2021 Mid-Year Book Recap

Wow, six months have passed already, and the year is half done. The perfect time for the mid-year book recap that’s my version of the Mid-Year Book Freakout Tag on BookTube. I did it last year, too (and renamed “freakout” to “recap” as I don’t feel like freaking out about books). Here’s the link. I wasn’t tagged (no wonder, I’m only on BookTube as a viewer) but I’ve seen it popping up there again and also on blogs I’m following, so I felt like doing it again, too. Here goes:

Best book you’ve read so far in 2021?

Klara and the Sun, by Kazuo Ishiguro. I loved how Klara’s character. In some ways really human, but in other ways quite alien. I also appreciated the world building and how you had to piece everything together bit by bit as the novel progressed and the ethical questions were thought-provoking. Here’s the review I wrote.

Best sequel you’ve read so far in 2021?

The Moor, by Laurie R. King. It’s book 4 of the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series and it’s inspired by “The Hound of the Baskervilles” by Arthur Conan Doyle. I love King’s series that I’m rereading this year. I’m looking forward to getting to the books that I haven’t read yet, as I’ve only read about half the series but wanted to start again from the beginning before getting to the new-to-me parts.

I also enjoyed Fugitive Telemetry, by Martha Wells, the Murderbot Diaries 6. I love this series and mentioned book 5 of the series in last year’s post.

New release you haven’t read yet, but want to?

Ariadne, by Jenifer Saint. I’ve had my eye on it for a while, but somehow decided I had to reread The Illiad and The Odyssey first. I’ve just finished The Illiad today but won’t get around to The Odyssey until after Jane Austen July.

Most anticipated release for the second half of the year?

I’m waiting for J.R.R. Tolkien, The Nature of Middle-earth (edited by Carl F. Hofstetter) to be published. I hope it’ll be sometime in the second half of the year. I don’t want the super expensive deluxe version, just a normal book (not ebook).

Biggest disappointment?

No disappointments yet. I’m pretty good at selecting books that I like and am only ever disappointed by books that my book club makes me read. And then I’m not really disappointed because I can usually tell straight off that I won’t like the book and then it’s not really a disappointment, rather a fulfilled expectation. Sad but true. Occasionally, the book club selections are super and the meetings (currently still Zoom) are always fun and sometimes illuminating, so I can live with reading a few sub-optimal books.

Biggest surprise?

The Illiad, as translated by Caroline Alexander. I started this expecting it to be boring because I didn’t like this epic much when I first read it, about 25 years ago. I don’t know whether it was because the German translation I read wasn’t great or if I just didn’t appreciate it or if I changed as a reader (could be). I think I’ll write a review explaining why I liked it, soon.

I was also really surprised at how much I liked the short stories of Rudyard Kipling.

Favourite new author, either debut or new to you?

Caroline Alexander. She’s not a debut author, but I love her translation of The Illiad and would like to read the non-fiction book The War that Killed Achilles.

Newest fictional crush?

I’m too old for crushes on characters. I said something about this in last year’s post, but I think next year I’ll just remove this question.

Newest favourite character?

Klara, from Klara and the Sun. She just so sweet and courageous and sometimes wise and sometimes naïve.

Book that made you cry?

Any book that has tragic stuff in it will make me cry, unless it’s written in an overdone way that makes ridiculous. I cry all the time when I’m reading. It’s embarrassing.

Book that made you happy?

All the books I read made me happy. Crying about tragic stuff doesn’t make me unhappy. It’s catharsis, I guess. Not reading makes me unhappy. I get grouchy if I don’t have time to read.

2021_06_02

Most beautiful book you’ve bought so far this year?

Mary Oliver, Dog Songs. A slim paperback with poems about dogs and lovely black-and-white drawings. It’s very cute.

What books do you need to read by the end of the year?

Don’t exactly need to read any but would like to complete my goals to read all of Louise Erdrich novels in the Love Medicine series. So far, I’ve read two of eight, so I’m not exactly on track. And I want to finish The Tale of Genji.

I’m quite happy with my reading progress on the whole. I’ve finished 54 books by now and have almost met my Goodreads challenge (which I set to 60 because I didn’t want to stress myself). Regarding my own goals, which I published on the blog, I’m probably not quite on track, but I currently don’t care. Work is really stressful and stressing about my private bookish goals is stupid, so I’m more or less ignoring those book goals for now. I want to keep my reading enjoyable and not another source of stress.

I had my first Corona vaccination on Tuesday (second one is planned for early August). My arm hurts a bit at the injection site, but it seems to be getting better. I worked at the office until noon on Tuesday, as I got my vaccination through my company, and it was still empty and boring as hardly anyone was in (nobody from my team). I’m glad to be working at home again today.

Keep safe, world

Monday Miscellanea

I had a nicely relaxed weekend. Saturday, I went on a long walk with Curious Dog in the morning because during the last week the walks were mostly just half an hour or so because the weather was so fickle. It always looked like it would rain, or worse, like there’d be a thunderstorm. Both CD and I hate thunderstorms, so we shortened our walks. But the walk on Saturday morning was lovely. We walked through the fields, past the cattle (which CD is always slightly afraid of) and by the stork nest. The nest is up on an out-of-service power pole, in the middle of a field. Partner and I have seen one or two of the adult storks on the nest very often, but we’ve never seen a young one. Saturday, I definitively saw one baby stork, and we saw it again today. I hope to see it grow up and start trying out its wings (although I haven’t a clue how long it takes for stork chicks to mature).

2021_06_28

I spent a lot of Saturday morning vacuuming the house. I hadn’t done my bedroom / office for a while, so I was really thorough for once. Took ages. I also I moved my large palm-like plant outside for the summer. During the autumn, winter and spring it lives in front of the one floor-to-ceiling window in my bedroom, but in summer I put it on the patio. It gets a good dose of sun and I get to open my window properly. Win-win for plant and human!

