endgame. It’s a miniseries consisting of 9 episodes. It’s very well made, with a strong meta-fictional element: Wanda and Vision seem to be living TV sitcom episodes through the decades, starting in the fifties in black and white. Odd things happen and later we also get an outside view of the situation, though the eyes of Agents of S.W.O.R.D. (Sentient World Observation and Response Department) and the FBI. Apparently S.W.O.R.D. is S.H.I.E.L.D. in space, who’d have known?!

We also watched the films Shoplifters and Paterson, both the complete opposite of the blockbuster Marvel Universe. Shoplifters is about a Japanese family of outcasts who shoplift to supplement the granny’s pension and wages from exploitative dead-end jobs. They love each other and take in a young girl who is neglected and abused by her parents. It all comes unraveled, though, when the granny dies. It has a softly tragic end. Paterson is about a bus driver named Paterson who lives with his creative and optimistic wife and their grumpy bulldog in the town of Paterson. Paterson the bus driver is also a poet. We follow a week in his life. Nothing much happens and yet a lot happens. It’s like a poetic version of normal life. The poems in the movie were written by a real poet, Ron Padgett. The film is just lovely, with humour and sadness. Both films are kind of warm and life-affirming.

The weather was kind of April-like, very changeable in the past few days. It was quite windy, occasionally rainy, sometimes sunny, but not very warm. Monday morning Curious Dog and I got drenched on our walk. Considering walks: I think I’m seeing some improvements with Curious Dog’s behaviour on the leash. I think he’s beginning to pull a bit less. I’m inspired by seeing a series on TV about a German dog whisperer. It runs every now and then on Sunday afternoons. The dogs shown in the show are much worse behaved than Curious Dog, but they still mostly improve (if they don’t, it’s the owner’s fault for not being consistent and assertive enough). Curious Dog’s pulling on the leash is annoying, but he doesn’t pull all the time, and he’s generally good with other dogs (except for some, especially male terriers, whom he really can’t stand). But it would be nice if he stopped pulling for more of the time, so I’m working on it. I also got a muzzle for him to wear on public transport where it is often required by law. He’s not keen on that at all (no wonder, who would be?). I hope I can get him used to it by the time we are planning on going on vacation in October, as we may need it on a cable car. I’m not convinced that taking Curious Dog on a cable car is a good idea, but we’ll see how the muzzle thing works out.

We had elections in my state of Baden-Württemberg on Sunday: the Green party won, which I’m happy about (but they will need a coalition, as is usual in German politics). I hope that they will really concentrate on politics to alleviate climate change during their turn in office. I’m also delighted because the AfD (a party of far-right, potentially if not actually anti-democratic bigots) lost 5% and fell to just under 10% of all votes – hope this decline continues in autumn, when we have the federal elections.

Work has been a pain in the last couple of weeks. There’s lots of things to do but our main content management software was on the blink. Unstable and horrifically slow. We had a few emergency downtimes for repairs that didn’t help much. At least this week things seem to have improved. I’m taking Thursday off and will therefore be only working three days which is great. We’re driving to Bavaria again on Thursday afternoon (probably, we may already leave on Wednesday after work – depends on the weather). Our three weeks at my place passed very quickly as usual.

Mum’s got her second vaccination appointment on Friday. She was a bit under the weather for a few days after the first jab. Hope it won’t be worse after the second. It will be great when she’s done with the vaccination and hopefully safe from Corona. Unfortunately, it looks like a third wave is slowly building up in Germany. Vaccination isn’t progressing fast enough. Very worrying again. Just as things were looking up, it seems that we may need to extend the lockdown again.

