June Reading

June was an average reading month; as anticipated, I didn’t read as much as in May. Here’s the list of books I read:

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Ongoing project:

Murasaki Shikibu and Royall Tyler (trsl.), The Tale of Genji.
After having caught up in May, I didn’t get round to continuing this novel in June (neither did my reading buddy). I’ve started up again and will catch up in this month of July. It’s a good read, I don’t know why I keep letting it lie.

Poetry:

Heinrich Detering (ed.), Reclams Buch der deutschen Gedichte.
A big two-volume anthology of German poetry from the Middle ages to modern times. I’ve read most of the first volume up to and past Goethe and Schiller in the chronology. At the moment, in July, I’m giving it a rest, because I’m focusing on women poets of the 18th century for Jane Austen July. But I will return to the German anthology again in August.

Short Stories:

Robert L. Mack, Arabian Nights’ Entertainments.
I haven’t been reading much in the Arabian Nights, but I have made some progress. I’m at about two thirds.

Non-Fiction:

No non-fiction in June.

Novels:

  • Martha Wells:
    • Fugitive Telemetry.
    • All Systems Red.
      The first was the new novella in the Murderbot Diaries which I liked so much that I was motivated to red the first installment, All Systems Red, again. I mentioned it briefly here.
  • Laurie R. King, Locked Rooms.
    Number 8 in the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series. I haven’t posted about it, as I’m waiting until I’ve read another one, so that I can do a combined post. It was a good read, I love the series.
  • Kazuo Ishiguro, Klara and the Sun.
    My favourite read this year so far. Here’s my review.
  • Nancy Mitford, Love in a Cold Climate and Other Novels.
    A very enjoyable collection of three novels for which I wrote a review.
  • Yoko Ogawa, The Memory Police.
    The novel we read in my book club. It was very interesting and I’m still planning to write a review.
  • Caroline Alexander, The Iliad.
    This was a great reading experience, as I discussed here.

So, I didn’t read as much in June as I did in May. Not sure why I didn’t, maybe I just had too many other things on my plate. I’m still happy, I didn’t have a reading slump or anything. It’s a bit strange that I didn’t manage a non-fiction book. Maybe I’ll get around to one in July, although I haven’t got one planned at the moment.

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.

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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.

Monday Miscellanea

Mum and I spent last Friday gardening. Partner also pitched in. First, Mum and I took a trip to one of the towns I used to pass through on my commute (which, by the way I am not missing in the slightest) to shop for some plants for my small patio and garden. We came away with a small raised bed and some herbs: chives, parsley, oregano, peppermint, and rosemary. Partner and I assembled the wooden raised bed. I lined it with a thin gardening fabric (to protect the wood and prevent clods of earth falling through the slats on the bottom). We added a layer of shards of broken clay pots to help with drainage and then filled the beds up with earth, about 50 l worth. Then Mum planted the herbs. We’re hoping that the container of the raised bed is large enough that it won’t dry out during the 10 days per month when we are in Bavaria. It’s looking so well that I’m going to pick up another one of those bed so that we can plant some more herbs and other plants. We also got Mandevilla (because it also survives not being watered for a few days) for the patio. This one with pink instead of red flowers (the one we got for our grave plot last time in Bavaria). Last year we had a lovely white one for the patio, I hope this one will also grow as nicely.

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The Clematis that I planted more than a year ago (can’t remember when I planted it, it’s so long ago) has actually got one lovely blossom and another one will be blooming soon. If I remember correctly, the plant is supposed to keep blooming until late in the year, so I’m hoping for a many more flowers.

As indicated by all the gardening activities, the weather has been much better since the weekend. Temperatures climbed above the 20°C mark and it is now very pleasant. I hope this doesn’t mean that we won’t have any more rain for the rest of the summer. I’ll soon need to postpone Curious Dog’s afternoon walks to the evenings, as it will be getting too hot.