Curious Dog in in full-on shedding mode. Our living room, Partner’s office (where CD sleeps at night and which is also the guest bedroom), the kitchen and the small hall: all were covered in drifts of dog hair. I vacuumed it all up and on Sunday I gave CD a good brushing session. He doesn’t like that much, but it had to be done. But he’s still shedding. He has only two settings: standard shedding and extreme shedding. At the moment it’s extreme.

Mum and I were having lunch on Saturday when Partner arrived. He’d said he’d probably turn up around 2 p.m. but was earlier because his vaccination was faster than planned. He had hardly any reactions to the first jab, just a sore arm for a couple of days. Hope it will be the same for me tomorrow when I’ll be getting my first vaccination. It was very nice having Partner back.

We watched a quite a few shows and a couple of films on the weekend: three episodes of Bad Batch. In one of them poor Omega was kidnapped by a bounty hunter) and two episodes of Loki. Loki has just recently started on Disney+ and I like it very much. Not sure what it’s all about yet, but it has something to do with time manipulation and some beings that watch over the time stream with the help of a huge administration. It has a lot of Loki being Loki moments and the other characters are fun, too. We also watched the new animated film by Disney and Pixar, Luca. It’s Italian-themed and super enjoyable (although I liked Raya and the Last Dragon maybe just a tad more). The visuals and characters in both films are great, but Raya’s plot is more complex and more intriguing. But both films are fun.

We haven’t managed to watch the last two episodes of The Underground Railroad yet, mostly because it was too hot for a serious show. As the temperatures are supposed to drop again after today (and after probably another set of thunderstorms), I guess we’ll get to these two episodes sometime later this week.

I also read a lot of my current book, The Illiad (translated by Caroline Alexander). I’m now quite near the end, only three chapters left to go. I’d quite forgotten from my first reading years ago that all the violence in it is so graphic. It’s definitively not an epic that glosses over the ugly side of war and only concentrates on the “glory”. There’s a lot of ugly stuff in it. The gods keep interfering and being unfair. Warriors who beg for mercy are slaughtered anyway. Warriors who get killed usually also get their armour and stuff stolen, and their corpse desecrated. It’s very bloody. But there are also a lot of interesting pictures of life during ancient times and short bits of the protagonists’ backgrounds and a lot of psychologically plausible motivation for their actions. I’m surprised at how much I am enjoying it. Since I liked the Odyssey more than the Iliad when I first read them both, I’m guessing I’ll be really wowed when I get round to rereading the Odyssey (only after Jane Austen July).

I was feeling quite happy with the temperatures and precipitation in June this year. There were hardly any days hotter than 25°C and quite a bit of rain, but it turns out that it was extremely hot and dry in the eastern parts of Germany, so that it will probably turn out to have been the third-hottest and driest June since this data has been collected. Not so great.

On another note: recently I saw a short documentary on TV about automatic lawn mowers. If you use one of those in your garden, and you’re located in Europe, please deactivate it from 5 p.m. to 9 a.m. They are dangerous for hedgehogs. Hedgehogs don’t run away from danger; they roll themselves up. Then the automatic mower runs them over and they get killed or badly injured. These accidents are avoided if the mover is turned off late in the afternoons and during the night, as hedgehogs are only active during those hours. Apparently lots hedgehogs are currently being injured by these mowers and taken to animal shelters. I don’t have a mower like that (my patch of lawn is much too small), but if I had, I wouldn’t have known about this issue. So, I thought I’d mention it on the blog (not that I have that many readers, but you never know… it might be useful info for someone).

Work is as busy and chaotic as ever, but one of the most stressful projects has had its deadline moved for about four weeks, which will de-stress things for a little while. The downside is that the project will continue to bug me for longer, but I guess you can’t have everything. I hope it doesn’t get postponed again, because I would like for it to be finished and done with before my vacation in October.

Keep safe, world.

Jane Austen July: My TBR

Inspired by a favourite BookTuber, Claudia of Spinster’s Library, I want to take part in the Jane Austen themed readathon that’s always such an entertaining production among parts of the BookTube community. Although I won’t do all the challenges exactly as they are probably meant to be done, as some of them don’t suit me at the moment. So here are the prompts and how I plan to fulfill them:

1. Read one of Jane Austen’s six main novels.

I’ve read all of Austen’s main novels, but don’t own all of them. I’m seriously tempted to get the Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition of all the novels (including Lady Susan) in one paperback with French flaps and deckled edges – but it’s currently not available with Amazon and I couldn’t find a second-hand version in Germany (there are tons in the UK, but with shipping cost and Brexit uncertainties it’s not worth the hassle). I don’t want to buy a different new copy of a title l don’t already own and have decided to reread Persuasion because I think I haven’t read it as often as any of the others. I don’t remember any details, so it’s time for a reread.

2. Read something by Jane Austen that is not one of her six main novels.

I’m not feeling the vibe to do that. I want to read Lady Susan eventually, but at the moment I kind of want to wait until I can get the special edition (see the point above) that I have my eyes on. So, I had a brainwave and decided to look for a good fanfiction on Archive of Our Own. I used to read a lot of fanfiction in all sorts of fandoms, though never in the Jane Austen fandom. Well, I found one that sounds good: Dragon’s Choice, by vix_spes. It’s Persuasion-inspired and a cross-over with Naomi Novick’s Temeraire series (which I also like). I read the first few paragraphs and it seems well-written, so this is what I’m going for. Not really meeting the prompt, but who cares?

3. Read a non-fiction work about Jane Austen or her time.

I’m extremely not feeling the urge to read anything that fits this prompt. I’ve got a copy of Claire Tomalin’s biography of Jane Austen, which is great, but I don’t want to reread it. But this prompt inspired me to look up Tomalin on Amazon, and I found that she has written an autobiography. I’m going to read that. It’s called A Life of My Own. I’m hoping that someone who writes biographies will have a interesting approach to her own autobiography. It’s not fulfilling the challenge, but it’s inspired by the challenge, as I would otherwise not have come across this autobiography at this moment in time. Rather tenuous a connection with Jane Austen, but it kind of counts, right?