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Inspired by James Boswell’s Life of Johnson that I read in December and January, I’ve been reading Samuel Johnson: Selected Writings edited by David Womersley. It’s full of variety: some poems (not much my cup of tea, although I otherwise do like poetry), a couple of short biographies of people I’d never heard of but found diverting anyway, lots of short essays written for periodicals, the preface to his dictionary, a bit of literary criticism… He’s also written plays and novellas, but I haven’t got to them yet as I’m only halfway through the collection. I’m really enjoying it, but the style is so dense that it is taking me a lot longer to read than literature written more recently. But I do think I’m getting faster and reading more fluently. I’m enjoying it a lot; Johnson is an interesting writer and I like his style. Here’s a fascinating quote about the Seven Year’s War 1756 – 1763 part of which was carried out between England and France in their North American colonies:

It is allowed on both sides, that hostilities began in America, and that the French and English quarrelled about the boundaries of their settlements, about grounds and rivers to which, I am afraid, neither can shew any other right than that of power, and which neither can occupy but by usurpation, and the dispossession of the natural lords and original inhabitants. Such is the contest that no honest man can heartily wish success to either party.

“Observations on the present State of Affairs” in Samuel Johnson: Selected Writings, ed. by David Womersley, p.536.

I guess that this opinion wasn’t shared by many in his time, otherwise American history might have turned out quite differently. He views colonization critically because the land was gained by immoral practices.

In one of his essays for The Adventurer, a periodical, he writes about readers and their motivations for reading as well as the influence books may have on the readers’ minds:

It is difficult to enumerate the several motives, which procure to books the honour of perusal: spite, vanity, and curiosity, hope and fear, love and hatred, every passion which incites to any other action, serves at one time or other to stimulate a reader.
[…]
Some read that they may embellish their conversation, or shine in dispute; some that they may not be detected in ignorance, or want the reputation of literary accomplishments: but the most general and prevalent reason of study, is the impossibility of finding another amusement equally cheap or constant, equally independent on the hour and the weather.
[…]
But, perhaps, it seldom happens, that study terminates in mere pastime. Books have always a secret influence on the understanding; we cannot at pleasure obliterate ideas; he that reads books of science, though without any fixed desire of improvement, will grow more knowing; he that entertains himself with moral or religious treatises, will imperceptibly advance in goodness; the ideas which are offered to the mind, will at last find a lucky moment when it is disposed to receive them.

“No. 137 of The Adventurer. Tuesday, 26 February 1754” in Samuel Johnson: Selected Writings, ed. by David Womersley, p. 484f.

Myself, I’m not sure about the entertainment value of “moral or religious treatises”, but in the rest of the essay Johnson mentions that he isn’t totally against reading lighter fare for pure amusement. 😉

Johnson writes about all sorts of topics and most of his pieces are just a few pages long, so reading my way through this volume of collected works is entertaining. Even if I come across something that’s totally uninspired (and I haven’t yet), it’s soon done with and the next piece is a new start.

Keep safe, world.

Books About Reading

I’ve been on a bit of a binge with books about reading since I watched Steve Donoghue’s Book about Books video on BookTube recently: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A3DjZDZaBaQ

First, I read Alan Bennett’s The Uncommon Reader and then Lynne Sharon Schwartz’s Ruined by Reading: A Life in Books. I mentioned both of them in my February Reading post.

Bennett’s book is the only novel among these bookish books that I’ve been reading. It’s a look at what happens when Queen Elisabeth II turns into an avid reader. It’s short, sometimes funny, sometimes touching, also heart-warming. A kind of fantasy novel with book recommendations. I loved it.

Schwartz’s book is a look at the importance of reading in her life and whether it enriched or detracted from living life itself. Since I spend a lot of time reading, I also sometimes ask myself, am I living or am I just reading? It’s reassuring that other people also ponder such questions. I could also emphasize with the author about forgetting the books she has read (as does the author of On Rereading, see below). I’m glad that I’m not the only one who can more or less completely forget a novel or a non-fiction book after having read it once (it’s not so bad after I’ve reread it). That is, after all, why I started the blog, to have a record of the things I read and what I felt about them. The book was short, but good.

This weekend I finished On Rereading by Patricia Meyer Spacks. I found this by accident (or rather by algorithm) on Amazon. Spacks is a retired university professor who did a year-long experiment in rereading to explore what would happen:

I will examine my repeated encounters with various books, ranging from the widely familiar to the obscure, from accessible to demanding, in order to show something of what I have learned and felt and how I have developed during a lifetime of rereading for pleasure as well as for professional reasons. The choice of specific texts is almost entirely arbitrary – purposely arbitrary. I wanted to avoid concentration on books of a single kind, to range as widely as possible among the many novels that I have read for pleasure over the years.

