January Reading

As I was on vacation for the first two weeks of January, I had lots of time for reading. Here’s what I read:

Ongoing project:

Murasaki Shikibu and Royall Tyler (trsl.), The Tale of Genji
I didn’t manage to read the 100 pages for January, but I read the “Introduction” (which was very helpful for understanding the text itself) and the first chapter. I’ll catch up in February. I already think I’m going to enjoy it.

Poetry:

  • Janet E. Gardner (ed.), Literature: A Portable Anthology. 4th Edition
    I finished reading the poetry section of this anthology. An excellent diverse selection that I liked a lot.
  • Patrick Crotty (ed.), The Penguin Book of Irish Poetry
    I started this anthology last year and am continuing it for my daily poetry reading. It’s great and I’m now starting the last quarter of the book.

Short Stories:

  • Jay Rubin (ed.), The Penguin Book of Japanese Short Stories
  • Gardner Dozois (ed.), The Year’s Best Science Fiction: First Annual Collection and The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Second Annual Collection
    I finished the first two anthologies in January (started on them last year). As I had a lot of time, I also read the whole second one of Dozois’ annual collections in January. As usual with anthologies, I liked some stories and hated others (this is true for both the sci-fi anthologies and the Japanese short stories). One of the best short stories in the Second Annual Collection was Octavia E. Butler’s “Bloodchild”. I have read all of Butler’s work and love it – her sci-fi always focusses on character development which is not the case with a lot of sci-fi and it also explores knotty ethical questions.

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Non-Fiction:

Patrick Conty, The Genesis and Geometry of the Labyrinth: Architecture, Hidden Language, Myths, and Rituals
This book has been sitting on my shelves unread since 2007. It’s a fascinating and weird exploration of how labyrinth, mazes, and knots can be interpreted to explain reality and even complex theories like quantum mechanics and string theory. It was a bit beyond me in places, I must admit. It is a keeper, though, and I am sure to revisit it (maybe I will understand it better on re-reading). It has lots of graphics and photos of paintings and other artwork, so a very nice edition. I picked it up while on a business trip in Palo Alto.

Aimee Nezhukumatathil, World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments
This was the selection of the “Booknaturalists” on Intragram. I quite liked it, but it was a kind of memoir that explored what the various fauna and flora meant to the author. I expected more details about the natural world and was therefore a bit disappointed.

Novels:

  • Chantal Spitz, Island of Shattered Dreams
    The January selection of the Goodreads “Read Around the World” group. It’s set in French Polynesia.
  • Susanna Clarke, Piranesi
    One of the books I wanted to read last year in December. It features a kind of maze that inspired me to read the book about labyrinths by Conty.
  • Louise Erdrich, Love Medicine
    The first of Erdrich’s books that I want to read this year.
  • Laurie R. King, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice and A Monstrous Regiment of Women
    These are the first two books of King’s Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series. I love the series but have some unread titles on my shelves that I want to get to. And there are lots of new installments that I don’t own yet. I want to catch up on the series. These two were re-reads.
  • J.K. Rowling (alias Robert Galbraith), The Cuckoo’s Calling and The Silkworm
    I’d read The Cuckoo’s Calling in 2013 and quite liked it but never continued the series. I enjoyed The Silkworm, too and want to continue on with the series.

I had a very prolific reading month and I enjoyed all of the books I read. I even managed to read a book that’s been on my TBR for years. I’m planning to write more detailed reports on most of the books I read, so I’m keeping the list short without greater details.

October Reading

In October I had two weeks’ vacation. The first week was spent on the Baltic coast with my Partner, my cousins and Curious Dog, so not that much time for reading. The second week was at Mum and my place in Bavaria (with Curious Dog, of course) so quite a bit of time for my favourite activity. Let’s see if this had an effect on the number of books read.

Ongoing Projects:

  • Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace
    Done! This year’s read along with one of my best friends brought to a triumphant conclusion. It was a great read, and I hope to get around to writing a report on in. We’re considering which book to read next year.
  • Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy
    Total fail again, as usual. I’m going to come up with a new plan to get through it next year (or maybe make a two-year plan). We’ll see. Or maybe I should just sit down and read it in a couple of weeks? Probably not. I do think it’s good for sampling in small doses.

Poetry:

  • Daniel Karlin (ed.), The Penguin Book of Victorian Verse
    I finished this magnificent collection. It was great, and I’m sure I’ll be rereading this one often. What struck me was that at least half of these poems are about death or death-in-life. Some of them are quite dark.
  • Thomas H. Johnson (ed.), Final Harvest: Emily Dickinson’s Poems
    I didn’t feel like dragging the big Penguin collection along on my vacation, so I read a few of Dickinson’s poems during that time. I’m very fond of Dickinson and should read this entire collection (which I was gifted by one of my university professors) and then I should get her complete poems. They are so great…

Short Stories:

  • Jay Rubin (ed.), The Penguin Book of Japanese Short Stories
    Again, I continued reading these short stories and enjoy them. I’m at about the half-way mark. I didn’t read a short story per day in October, as I was reading other things.
  • Gardner Dozois (ed.), The Year’s Best Science Fiction: First Annual Collection
    I only read a couple of these, but they are good.