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Otherwise the weekend was much as usual. We went for long leisurely walks with Curious Dog though the wood and fields. Still quite damp in the woods, but that’s all for the best. Partner and I watched a few more episodes of The Underground Railroad. We are now at the half-way mark. It’s very dark, but powerful. And we watched the next episode of The Bad Batch. There was no new Tatort episode on Sunday, but the Polizeiruf 110 (also a crime series) was very good. Kind of strange, but good. The murderer wasn’t caught in the episode, but it seems that they will appear in other episodes. This one was set in the town of Halle, (in the German state Saxony-Anhalt) with a new pair of police detectives. An older one, divorced, with an alcohol problem, a younger one (an ex-nurse), with a family, three kids, the wife and his retired father-in-law who also appears to have been a detective. They didn’t find the murderer they were looking for, but they discovered a trio of deadbeats who’d tried to get rid of the body of one of their friends who had accidentally electrocuted himself while trying to fiddle illegally with the electricity mains in their run-down house. The two detectives seem to be a congenial pair and I plan to watch future episodes.

We did a lot of cooking, too. That is, I did the grocery shopping, some cleaning, and some laundry (the usual) while Partner did most of the cooking. We had asparagus again, as we love it and it’s in season, with boiled potatoes and a soy-yoghurt sauce. Simple, but good. Partner also made a rhubarb cake and a plain sweet loaf which he left for Mum and me to finish up. He’s returned to his place because there’s currently optical fibre cable being installed in his road and the workers will need to access his house. Not sure when exactly this will happen, so I’m not sure when he’ll be back. A pain. I don’t mind being without Partner in Bavaria, because I’m used to it (and he does have to check up on his old family home as Mum and I have to check up on ours), but I miss him when we’re here and he’s not. It’s weird without him. If he’s still away on Thursday, I may take the opportunity to resort and clean the bookshelves in his office. We just dumped the books on the shelves when we moved in three years ago. I resorted a couple of shelves a while ago, but most of them are still an unsorted mess.

I also did some reading on the weekend. I read some more of the poems in my German poetry anthology (I am now done with Middle High German and up to more modern German that doesn’t need translation). I also read Louise Erdrich’s The Beet Queen, which I liked a lot and will write a post about (later this week, I hope). And I’ve almost caught up with The Tale of Genji, my year-long reading project with a friend. Today, by coincidence I found that I’d missed the publication of a new Murderbot novella (by Martha Well). One of my favourite sci-fi series and I missed the new one! It’s called Fugitive Telemetry and I’m not sure if I should download it tonight and inevitably stay up late reading it or if I should save it up for Thursday. I believe I’ll take the latter option. A treat for the long weekend (as Thursday is a public holiday hereabouts).

Work is still quiet, as it is still vacation period (Whitsun school holidays) and colleagues are out of the office. I’m trying up some loose ends and taking it easy, but things will pick up again next week. I’m already organizing and planning my next tasks and will break everything down into a weekly schedule, so that I can get started next Monday. I need to do a thorough update of four documents and finalize two projects by August, and all sorts of minor additional tasks. The summer month will (as usual) be busy, but hopefully good planning will lessen the pain.

Keep safe, world.

May Reading

Here’s the books, short stories and poetry I read in May:

Ongoing projects:

  • Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace
    138 pages, my quota for May — still liking it.
  • Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy
    Almost total fail again. It’s not really an issue, as it is an optional goal, so I don’t really care about not getting ahead. I read a few pages, but not many.

Poetry:

Helen Gardner (ed.) The New Oxford Book of English Verse
I’m up to poem number 583 in this anthology. I’m still enjoying it very much and I’m still doing my reading each morning in bed, when my partner is blocking the bathroom. A nice way to start the day. I mark the poems I especially like with a sticky note, so that I can later revisit them and maybe search out some more of that poet’s work.