Patricia Meyer Spacks, On Rereading. Harvard University Press, Kindle location 222.

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Would she still enjoy books she read at different points in her life? Would she find that some of the books she used to love she now can’t see the appeal of anymore? What does that say about herself? Or about the books? What is the point of rereading when there are so many books that one can never read everything? Should one waste precious reading time on rereads?

Part of my enjoyment of the book is because I have read quite a lot of the books she covers. From the Narnia books in childhood, to Jane Austen, to The Catcher in the Rye, Middlemarch, a book by Graham Greene, The Pickwick Papers… (to name just a few books and authors mentioned in the book).

Regarding the books I also read, my thoughts sometimes differed from the author’s. The Narnia books, for instance, I still love, but she feels done with them. Spacks loved The Catcher in the Rye (by Salinger) when it first came out but found it didn’t do well on rereading. I had to read Catcher at school and hated it, because I felt that Holden, the protagonist, was a super unlikeable arse (he was so annoying that I still remember him although it’s years since I’ve suffered through the novel). I’m not planning on rereading it anytime soon, probably never. Spacks reread The Pickwick Papers and liked them more than she did on her first reading (but not enough to reread them again). I liked The Pickwick Papers when I read my way through Dickens’ novels last year, but it wasn’t my favourite.

I found her discussion of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Emma very insightful. Next time I reread those novels, I must remember to check up on Spacks’ thoughts to see if her judgements still resonate. Some of her thoughts on books that I haven’t yet read made me consider reading them. Although Spacks was a professor of English, she doesn’t use any literary theory jargon in this book so that it is refreshingly readable. A happy mix of literary criticism, pondering about the nature of rereading and memoir. I do a lot of rereading because I remember liking books but don’t remember details. This book supplies a lot of additional reasons for rereading and shows how it can have different effects (always depending on the reader and their needs). Spacks found:

Rereading has turned out to be rich in paradox. A conservative activity that holds on to the past, it is also potentially revolutionary, overturning judgments and repudiating assumptions.

Patricia Meyer Spacks, On Rereading. Harvard University Press, Kindle location 2998.

Of the four books on reading, this one was the most brilliant. It was the only one that I couldn’t race through in one afternoon.

I found yet another book about books by Cathy Rentzenbrink: Dear Reader: The Comfort and Joy of Books. It came out last year and is a memoir coupled with lists and descriptions of books on subjects that the author enjoyed or valued in her life and that helped her through some hard times. She was a bookseller and works to promote literacy among adults, so she’s made reading her career (and, obviously, writing). She read a lot of the same books that I read in my childhood, which had me indulging in nostalgia. Later in the book our reading interests didn’t overlap as much, but who knows, maybe I’ll pick up one or the other of her recommendations. It was interesting and a good read, but it didn’t blow me away like Spacks’ book did.

Keep safe, world

Reading Habits

I felt like doing a tag today, so I found the Reading Habits tag on BookTube. It seems to have been around a long time and I couldn’t find the creator, so I unfortunately can’t include a link to their channel.

Here goes:

1 Do you have a certain place at home for reading?

Yes, I have a big purple comfy bean bag in front of one of my book shelves, but I don’t use it very often, because it’s in my bedroom which is not accessible to Curious Dog (he’s scared of the steep open staircase). Since I sit up in my bedroom at my desk during the work week all day without CD, I don’t want to sit away from him when I’m reading on my off days. So, I mostly read in the living room, with Curious Dog snoozing at my feet or next to me on the sofa. Very cozy. Every now and again he wants to be cuddled, but that’s also nice.

I also do a lot of reading at night in bed. Partner needs more sleep than I do and goes to bed early, and I use the time to read. Good for both of us.