Non-Fiction:

  • Jenny Harley (ed.), The Selected Letters of Charles Dickens
    Very interesting. I only dipped into these letters every now and then and have only read about a fifth of them but will definitively keep going.
  • A. N. Wilson, The Mystery of Charles Dickens
    Shows how Dickens’ life left distinct traces in his books. Some of my comments are here.
  • Claire Tomalin, The Invisible Woman
    A fascinating biography of Ellen Ternan, Dickens’ lover. I wrote a few thoughts here.
  • Mary Seacole, The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands (1857)
    A BookTube inspired Victober read, very good. A kind of alternative Florence Nightingale autobiography, which I still want to write a review on. This one I finished while on the Baltic. A slim book.

Three and a bit non-fiction books read in October, not bad at all.

Graphic novel:

Total fail. I’m still not feeling like reading graphic novels.

Novels:

  • Charles Dickens, The Old Curiosity Shop
    The first of my October Dickens’ novels. It wasn’t bad, but not one of my favourites. Here’s my review.
  • Charles Dickens, Great Expectations
    The second novel by Dickens read in October – in honour of Victober. I absolutely loved it but have yet to write a review.
  • Toni Morrison, A Mercy
    Another one of Morrison’s historical novels, set far back in the 1690s, during early slavery times in America. Shows how slavery affects the lives of a Dutch couple and their three slaves. Also shows how similar to slavery indentured servitude was. I will write a review; just finished it yesterday.
  • Russel Kirk, Old House of Fear
    A book club read, not bad, but not as good as expected. The gothic horror elements are sadly underdeveloped and what’s left is an atmospheric adventure set on a fictional island of the Hebrides. Not bad, a quick read, but not great (like, for instance, the short stories by M. R. James).
  • Michel Faber, D: A Tale of Two Worlds
    A Dickens-inspired work of children’s literature. An imaginative adventure by a lovely heroine, Dhikilo, a young girl from Somaliland who lives with her adoptive English parents in an English sea-side town. The fantastic creatures she meets in a second world (to which all the letters “D” are being abducted with dire consequences for our world) are all based on Dickens characters, but reinterpreted. The fantasy story is full of suspense, but fairly gentle, suitable for children but also lovely for adults – I especially liked identifying the Dickens’ characters the fantastic characters are based on. Also well done is Dhikilo’s experience as a person from Somaliland in an English setting. A quick and enjoyable read.

Well, that was a nice number of books read, even though I had a hellish two work weeks after my vacation. Guess I got most of my reading done in the second week, when I was on vacation, but staying home in Bavaria. Over Christmas, when, I reckon, I’ll be taking my usual three weeks off, I’ll have a longer stretch of reading time (if nothing comes up). Looking forward to it already. I didn’t read many short stories, and no graphic novel, but everything else was very satisfying.

Food for Thought

Today, before I even got out of bed, I read a sci-fi short story by James Tiptree Jr. (alias Alice Bradley Sheldon) called “Beyond the Dead Reef” from 1983 collected in The Year’s Best Science Fiction: First Annual Collection (1984) edited by Gardner Dozois. It was rather thought-provoking, about a coral reef in Mexico destroyed by man-made pollution and over-fishing and how the sea fights back (no details, no spoilers, but it was kind of sci-fi horror, very memorable). It was written in 1983 and I’m sure the situation of our oceans and coral reefs is worse today, what with the rising water temperatures and rising levels of pollution, garbage and plastic. I find it so sad that we haven’t managed to turn around our irresponsible treatment of the planet in the almost 40 years that have passed since the 1980s. Wonder what our oceans will look like in another 40 years?

What I hate most about the destruction of our planet is that all the innocents are also affected: the future humans, all the animals, the people in countries that don’t contribute much to global warming and pollution. Last week we saw a documentary about how climate change is already affecting Germany and I can only say: just deserts! I hope we get a lot of reforms going in the next years ̶ but this week, the opening of a new Mercedes factory for petrol-guzzling luxury cars (not even electric) in Sindelfingen was all over the news. Exactly what we don’t need. It is so stupid.

I’ve read seven short stories in this sci-fi collection today and found all of them very good, except one, which I found a bit too confusing. There are 35 of these collections, all out on Kindle. I’m planning to read all of them eventually (it will take years, I guess).

Other than reading, I did some of the usual Friday chores: shopping and hanging up a couple of loads of washing. It’s quite hot today, up to 29°C, good for drying laundry outside. Shopping was a lot, mainly because my stores of bottled water, juice and oat-soy milk were low, because we used up most of them with last week’s guest. Five people do use up a lot more than three. So, I did one tour through the supermarket picking up all the beverages, took them out to the car and then did another tour to get the rest of the groceries. Enough fresh produce to last us over the weekend. I was too disorganized to buy more and didn’t really have a cooking plan for more than the next few days. Bought the first pumpkin of the season for soup as well as vegan Lebkuchen. The Lebkuchen is a Christmas cookie with spices and a dark chocolate glaze. Much too early, really, but already available in the supermarket. I kind of disapprove of having Christmas stuff already at the end of summer. However, they do taste best when they are fresh, so I couldn’t resist. We had them for our afternoon coffee break, and they were delicious.

We didn’t meet any other dogs on our morning walk with Curious Dog, but we were later than usual, because we usually get up a bit later on Fridays (and the rest of the weekend) and the other dogs had perhaps already returned home by the time we got to the usual haunts. Yesterday, when I took Curious Dog for his late afternoon walk, we only got to the edge of the village, when all of a sudden, he sat down and didn’t want to go on. It was overcast and humid and I think he mistook the noise of some aeroplanes passing overhead for thunder. I couldn’t persuade him to continue and, on the way back home he pulled like a draught horse the whole way. He doesn’t care for thunderstorms.

Keep safe, world.