Here’s a very short poem by William Blake (1757 – 1827), number 460 in the anthology:

The Sick Rose
O rose, thou art sick!
The invisible worm
That flies in the night,
In the howling storm,

Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy,
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.

Short stories:

  • Ali Smith, The Whole Story and Other Stories and The First Person and Other Stories
    I’ve now read all the short story collections by Ali Smith and absolutely loved them.
  • Flannery O’Connor, The Complete Stories
    I’ve started this short story collection in May and will finish in June. I’m finding them very odd. I’m not sure what to think about them. They seem to be only about the dark side of humanity with not much hope for any betterment. The characters in the stories are all pretty horrible.

Non-Fiction:

Alfie Kohn, Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason.
Very good and eye-opening book about parenting which should also be useful for teachers and everyone who deals with children. Wow, I sure did some things wrong in my relationship with my god-child and her sister. I very highly recommend it.

Graphic novel:

Thi Bui: The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir
This graphic novel is about the Bui family and their flight from Vietnam as boat people and how they fared in America. It also tells the life stories of the parents. The art is beautiful and the story is very interesting. I recommend it.

Novels:

  • Charles Dickens, Dombey and Son
    Quite a weird novel. I didn’t like it very much but will write a longer review about it.
  • Toni Morrison, Beloved
    A great novel. I will also write a longer review, but don’t wait for it, read it.
  • Samantha Shannon, The Priory of the Orange Tree.
    A fantasy novel with interesting world building. It’s about the usual thing, defeating evil and saving the world, but it is refreshing in that it has a diverse cast, interesting different societies and lots of strong women characters. Also, it’s done in one novel, when so many fantasy stories number at least three books. Recommended for fantasy readers or readers who want to try a fantasy that doesn’t require one to read lots of installments.
  • Martha Wells
    • Network Effect (Murderbot Diaries 5)
      A scifi series that I love a lot. This latest installment is even greater than the first four novellas, because it is a full length novel. The series is about a construct, a kind of android who also has human body parts and human emotions. They are treated like slaves or things, but the protagonist has a broken control unit and is therefore free. The amazing thing about this series is the internal voice of the construct and the way it struggles with its humanity and feelings (it has no sex or gender, therefore “it”). But the stories are also full of suspense. I highly recommend all of them.
    • All Systems Red (Murderbot Diaries 1)
      I reread the first part of the series because I love it so much. Here we get some of the backstory and the first adventure of the construct.

So, I managed to reach my goal in May and even read some extra books. Had a good reading month and can recommend most of the books I read.

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Raindrops on My Skylight

Today was a day of much-appreciated rain. Sitting at my desk in my bedroom cum office at the top of the house, I heard it pounding away all day. Very comfy to listen to when one is dry and warm, knowing that it’s welcomed by nature, since it hasn’t rained much in the last couple of months. It is a tad cool – in Germany the days between May 11 and 15 are known as the days of the “ice saints” (die Eisheiligen). Those are the saints Mamertus, Pankratius, Servatius, Bonifatius and the “cold” Sophia. After May 15, it’s said, one can be reasonably sure that night frosts will no longer occur to endanger newly planted crops. Since I’m living in a very warm part of Germany, there won’t be any night frosts, but the temperature is expected to go down to 1°C tonight. I bought a plant for my patio last Friday that I’ve wrapped up in a plastic bin liner (not having anything better to hand) just in case that’s too low a temperature for it.

Last week and the weekend were nice and warm with temperatures around 22°C, even a bit higher, which is my favourite temperature range: anything between 20° and 25°C. Higher temperatures, I don’t much care for. That’s why I’m not so keen on summer, because weeks of 32°C (or more) is just too hot for me. 2018 was dire, with the heat and drought starting in May and lasting into September. August and September are usually at least slightly better, because the sun starts setting earlier again, but June and July are just awful when it’s hot and sunny. Curious Dog doesn’t much care for those temperatures either and I always need to go on his afternoon walks very late, when the sun is low and the shadows are long. Oh well, plenty of people like hot summers. Just my personal predilection. I don’t mind it if the heat stays in June, July, and August, but now-a-days, those are not the only hot months. We’ll see how it develops this year. But since we are already almost at mid of May, it hopefully won’t get as bad as 2018. The woods could do with a rainy summer, they still haven’t recovered from the droughts of 2018 and 2019. So, I’m happy it’s raining.