2 Bookmark or random piece of paper?

Random piece of paper. Bookmarks are too organized for me. Also, I read a lot of e-books on Kindle and they don’t need a bookmark.

3 Can you just stop reading or do you have to stop at a certain point?

Depends. Sometimes I like to finish a chapter before stopping, but if I’m interrupted, or tired, I don’t mind stopping where-ever I happen to be in the book.

4 Do you eat or drink while reading?

Yes, I like good cup of tea, coffee, or cocoa with a book. I also like snacking on salty snacks but don’t do it very often. Only as a special treat. When I’m by myself, I also read while eating breakfast, lunch, or dinner. I also read while cooking (mostly when cooking soups, as they only use one pot and you can stir with one hand and hold a book in the other).

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5 Multitasking: music or TV while reading?

No music, but when we’re in Bavaria, I often sit in the evening with Mum in the living room. When she wants to watch something on TV that I’m not interested in, I read instead. The TV doesn’t bother me, I just tune it out.

6 One book at a time or several?

Several. I usually have three or four going on at the same time. A book of poetry, a short-story collection, something non-fiction, something fun, a classic… I guess poetry and short-stories don’t really count, because I usually just stop after reading one or two of them and that’s not really stopping in the middle of a book to turn to another one.

7 Reading at home or everywhere?

Everywhere. My smartphone has the Kindle app, so I can read my books anywhere. If I have to wait in a longish queue or am in the waiting room at the dentists or somewhere, I read. I also always take books on vacation, both as Kindle and as a paper copy (in case there a long blackout and my devices run down – no way am I risking being stranded somewhere without anything to read. The horror!).

8 Reading out loud or silently in your head?

I don’t read out loud except very occasionally to read a funny or interesting passage to Partner. Easy reads, like crime novels, I read fast and without subvocalizing, but with non-fiction and demanding fiction, I do subvocalize in my mind. That slows me down, but I don’t mind it. If I try to do without subvocalizing, I find I don’t grasp what I’m reading. Apparently, this just needs practice, but I’m not terribly motivated. I feel that reading slowly can increase enjoyment.

9 Do you read ahead or skip pages?

No. If I read ahead, I’m not motivated to continue with the unread bits and skipping pages feels like I haven’t read the book properly. That seems pointless to me. If I decided to DNF a book, I’d probably check up on the ending. My book selection process, however, is rather well honed and I hardly ever get books that I end up hating, so I haven’t done this in ages. Can’t remember the last time.

10 Breaking the spine or keeping it as new?

I try to keep the spine as unblemished as possible, but paperbacks that I love and read a lot get a creased spine anyway. Of course, not a problem with e-books.

11 Do you write in your books?

I never used to but have started in the last few years. I never read without a pencil anymore to mark passages or add comments. I can’t bring myself to use a pen and I also don’t use a highlighter. I do use the highlight and note function in my Kindle app. The only books I don’t write in are nice editions of graphic novels and some other special hardbacks. In general, I think that books are objects of daily use and don’t need to be specially revered. I used to have the opposite opinion: never write in books, what a sacrilege! But I changed my mind about it.

Keep safe, world.

Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes 2

This is my second post about my project to read the entire Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series by Laurie R. King, which I used to be keen on, but then lost track of. Here is the previous post:
Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes 1

In February I read the next two installments in the series, books 3 and 4:

A Letter of Mary

This novel (as all the previous ones) again has the framing story (just a couple of pages at the beginning) that the author, King, pretends to just be the editor of the book, the manuscript of which was sent to her from an undisclosed source.

The novel’s action is set in August and November 1923, two years later that the previous installment, A Monstrous Regiment of Women. It’s again told in the first person by Mary Russell. She and Holmes are now married; Russell is pursuing her theological research while also working with Holmes on cases. Occasionally Holmes is engaged on cases by himself. They seem comfortably settled in their marriage, when suddenly they receive a visit by Dorothy Ruskin, an older woman amateur archeologist whom they had met during the course of travels in Palestine (reported in the first book, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice). Ruskin has found a potentially very important ancient letter which she wishes Russell to keep and deal with as she deems appropriate.