2021_06_25

4. Read a retelling of a Jane Austen book.

I’m not reading one of those either, but something closely related. I’m going to read The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow, which I have wanted to read since last year. I’m also going to read Death Comes to Pemberley, which is a crime novel by P.D. James. I love P.D. James and have read all her novels but found earlier this year that I had never come across this one. It’s been languishing on my bookshelf for a couple of months and I’m really looking forward to it. Both of these books are set in the world of Pride and Prejudice. That should definitively count, don’t you think?

5. Read a book by a contemporary of Jane Austen.

I’m going to pick up the poetry collection Eighteenth Century Women Poets: An Oxford Anthology, edited by Roger Lonsdale. I won’t read the whole collection in July (it’s 600+ pages) but I felt that a bit of poetry would be a great complement to all that prose on my July TBR.

6. Watch a direct screen adaptation of a Jane Austen book.

I know that I’ve seen adaptations of Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, but not of Emma. I’m going to watch the adaptation of Emma with Kate Beckinsale in the title role mostly because it’s free on Amazon Prime and I currently don’t feel like paying to see the more recent film from last year. Also, the most recent adaptations aren’t necessarily the best ones. I do want to see the other one sometime.

7. Watch a modern screen adaptation/retelling of a Jane Austen book.

I’m going to go with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. It sound kind of fun. I like Jane Austen and I like Zombie films – it could be hilarious and thrilling. I also want to watch Clueless, which I have never watched before. It’s currently also free on Amazon Prime (but only for the next five days, so I’m going to have to watch it this weekend).

As you can see, I’m interpreting some of these prompts rather loosely, but that’s part of the charm of the endeavour (that’s my argument if anyone asks). I’m excited about starting the challenge, but I want to finish reading The Iliad by June 30 first (I’m only half-way) and I still have to read 100 pages of The Tale of Genji this month.

Some good news: my Partner has managed to get an appointment for the Biontech/Pfizer vaccine at his place, tomorrow actually. And I have managed to get mine through work and it’s next Tuesday, with the same vaccine. We also have the appointments for our second vaccinations in early August. I’m so happy! Hope it all works out fine, with only mild reactions.

We’ve had a lovely rainy day today. My favourite kind of weather, pleasant temperatures, a bit of rain, a lot of green and thriving plants, no thunderstorms. Curious Dog and I had a pleasant morning walk. I didn’t have to work, as it’s Friday. I didn’t have to cook, because I made a big pot of soup yesterday that lasted for today as well. I’ve done my grocery shopping for the weekend (except that I forgot a couple of vital things that I will need to pick up tomorrow). Tomorrow Partner is returning, after getting his vaccination (unless he feels unwell), so I’m happy for that as well. Today has been a very good day – hope yours was too.

Keep safe, world.

Three Nancy Mitford Novels

Recently (well, last time in Bavaria), I read three novels by Nancy Mitford. Nancy Mitford was the oldest of the (in)famous Mitford sisters, members of an English aristocratic family. They were famous for their eccentricity and their politics, ranging from fascism to communism. One of the sisters was friend of Hitler’s, another married a leader of British fascists. Another sister was a communist. Several of them wrote novels or memoirs. Nancy Mitford was the chief writer of the lot, writing novel, biographies, and shorter pieces, such as essays and reviews. One of these days I would like to read a biography about them, as I think it would be fascinating (maybe horrifying in parts).

I don’t remember what made me pick up Nancy Mitford’s novels, but I really enjoyed them. They are very well written and entertaining to read – just what I needed after spending three hours driving to Bavaria. The three novels all deal with lives of more-or-less eccentric English (or French) aristocrats during the first half of the 20th century. They are nostalgic, sometimes funny, sometimes tragic. They show the bad (for instance, some of the characters are quite xenophobic and denigrate people of other races and nations) as well as the good.

The three novels I read all revolved around the problems of love and marriage and how the passing years affect families. Just a little bit like more modern and realistic Georgette Heyer novels (which are, however, a lot more light-hearted and always have a happy end). Nancy Mitford’s novels can be tragic in places and don’t necessarily have happy ends. The characters sometimes fail or make the best of circumstances and just muddle through, as one does in life.

These are the three novels I read:

2021_06_24

The Pursuit of Love

The novel tells the story of the Radlett family, especially of Linda, one of the daughters. It’s told by Fanny, a cousin who has been abandoned by her flighty mother and is brought up in normal circumstances by an aunt. In contrast, her cousins, the Radlett children, have an unconventional upbringing and some of them, especially Linda, have unconventional lives. I find Fanny very interesting. She seems to live vicariously though the exploits of her cousins, especially those of her best friend Linda, but we only learn a few asides about her own life without the Radletts.

Linda is very romantic and eager to fall in love, especially after the marriage of her older sister. Unfortunately, her romantic ways of looking at the world lead her astray. She falls in love with the conservative scion of a banking family (with German roots) and marries him despite both families being against the match. She has a daughter, Moira, whom she dislikes, and she is advised to have no other children, as Moira’s birth was difficult.

After some years Linda leaves her banker husband and hooks up with a communist, who is more interested in saving the world than in Linda. Interestingly, this lover takes Linda out of England to France, where she becomes, after she has left her communist, the mistress of a French duke. She has finally found the love of her life. But things are complicated by the advent of WWII…

The novel contains events and topics inspired by the lives of Nancy Mitford and her sisters. I really do want to read up on their lives.