On Friday, I got some more plants for the garden. About four smallish lavender plant, which Mum and I planted under and next to the big rosebush (already blooming, lovely yellow-red flowers). Also, a clematis, that I planted up against the wall and fence to the neighbour’s yard. I already planted one last year, but that was too near the hedge and didn’t thrive (it’s still alive, maybe it’ll grow some this year). I also planted another flowering plant, for the bees, that I don’t know the name of. I used to have a huge version of this one at another flat, which had a balcony cut out of the roof. It was lovely, but the plant was invested with loads of little bugs and it was a pain trying to get rid of them without resorting to pesticides (which I never do, and certainly won’t do if it happens again – bad for nature and bad for Curious Dog). Hope it doesn’t get bugs here and that it doesn’t get eaten by snails.

Before we could plant the lavender, we had to remove a kind of plastic ground sheet that was laid under a covering of wood chips. I don’t know if this ground sheet was intended to keep the earth moist or to prevent the growth of weeds, but it was laid in all the flower beds in this yard (not too many, since it is a very small yard). I’ve removed it everywhere except under the huge butterfly bush, but I’m planning to get rid of it there, too. If it were something that would rot away, fine. But plastic? I’m not having plastic in my yard. Also, those ground sheets keep shedding bits of plastic string and I’m worried that birds (or other small animals) will pick it for nesting and get tangled.

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So that was Saturday. Gardening. It got quite hot and sweaty. I like a garden, but I’m not so enthusiastic about the work associated with it. Especially since I also did quite a lot of housework on the weekend. I hate it when the weekend has more work in it than a workday (but it wasn’t that bad, I’m exaggerating). The best thing about cleaning and gardening the feeling of accomplishment afterwards. Just a pity that it doesn’t stay accomplished but has to be repeated all the time.

On Sunday I did some cleaning as well and, in the afternoon, we watched Antman on Disney+, which we hadn’t seen before. It was entertaining and I’m looking forward to watching the sequel, Antman and the Wasp. I also binge read Martha Wells’ new Murderbot novel Network Effect. It was great – a real novel, not just a novella, like the other installments. I like them all. They are sci-fi dealing with the adventures of a construct, a kind of android with human parts. They are real-pageturners, but the most appealing thing is the way the Murderbot interacts with humans and other AIs. Spoiler: it’s not really a murderer, rather the opposite. I hope Wells writes a few more of these novels.

I also finished this month’s section of War and Peace. I’m now at the half-way point and it’s all good. Although I’m glad I’m reading it slowly, in installments, as otherwise I think I’d get sick of it. Too much high-level soap opera. It is kind of like a soap opera, except not so unrealistic. All the characters keep suffering reversals of fortune and feeling. Some of them are plain stupid or casually evil. Most of them annoy me at one point or another. But in smaller bites I’m enjoying it.

We also tried out two new dishes this weekend. One with mushrooms, bell peppers and savoy cabbage lightly fried in a pan and then deglazed with an orange juice and soy sauce. Served with whole-wheat pasta. The other with pre-cooked lentils to which pineapple pieces were added before simmering everything in coconut milk seasoned with lemongrass, a bit of curry, and a lot garam masala. Served over whole-grain basmati rice. Both recipes were easy to cook and absolutely delicious. They will be added to our collection of permanent recipes.

Today, we’re making a cream of broccoli soup. It’s the right weather for a nice warm soup: cold and rainy. Curious Dog and I got very wet on our afternoon walk.

Keep safe, world.