When Ruskin returns to London, after having visited Russell and Holmes in their Sussex home, she is killed in what seems a car accident. Russell and Holmes travel up to London to identify the body and find that the accident was staged. Dorothy Ruskin had been murdered and her hotel room searched. Had the murderer’s been looking for the ancient letter?

Naturally, Holmes and Russell start investigating. During the investigation, Holmes goes undercover as a handyman to check on Ruskin’s relatives, her rather uncongenial sister and her son. Russell takes on a job as secretary for a womanizing Colonel, who is also a suspect. In the course of her investigation, she is briefly aided by Lord Peter Wimsey. A nice touch for Wimsey fans:

“Good Lord, it’s Mrs Sherlock!” The foolish, slightly lopsided face with the too-bland eyes registered amazement at seeing me in this setting.
“No, it’s not, “I corrected him severely. “It’s Miss Mary Small, whom you’ve never set eyes on in your life.”
His grey eyes flared with interest and amusement even as his face and posture lapsed instantaneously info the silly-ass act he did so well.

Laurie R. King, A Letter of Mary. Bantam, 1998, p. 214.

There are a lot of false leads in this case, but in the end Russel and Holmes manage to ensure, with the help of the victim, who had taken some precautions of her own before being murdered, a kind of poetic justice.

During the book we learn a lot about Russell and Holmes life together, we learn some more about Russell’s childhood trauma, we get to meet Mycroft Holmes again. Feminist themes are again addressed, which I am always interested in. A good read!

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The Moor

As I’ve mentioned in my February Reading post, this fourth part of the series is one of my favourites. It starts off with the usual editor’s comment about the unknown provenance of the manuscript of the novel, with the interesting addition that the editor (that is, King, the author) might have been sent them by the ‘real’ author (that is, Mary Russell). A nice playful touch. Russell would have to have been in her late nineties at the time the novel was published.

The novel is again reported from Russell’s first-person perspective. It is set in Dartmoor, where years ago Holmes solved the mystery of the Baskervilles’ Hound. Holmes has been called to the old home of his friend the Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould, because of some reports of strange, almost supernatural goings-on on the moor. And he’s also investigating a case on the side for his brother Mycroft. Holmes calls Russell away from the scholar’s life in Oxford to help him on the case.

Really intriguing about the novel is that Sabine Baring-Gould is a real person, who led a rather interesting life and wrote lots of books and novels himself, many of them about Dartmoor and the surrounding countryside. Whenever I read this book, I feel inspired to read some of his writings, but so far I haven’t managed to get around to it. Maybe later this year…

The plot itself involves a lot of tramping about on the moor to follow up reports of a ghostly carriage that’s been seen here and there. On the way, we learn quite a bit about the moor and the people who dwell there. As might be expected, it turns out that there’s a rational explanation for the supernatural sightings (as was also the case with the Hound of the Baskervilles). The house of Baskerville and its owners are involved in a complicated attempted fraud that is, of course, foiled by Holmes and Russell.

In addition to the “Editor’s Preface”, there a very interesting “Editor’s Postscript” about Sabine Baring-Gould and one of his descendants who wrote a fictional biography of Sherlock Holmes! Another of the fun intertextual elements the series abounds in!

I like this installment of the series because of the atmospheric setting, the inclusion of a real person, as well as the allusions to the classic Hound of the Baskervilles. One of the best books of the series.

Keep safe, world.

February Reading

Considering that February was a short month and I wasn’t on vacation as I was in January, I managed to read quite a lot:

Ongoing project:

Murasaki Shikibu and Royall Tyler (trsl.), The Tale of Genji.
I managed to read the first 100 pages that I should have read in January. It’s fascinating, but also very strange – a completely unfamiliar world for a European reader, like me, without much knowledge of Japanese culture and history.

Poetry:

  • Patrick Crotty (ed.), The Penguin Book of Irish Poetry.
    I’m almost done with this great selection. Pondering on what poetry to read next.
  • Emily Dickinson and Thomas H. Johnson (ed.), Final Harvest.
    I’m reading this one when I’m in Bavaria, as the Irish Poetry book is too huge and heavy to lug around. Dickinson is one of my favourite poets; I really need to get her collected works one of these days.