Love in a Cold Climate

The novel is also narrated by Fanny, and again the reader only learns a few bits and pieces of her own life. It’s about the exploits of the Earl of Montdore’s family, especially his wife Sonia and their daughter Polly. Polly was a friend of the Radlett’s and Fanny’s, but they lost touch when the Earl became the Viceroy of India.

On their return from India, Polly is grown up and her mother wants her to become a successful debutante and make a good marriage. Polly, however, is not interested and is instead in love with her uncle, Boy Dougdale (the husband of her father’s sister). To the Radletts, this uncle has been known for his lecherous and abusive behaviour toward young girls. It appears that Polly has somehow mistaken his abusive behaviour as love. After her aunt dies, she marries him, and they are both ostracized by the Montdores and the rest of society. Especially horrific is the fact that Dougdale had an ongoing affair with Polly’s mother before marrying Polly. Almost needless to say, the marriage was doomed from the start.

The Montdores are plagued by the fact that they don’t have a son and that the Earl’s title and assets will go to an unknown young man from Nova Scotia. However, that young man, Cedric, turns out to be the saviour of the family and brings about a happy end for everyone. The part of the novel is really very odd and funny.

Apparently, The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate are part of a trilogy, but my collection of Nancy Mitford novels doesn’t contain the third novel. It’s called Don’t Tell Alfred and is apparently about Fanny and her family (at last), so I’m determined to read this at some point soon.

The Blessing

This novel tells the tale of Grace, daughter of a well-to-do English family, who meets, falls in love and marries a French aristocrat just at the beginning of WWII. She becomes pregnant straight away and brings up her son, Sigi, “the blessing”, by herself, as her new husband, is busy with the war and only returns to his family some years after the war.

After his return, Charles-Edouard takes Grace and Sigi to France, where at first they struggle to cope with life in the French aristocracy. They both rather take to it, except that Grace finds out that Charles-Edouard has a long-time mistress and various other lovers. She, naturally, takes umbrage and leaves her husband to return to her father’s home in England. Both Grace and Charles-Edouard are not very happy at this turn of events, but Sigi soon grasps the advantages of being able to manipulate his separated parents for his own ends. He proceeds to do everything to keep them apart and the question is, will Grace and Charles-Eduard notice his nefarious plots, and will they come to a compromise that will allow them to live together?

As I said, I really liked the novels. They make for deceptively light summer reading, but also open up questions about the nature of romantic love, idealism and many other topics to ponder, if one is so inclined.

Keep safe, world.

Klara and the Sun

My Partner gave this novel by Kazuo Ishiguro to me as a birthday present and I have only just read it. I was saving it up as a treat because I felt I would like it. I do like it. It is among the best novels I’ve read this year.

The novel is told in the first person by Klara, an artificial friend (AF), a kind of android, who exists to be a friend and helper for young people, children or teenagers. We meet her first sitting or standing in the window of a shop to attract customers. She is watching the pedestrians walk by and thinking about their relationships with other people and other AFs. She seems quite insightful, but also naïve and trusting. We also soon learn that she has special feelings for the sun, and for sunlight. I suspect, but don’t think we are ever told, that the AFs need sunlight as an energy source.

2021_06_23

Klara is selected by a young girl (or teenager) called Josie as her AF. She chooses Klara despite the fact that Klara is an older model, not the most up-to-date one. Her mother, who pays for the purchase of Klara, has the weird requirement that Klara must be able to imitate the way Josie, who has some kind of illness, walks. This sets up a strangely foreboding plotline that is only resolved later in the story, when we find out the secret plans Josie’s mother has for Klara (aided by the sinister scientist Mr. Capaldi).

Klara is taken to live with Josie, her mother and Melania the housekeeper. The housekeeper is initially hostile to Klara but later they collaborate to help Josie, whose illness gets increasingly worse. There are tensions in the household caused by the complicated relationship between Josie and her mother. Eventually we learn that Josie is one of a cohort of special children who were somehow “lifted”. Being lifted turns them into talented genius with a bright future but bad social skills. It is also a dangerous procedure that can fail, leading to the child’s death. This is the reason for Josie’s strained relationship with her mother and the reason for her mother’s nefarious plans for Klara in case Josie should die.
Klara and Josie’s unlifted friend Rick work together to try to save Josie’s life. Klara has a spiritual understanding of the sun who is kind of like a god for her. She comes up with a plan that involves an act of sacrifice on her part and a bargain with her sun god. I don’t want to spoil the end, so I won’t divulge the plan or if it works out or not, but instead I’ll write a bit about Klara.

Klara is always ready to say “yes” to everyone if it can help her to alleviate their loneliness, which she thinks is the main goal of the people she meets. She doesn’t seem to understand (at least not at first) that people can have much darker motivations or that the way some try to avoid loneliness can lead to greater evil. She is therefore very helpful and not very much concerned about her own good. We see scattered throughout the novel instances when AFs are ill-treated and they seem to be helpless or blame themselves. Klara’s way of physically seeing the world is very interesting. She has a strange fragmented sight, especially when she is upset. It’s like she sees the world through fragmented windows – a great way of showing that she’s not actually human. She also has problems with orientation and balance when she’s outside in strange places.

The society in which the novel is set has dystopian characteristics. AF are used and discarded like things although judging by Klara they are sentient beings. They are even capable of developing a religion. Their existence and treatment raise complex ethical question, at least in the reader. “Unlifted” people are discriminated against. All these topics are subtly shown as the plot evolves. The novel has a calm style, there’s nothing hurried about it but still sometimes there is a feeling of suspense. Readers have to figure everything out as Klara does – the only difference being that readers are likely to be a lot more suspicious and less naïve than Klara.

The ending is muted and kind of sad in many ways, but also subtly hopeful (at least I felt so). Klara, as her name indicates is just a bright, clear and shining presence. I think she’s the character I found most memorable of all the characters I’ve read about this year. There’s been a lot of hype around the novel which I find justified. I whole-heartedly recommend it.

Keep safe, world.

The Beet Queen (and Stuff)

This novel is the second in Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine series. There are eight novels in the series and one of my reading goals for 2021 is to read all of them. It’s already June and I’ve only read two – I’d better get a move on. I enjoyed this novel as much as I did the first one, Love Medicine.

2021_06_22a

The Beet Queen is set in the same universe, with at least two characters who also appear in the first novel (Eli Kashpaw, a minor character in this novel, and Dot Adare). The novel tells the stories of the major characters from the 1930s until the early 1970s. You could say that there’s a trio of women at the heart of the novel, Mary Adare, Sita Kozka, and Celestine James. Mary and Sita are cousins, Celestine is their friend. The reader sees them from their own and other’s perspectives (this is also the case for other characters – the cast is again quite large, involving at least three families).

The novel starts out with the death of “Mr. Ober” with whom Adelaide Adare lives as his mistress. They have three children, Karl, Mary and Jude (who is born after Mr. Ober’s death). When Mr. Ober dies in a freak accident, Adelaide and her children lose their home and their provider. They try to keep their heads above water by selling their valuables, but that doesn’t work for long. Adelaide is unable to cope and weirdly leaves her children at a fairground. She flies off with a pilot, Omar, who’s giving rides in his small aeroplane. The baby is kidnapped by a young man who wants him for his wife, as they recently lost their baby. Mary and Karl are left behind and decide to find their aunt Fritzie, Adelaide’s sister. They ride on a freight train as hitchhikers to the town where Fritzie lives, but before they get to her house, Karl and Mary are separated.

Karl returns to the train and lives with various people for a time until he finally ends up in a Catholic school for orphans. Later he turns into an itinerant salesman. He has affairs with lots of people, both women and men.
Mary is taken in by her aunt and uncle who own a butcher’s shop. She makes herself indispensable and eventually takes over the shop. Her cousin Sita is jealous of Mary (although she is not interested in the shop). She introduces Mary to Celestine James, her best friend, and is then jealous again, when the two also become friends.

The novel is episodic, jumping in chronological order from one character’s story to the next. Their lives are sometimes mundane, sometimes comic, sometimes tragic. Later in the novel, Celestine has a short affair and marriage with Karl (who, however, soon departs again) and has a daughter, Wallacette “Dot” Adare. Wallacette is named after Wallace Pfef, who saved Celestine’s life and helped with the birth during a snowstorm. Wallace also had an affair with Karl. Soon Mary’s and Celestine’s as well as Wallace’s lives revolve around Dot, whom they spoil rotten (at least, from their perspective). We only get one chapter, the last one, from Dot’s point-of-view, which, however, gives us a much more sympathetic view of her character.

The novel again creates a web of people and circumstances. I think it’s funnier than I remember Love Medicine being. Especially the last section that deals with the Sugar Beet Festival organized by Wallace Pfef, who manipulates the votes for the Sugar Beet Queen so that Dot, who otherwise wouldn’t stand a chance, is selected. He thinks this will build her self-confidence (talk about good intentions…). It turns into a terribly embarrassing (though quite funny) failure and Dot’s chapter explains all the horrific and funny circumstances from her point-of-view, which is quite different from the other characters’ view of her. All the main characters come together for the festival; one of them doesn’t survive – darkly funny.

As I said, I really enjoyed the novel, on the same level as Love Medicine, they are both very good.

2021_06_22

I wrote this post yesterday and finished the Word version (I always write my post ins Word first), but then never got around to posting. Work is currently totally stressful because everything is in panic mode as all sorts of things aren’t working. I spend half my days coming up with workarounds and analyzing issues with my colleagues and am then totally exhausted for the rest of my work hours (not to mention all the meetings the situation triggers).

My Partner is still at his place, trying to find out what to do about the optic fibre cable that his house is supposed to be hooked up to for improved internet access. The builders either turn up when he’s not home or say they will come around on a certain day and then never show up, and now apparently a new company is responsible, for which Partner hasn’t got any contact info (yet, hopefully). Now he’s trying to find someone responsible for the planning with local administration – good luck with that. He’s not here and I miss him. It also means that I have to do the cooking, grocery shopping and dog walks by myself in addition to work. Partner usually cooks on workdays and having to do it myself is a pain (though Mum helps). And yesterday I also had to clean up the basement room where the oil tank and furnace lives, as I got this year’s oil delivery today. I didn’t want the poor delivery guy to have to battle his way through lots of spider webs around the one window which is the entry point for the oil hose. I was finished with all that stuff by 9:00 p.m. yesterday but then couldn’t face any more time at my desk to post.

We’ve been having rather violent thunderstorms at night for the last couple of day. Mum and I left Bavaria for my place on Sunday morning, and luckily only had a bit of rain on the way. The storms and the rain have ended the heat wave and we are now back to a pleasant 20°C to 26°C for the next few days (as predicted, hope the prediction comes true). Much more to my taste, and better for Curious Dog too. Last week we went for our afternoon walk in the early evening when the sun had disappeared behind the hills on the horizon. It was much too hot earlier. I hope our place in Bavaria wasn’t too badly hit by the storms, but I guess if the roof had been blown off (or something else awful had happened) our neighbours would have called. It’s quite nerve-wracking watching the storm fronts on my weather app and wondering what’s happening in reality.

Keep safe, world.

The “A” Tag

I haven’t done a tag for quite some time and I’ve been watching this one on BookTube. It was originally created by Jim at jim’s books reading & stuff. I feel like doing a tag, so here goes:

A is for America. What do you consider the Great American Novel?

Taking “America” to mean “the USA”, I don’t think there’s any such thing as THE Great American Novel. There are lots of great novels written by American authors and how on earth is anyone supposed to pick one to rule them all?

Two US-American novels that I find great are: Toni Morrison, Beloved and Hermann Melville, Moby Dick.