Short Stories:

Rudyard Kipling, The Man Who Would Be King: Selected Stories of Rudyard Kipling.
Most of these stories just blew me away, they were so good. I was skeptical when I started as I expected stuff about “the white-man’s burden” and other imperialist rubbish, but these stories are not only set in India (and those that are, aren’t about those ideas). There are some powerful stories with fantastic elements, some stories set during WWI, lots of stories set in England. Some of them are almost gothic. The more of them I read, the better they got. My prejudices where just that, prejudices. Kipling was given the Nobel Prize in Literature and I guess these stories illustrate why. I think I’ll write about a few of them in more detail in a later post. A strong recommendation!

Non-Fiction:
Lynne Sharon Schwartz, Ruined by Reading: A Life in Books.
A short book about the meaning of reading in the author’s life. Thought-provoking and interesting for fellow life-long readers.

Novels:

  • Laurie R. King, A Letter of Mary and The Moor.
    Installments 3 and 4 of the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series. Rereads, both of them, very enjoyable. The Moor is set in Dartmoor and one of my favourites in the series (of the books that I’ve read so far).
  • Sally Wright, Publish and Perish and Pride and Predator.
    Around the middle of February, I had to spend a whole half-day doing a meaningless but necessary task for work and on the side I was listening to BookTube channels. I came across this series, which is a crime series set at a University (at least the first one) and I couldn’t resist, as I love mystery novels of that sort. There are 5 books in the series, and I plan to read them all. It was reward for my horrid workday – I shouldn’t have started another series. But no regrets!
  • Jane Harper, The Dry.
    This was a book club read. A crime set in a small town in the Australian outback, where flora, fauna and people suffer from a years’ long drought. It was full of suspense, but also just slightly predictable – even I got an inkling as to the motive, and I’m usually not very perspicacious when reading crime novels. The book contained two crimes, one set in the protagonist’s past and never solved, one set in the present of the novel. Not bad.
  • Alan Bennett, The Uncommon Reader.
    A lovely short novel about what happens when the Queen (Elisabeth II) turns into a serious reader. Cozy and funny and heartwarming.
  • Wallace Stegner, Angle of Repose.
    A brilliant novel. A reread, as I last read it while still at University. I started in January, but read most of it in February. I really should read more by Stegner; I love his style in this novel.

Graphic Novel:

Marguerite Abouet, Aya: Life in Yop City.

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I wasn’t meaning to read a graphic novel, but this turned out to be the February selection of the Goodreads “Read Around the World” group. It is about the life of a group of teenage girls a suburb of the city of Abijan in the 1970. Abijan is the largest city of the Ivory Coast (the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire). Some of their experiences are incredibly like teenage experiences in Europe and America. I say “incredible”, because we stupidly always seem to see the African experience as somehow different, usually negatively different. This is, of course, a stupid view and this graphic novel helps to break it up. These universal teenage concerns about school, family, relationships, careers take place in the specific cultural space of Yop City (the suburb) at a certain point in time (the 1970s) and so the details of their lives are different to, say, my teenage experience. I found these cultural specifics engaging and enjoyable. I now feel the need to read the sequel of this graphic novel, as the first part ends rather abruptly, leaving stories unfinished.

In sum it was a good reading month. As for reading from my TBR, I had had Angle of Repose on Kindle since December 2018, so I guess that counts. On the other hand, all the other novels (except for the Laurie R. King ones) and the non-fiction book were new, so I’m not making much inroads on my collection of unread books.

As in January, I’m planning to write more detailed reports on some of the books I read (hopefully in the next few days).

Keep safe, world.

Monday Miscellanea

We had a lovely 10 days in Bavaria. The weather was great, slightly freezing and foggy in the mornings until noon and bright, sunny and warm in the afternoons. It was perfect weather for walking with Curious Dog. I am again trying to teach him not to pull so much on the leash and after the first three days where our walks took ages because I kept stopping whenever he pulled and only started up again when he stopped (and came back a few steps), I fancy I’m seeing results. If I keep it up the entire next month, maybe it will stick.