You can also take “America” to stand for any country in North and South America. Unfortunately, I’m not well read in the literature of the other American countries, but one that comes to mind is One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez who is an Argentinian writer. I read this a long time ago and liked it a lot. It’s due for a reread.

What makes a novel great? I think novels that show the human condition and that last the test of time are often great, but I’m sure there are lots of other criteria. Also, what makes a novel from a certain nation great? Does a great US-American novel have different qualities from a great novel from another country? Lots of questions to ponder, too many to answer in a bookish tag post.

A is for arc. Which character in literature has the most interesting character arc?

Another hard question. There are millions of characters who go through an interesting development. Let’s take Gandalf. He goes from being Gandalf the Grey, to Gandalf the White by rebirth through fire. Very dramatic. You can see, I’m not taking this seriously. But I’m not at home and can’t check out my shelves for better examples so I going to my default favourite The Lord of the Rings.

A is for Australia. What was the last book you read by an Australian author?

I can’t remember when I last read a book by an Australian author, but I can tell you about a series of books that I read and reread in my early teenage years. Actually, I first read the series in primary school: The Silver Brumby series by Elyne Mitchell. I loved this series and still own a few of the books. Some of them weren’t published yet when I was a teenager and some of them I borrowed from the library. Now most of them seem to be out of print, although the first one is out on Kindle. Hopefully the others will follow. The first book, The Silver Brumby, gives the series its title. It’s all about the life of a wild white stallion in the Snowy Mountain region of Australia and it’s told from the point-of-view of the horses which could be cheesy but isn’t. The rest of the series are about the lives of his descendants. Here’s the first paragraph of the first chapter in the first book to give you a little taste:

Once there was a dark, stormy night in spring, when, deep down their holes, the wombats knew not to come out, when the possums stayed quiet in their hollow limbs, when the great black flying phallangers that live in the mountain forests never stirred. On this night, Bel Bel, the cream brumby mare, gave birth to a colt foal, pale like herself, or paler, in that wild, black storm.

Elyne Mitchell, The Silver Brumby. Hutchinson & Co. London, 1965, p. 11.

The passage still gives me a little shiver of delight.

2021_06_18

A is for Austen. What do you plan to read for Jane Austen July?

Not sure yet what I’ll be reading for Jane Austen July. I need to think about it. But I do want to participate this year.

A is for automobile. What is your favourite literary automobile?

Can’t think of anything offhand. What about the Enterprise? That’s like an automobile in space, right? 😉

A is for anonymous. What is your favourite book or poem published anonymously?

I like the little Middle High German poem I blogged about a few weeks ago: Memoirs and Poems.

A is for autobiography. What was the last autobiography you read?

Elegy for Iris, also mentioned in the post Memoirs and Poems. I think that that terms “memoir” and “autobiography” are often used interchangeably, so I’m guessing it counts. I tend to think that memoirs are more introspective and autobiographies more about the events in a life, but I don’t know if that’s really true.

A is for audiobooks. Do you consider listening to an audiobook as “reading”?

No. I think listening and reading are two distinct activities. I don’t think I’ve ever listened to an audiobook. Maybe a few plays on the radio when I was younger. So, I haven’t got much experience to compare the two, but still think that the two activities are different. That’s not to say that one is better or worse. But when I read a book, I decipher symbols on a page and when I listen, I decipher sounds. I use my eyes or my ears. Ergo, reading is not the same as listening.

The thing about audiobooks for me is that I love reading so much, I don’t want to make time for listening to books being read. And when I do things like ironing (which I’ve mostly given up anyway), I kind of drift and muse about things and don’t want to concentrate on someone’s voice. I could do it in the car; I like listening to podcasts on my commute, but since I haven’t commuted to work for more than a year, I also haven’t been listening to podcasts either.
Maybe I’ll try audiobooks at some other point in my life. I do think they are a great alternative, but currently just not for me.

So that was the “A” tag. Maybe I’ll do some of the other alphabet tags from Jim as well – he’s up to “E” by now.

Keep safe, world.

Gardening Joys and Work Woes

Last week we didn’t make it to Bavaria on Thursday afternoon. I’d planned to take the afternoon off, but some last-minute urgent work stuff came up and I couldn’t leave. So, we drove here last Friday morning instead and had a nice trip using a different route than usual, to avoid all the road construction and diversions on the normal route. In addition to my normal non-work Friday, I took Monday and Tuesday off, too. Mainly to get some gardening done. Our front yard looked like a meadow instead of a lawn, because of all the lovely rain we had this year.

2021_06_17

It was a great long weekend followed by two brutal workdays, where everything went wrong…

Friday afternoon, after the drive, I did nothing except read, and walk with Curious Dog. Saturday, I went grocery shopping. Sunday was lazing around and reading, on Monday Mum had a doctor’s appointment at the county town (everything is fine) and I went grocery shopping. Tuesday, more lazing and reading. In between hanging around enjoying life, I did an hour’s gardening in the morning and at night (once, in a fit of insanity, during the noon hours, when it was much too hot). It’s amazing how much you can get done in an hour when you keep at it. It was mostly cutting the long grass around our lawn, around the flowerbeds and bushes and in the middle. It was just too long to use the lawn mower. Now everything is looking nice and half-way civilized. I’ve got a lot of gardening refuse to drive to the municipal collection point on Friday (it’s only open for two hours on Fridays and Saturdays).

The plants are doing well. The two sweet potatoes we planted in May survived and seem to be thriving. Our dry-looking small Korean fir has grown a lot of lovely new green shoots; the Juneberry hasn’t bloomed, but I guess it’s too young – it is, however nicely green. The dwarf apple tree is currently carrying 5 tiny apples (not sure if they will survive to be harvested in Autumn, but it’s encouraging). The roses are starting to flower (everything is a bit later here than at my place in Baden-Württemberg). The peonies were still in flower, beautiful. I found that I quite enjoy gardening when it’s just an hour or two a day.

The weather is hot, up to and above 30°C. The first heat wave this year, I think. That makes it a good year in my book – I hate it when the heat starts in May. And next week it looks like it will be cooler again, dropping below 30°C with some rain. It’s hotter at my place than it is here in Bavaria, and I’m worried about the survival of our plants in the small raised beds on my patio. We did water them very well before we left and I constructed a makeshift sunshade (made of an old bedsheet) for them, but I’m not sure that will be enough. Still, it’s a north-west exposure and the sun only shines directly onto the patio from about 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. so maybe it will be fine. We can but hope. I don’t know my neighbours well enough to ask them to water my plants (especially since we’re gone so often).

2021_06_17a

I did a lot of reading during my days off. More reading than gardening, which is kind of funny. I read three Nancy Mitford novels, The Pursuit of Love, Love in a Cold Climate and The Blessing. I can’t remember why I suddenly decided to dive into Mitford, but I don’t regret it. They are nostalgic, sometimes funny or tragic novels about upper class or aristocratic life in the first half of the twentieth century. I also read The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa – really good and really weird. I read it in one day for my book club which is meeting this week (via Zoom). A good selection (as opposed to the sometimes less than stellar book club choices). And I’m now up to the half-way mark with The Iliad in the Caroline Alexander translation which I’m still loving. As usual, I plan to write a more detailed review for these books (but I’ve now got quite a backlog on book reviews).

Of course, I meant to write blog posts during my long weekend, but somehow I couldn’t motivate myself to turn on the computer and start writing. It’s weird that I have less motivation when I have more time. I need to work on this…

Tomorrow I’m voluntarily working in the morning (but I will be taking half a day of in recompense soon or at the latest the next time we drive to Bavaria). One of my regular work tasks usually falls on Friday mornings, and I don’t want to dump it on my colleagues. It’s a stupid task which doesn’t need much effort, so it isn’t a big deal. But it does have to be done. It’s nice to have an undemanding task after the stress of last Thursday (when I couldn’t take my half-day off) and the two days I worked this week. Last Thursday, I had to work on something with a colleague – basically prod the colleague to do a task which they had kept insisting was easy but nevertheless wanted to dump on me. Well, I resisted and made them do it and found out that they didn’t have a clue what they were doing. No wonder they wanted to get someone else to take over. I had to point out some stuff to them which I had noticed by chance just before our meeting. I didn’t have a clue either, but it wasn’t my responsibility. Since it was an important task which other colleagues depended on and I had been reminding the colleague to do it all along as well as asking for status updates for two weeks beforehand in our team meetings, I was super stressed and quite pissed off. And then I heard that in Monday’s team meeting (when I was on vacation), the colleague again said how easy the task was (before going off on vacation and dropping the rest of the task on another poor colleague). This was just the pits, so I complained to my manager. I don’t usually do this and don’t usually need to because my colleagues are generally professional. But this particular colleague likes showing off and turning their co-workers into their personal assistants (works best with new colleagues, who are too inexperienced to protest). It’s just not usually a problem for me, because I try to avoid working with them – note to self: keep it that way. My manager had already noticed that this current thing had been rather a shambles, which was good, but past experience has shown that they aren’t great at getting the colleague to change their behaviour. The colleague gets away with all sorts of things that other colleagues would get called out on. I used to think it was because they were extremely competent at what they do, but last Thursday has rather called that into doubt.

Keep safe world.

Tuesday Tidbits

When Partner was away, I drove to the garden centre where Mutti and I bought our small raised bed and I got another one plus some herbs and salad to plant in it. I got some more chives, some red-veined dock (mostly because it looked nice, but it is edible), some savory, some Thai basil (hoping that it will be hardier than normal basil), some lemon thyme, a chili plant and two salad plants (one romaine lettuce and one that I’ve forgotten the name of). Mum and I assembled the wooden bed, filled it with earth and planted the plants. They are doing really well (we’re already using them to season salads and other dishes), but I’m worried about next week, as we will be going to Bavaria again for 10 days and it’s supposed to turn quite hot, without rain (the last four or five days have been pleasantly cool and very rainy). So now I’m planning to put up a sunshade made from an old bed sheet above the plants and half drown them before we leave so that hopefully they will survive. They only get direct sun for about three hours every afternoon, so I think they have a chance.

Last weekend was a long one, due to the public holiday last Thursday (Corpus Christi). Partner returned on Thursday, which was super. For once I did the baking and made a rhubarb cake. A flat yeast bottom (like pizza, only sweet), rhubarb on top and a crumble on top of that. It lasted for three days and was tasty. Tart (because of the rhubarb) and sweet (because of the crumble). As Partner had returned early, while I stayed in bed reading and then had to take Curious Dog for his walk, he insisted on helping me with the cake when he arrived. He wouldn’t take “no” for an answer (he’s like that, always very helpful) and peeled and cut the rhubarb for me.

Last Friday, I had to get Curious Dog some new kibble. The last two 15 kg bags are almost used up and so I drove to the dog food shop and picked up another two bags. On the way back, I stopped off at a market and bought some fresh asparagus. I also did the usual cleaning and vacuuming, but there was also a lot of time to relax and read or watch movies. I tried to get an appointment for my Corona vaccination, because my company has now started vaccinating the employees, but lots of my colleagues also tried to get the vaccination, so it didn’t work out. There’s not enough vaccine for everyone. I’ll try again every Friday until I get my appointment and maybe I’ll also sign up at a local vaccination centre (now that it’s possible, as the prioritization has been dropped in most German countries). I’m actually not unhappy that I didn’t get an appointment for this week at my company, as we Mum and I will be driving to Bavaria on Thursday and that might not have been possible if I’d had a bad reaction to the vaccine. Mum’s got a doctor’s appointment next Monday in Bavaria and I would have hated to miss it.