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Otherwise it was a fairly quiet week. The only exciting thing that happened was that I got an SMS from the Bavarian Vaccination Centre (Bayrisches Impfzentrum) where I had registered my mother in preparation for getting a vaccination appointment. The SMS said that I could book an appointment, so I went online and got one for last Friday for Mum’s first vaccination. She’s now got the first shot of the BionTech-Pfizer vaccine. She felt a bit woozy and headachy for the first two days, the injection site on her arm also hurt for a couple of days and now she’s still feeling a bit weakish, but on the whole, it seems to have gone very well. Hope the weakness will fade quickly.

I was expecting this huge vaccination centre, sort of like those they’ve been showing in the news on TV, but ours was actually quite small (which is no wonder, since our county town isn’t very large either). Not sure what I was thinking. In reality it’s just a handful of containers set up at the fairground where the county and town summer fairs and festivals and usually take place (not much of that has been going on in the past twelve months as we all know). There was no queue and no waiting. We got there a bit early, and Mum was allowed to get her vaccination straight away. The only weird thing was that Mum was asked to hang around outside in the parking lot for ten minutes afterwards, to see if she would have an adverse reaction. That felt rather improvised. What if it had rained? You could wait in the car and there was a very small tent nearby so not too bad, but still, I’d expected a kind of waiting room.

The appointment for the second vaccination is next time we are going to be in Bavaria, so that worked out perfectly. I’d kind of expected that I’d have to take any random appointment at any time and would have to drop everything and take Mum to Bavaria for the shots, so it’s very nice that that’s not necessary. Mum still has her main residence at our old family home in Bavaria, that’s why she’s getting her shots there. For myself, I got a letter from the government of Baden-Württemberg that basically said that it will take an unspecified amount of time until it’s my turn and they will be in touch…

Last week I learned that the Winter in Germany was too warm, despite the very unusual cold spell we had in February, with -15°C to -20°C in places (it only got to -15°C at my place). And then, following the cold spell, we had a very warm spell that had the weather scientists worried. And then there was the report about Germany’s forests which said that 4 of 5 trees are damaged by drought and pests following the dry years of 2018 and 2019. I watched a documentary about the state of the forests on TV because I love the woods with the result that now I’m even more worried about climate change than before. When I walk in the woods, I keep checking for dead or sickly-looking trees. Well, we’ve got state and federal elections coming up this year – I will be having a good look at the various agendas.

Our next door neighbour is getting solar panels installed on his part of the roof. It wouldn’t make sense for my part of the roof because it has northern exposure (and anyway, I don’t think my landlady would want to invest). There are workmen clomping on the roof and drilling and whatever, making a lot of noise. Curious Dog is hiding out in Partner’s office. He is scared of the noise, poor guy. Pity it wasn’t done while we were away. At least it seems that it’s progressing quickly. As far as I can see, the work on the roof is almost finished. As the neighbour’s roof is only a quarter of the entire roof area, there isn’t a lot of space for his solar panels.

I’ve got tons of things to do at work this week, and not much time for it. Half of one day is reserved for another team workshop and another day seems to be reserved for some HR-required administrative stuff to do with goal setting and people development. We had two years’ of respite from formal goal setting (of course we had goals and we even did very well on them), but now they’ve decided that we have to return to documenting everything. Not sure why, except that HR likes to switch things up every now and then. Goal setting is the pits. First you have to come up with them, then you basically forget about them until it’s time for a review and then you spent ages painting yourself and your accomplishments in the best possible light so that you’ll get a glowing report from your manager which then hopefully translates into a substantial pay raise in the next year. A dreadful bore. We managed just fine in the last couple of years without the administrative overhead. We knew what we had to do, we did it, the company did fine and the raises were underwhelming as almost always… Still, I shouldn’t complain, as I do quite like my job and it has been safe during the pandemic.

Keep safe, world.