2021_06_08

Partner and I continued watching The Underground Railroad. We are almost done, only two more episodes. As I’ve said before, it’s dark and powerful. Very unsettling. The only thing I don’t like about the series is that it is literally dark. Very often the scenes are set at night, or in dark places, and you can’t really see much. That’s annoying. We also watched the next episode of The Bad Batch (fun) and Raya and the Last Dragon on Disney+. I liked Raya a lot. The animations were lovely, the world-building great and the story was enjoyable. It was adventurous, funny, sometimes sad, with a happy end. Nice entertainment.

On Sunday, we watched the latest Tatort (Crime Scene) episode, but I didn’t like it much. It was one set in Berlin and somehow, I don’t like the police detective duo in the Berlin episodes. I don’t like their personalities and how they interact, so I’m not sure if I will watch another episode set in Berlin.

Yesterday, we watched an absolutely depressing documentary about the trade in apes, that is, chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas. The population of those animals are declining very fast, because they are hunted for bush meat and to sell off the babies. They end up in terrible totally exploitative conditions and the states who are members of the Washington Convention (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) don’t do anything. In fact, government officials are often bribed to turn a blind eye. I can understand why poor people might kill and sell endangered animals, but those government officials aren’t poor. They are just greedy. It’s very sad for all the people in all the countries that work to safeguard the apes but are not supported by their own leaders. If this illegal trade is allowed to continue, soon there won’t be any apes living in freedom in their traditional habitats.

To turn to a less depressing topic, I read a lot on the weekend:

  • Martha Wells, Fugitive Telemetry.
    This is the 6th novella in the Murderbot Diaries. I loved it. I read it once, quickly and then reread it straight away. Then I went on and reread the first of the series, All Systems Red, just because I was in the mood.
    I’ve also discovered that there’s a short story set in the Murderbot world that I haven’t read yet, but I’m keeping it for a treat for later.
  • Kazuo Ishiguro, Klara and the Sun.
    I got this one from my birthday (in March) from Partner. It’s great. Blew me away.
  • Laurie R. King, Locked Rooms.
    A reread, 7th in the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series. Also very good.
  • The Iliad (translated by Caroline Alexander). I only started this one.
    I read the Iliad in German ages ago, either while I was still in high school or while I was at university and didn’t love it. I thought I’d give it another try. I want to read the Odyssey in the translation by Emily Wilson, but the Iliad is kind of the prequel and I didn’t want to read one without the other. Now I’m loving the Iliad (maybe the translation is better or maybe I’ve just changed as a reader in the 20+ years since I last read it). I plan to finish by the end of June. Later on this year, I want to read some of the retellings of ancient Greek myths by authors like Madeline Miller, Jenifer Saint, Natalie Haynes and Pat Barker.

I’ll provide a more detailed review of those books soon (I hope).

I also continued reading Arabian Nights, which I also want to finish in June, and I read some more German poetry. I had a great long reading weekend and managed to do the normal amount of housework and a bit of weeding in my small garden as well. I felt quite accomplished by Sunday night.

I’ve got another long weekend coming up because I’ve taken next Monday and Tuesday off. On Monday there’s Mum’s doctor’s appointment (just a check-up) in the afternoon. I want to use those two days for some gardening and other chores at our place in Bavaria, but I’m sure I’ll also get some reading in. I’m too lazy to work in the garden all day (and it looks like it will be too hot in the afternoons anyway). I should also get an appointment for Curious Dog to get his yearly vaccinations. There’s lots to do in Bavaria.

Work is picking up again. I’ve planned my tasks for this and next week around my days off (I’m also taking this Thursday afternoon off, for the trip to Bavaria, as I didn’t feel like working on Friday instead. There’s lots to do, but at the moment things are manageable, knock on wood that it stays that way (it won’t, I’m pretty sure).

Keep safe, world.

Dog Songs

2021_06_02

I listed this great little book by Mary Oliver (with illustrations by John Burgoyne) as one of my May readings, but I got it already in March. I can’t believe that I left it lying around unread until May. Did I read it already in April and forgot to list it? No matter. I keep taking it up to reread the poems and look at the drawings. I love them both. The poems are not mawkish or sentimental. They evoke the pleasures and griefs of living with dogs. They celebrate their lives by imagining how they might see the world. The pencil drawings of dogs that accompany the poems are also lovely. I don’t know if they are portraits of Oliver’s own dogs, because the poems are about the dogs in her life, but it doesn’t matter, they beautifully complement the poems.

Some excerpts to give you an impression of what the poems are like:

Where goes he now, that dark little dog
who used to come down the road barking and shining?
He’s gone now, from the world of particulars,
the singular, the visible.

From “Bazougey” in Mary Oliver, Dog Songs, Penguin 2015, p. 41.

“Please, please, I think I haven’t eaten
for days.”
What? Ricky, you had a huge supper.

From “The Wicked Smile”, p. 83

A puppy is a puppy is a puppy.
He’s probably in a basket with a bunch
of other puppies.

From “How It Begins”, p. 1.

I’ve had dogs in my life since I was about 10 or 11 and I often think back on all of them – Cindy, Rolf, Rex, Liese, Rolf II, and Arwen (a rather strange name for a dog, but she already had it when we got her – she was a lovely dog, but didn’t exactly remind one of the daughter of Elrond. Even the colour of her fur was wrong. Arwen II (called Annie, when she came to us, but as one of our neighbours also had this name so we had to change it and somehow, my parents stuck with “Arwen”). And, of course, Curious Dog has been with us now already for more than 6 years. How time flies. What an independent puppy he was, and what a handful when he was in his teens! And now he’s all grown up… The “dog songs” sing to me.

For dog lovers or people who live with dogs and enjoy poems, the book is a small treasure.

Keep safe, world.