July Reading

In an unprecedented display of efficiency, I’m actually posting my July reads at the end of July instead of sometime in the next month. The reason is that as my cousins are visiting from Friday to Sunday, I won’t get much more reading done, so I might as well do my wrap-up today.

SilverBrumby

Ongoing project:

Murasaki Shikibu and Royall Tyler (trsl.), The Tale of Genji
I read a few pages this month but not that many. I’ll have to pick up again next month.

Poetry:

Roger Lonsdale (ed.), Eighteenth-Century Women Poets
I started this anthology for Jane Austen July and am enjoying it very much. I’m about half way though and will continue with it till I’m done. It’s a shame that these poets aren’t more widely known, as they are just as good as male poets.

Short Stories

Robert L. Mack, Arabian Nights’ Entertainments
I didn’t make much progress with this either, but I’ll keep at it.
Also short stories by Laurie R. King listed with the novels.

Non-Fiction

  • Claire Tomalin, A Life of My Own
    This was also a round-about Jane Austen July book. It was very good, see my review if you are interested.
  • Peter Martin, Samuel Johnson: A Biography
    This one I reviewed yesterday. Not bad but only if you are interested in the details of Samuel Johnson’s life. But in that case, you should start with Boswell’s Life, which is great.

Novels

  • Jane Austen, Persuasion
    Read for Jane Austen July – very good.
  • P.D. James, Death Comes to Pemberley
    Also part of Jane Austen July. I reviewed it and Persuasion here.
  • Janice Hadlow, The Other Bennet Sister
    Another excellent (except maybe a bit long) novel for Jane Austen July, reviewed here.
  • Laurie R. King:
    • Mary Russell’s War and Other Stories of Suspense
    • The Language of Bees
    • The God of the Hive
      My ongoing project to read all of the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series, reviewed here.
  • Elyne Mitchell, The Silver Brumby
    Revisiting my childhood with this lovely book about the adventures of a special wild stallions in the mountains of Australia. I wrote a bit about it in this post and then felt the need to read it once again. It’s very good and available on Kindle. My edition is an old library book which I got second-hand, which has lovely drawings of brumbies and other Australian wildlife (see the photo above).

July was a good reading month – I read a lot and managed to write all the reviews this months, too. I’m not sure if I ever managed this before. I hope you also had a good time reading in July!

Keep safe, world.

Samuel Johnson: A Biography

Early this year, during my Christmas vacation (which lasted into January), I read James Boswell’s Life of Johnson, which I liked a lot. I mentioned in my review that I’d like to read a modern biography, to see how it differs from and enhances Boswell’s. For this project I chose Peter Martin’s Samuel Johnson: A Biography, more or less at random (it was cheap on Kindle, so even if I ended up not liking it, it wouldn’t much matter). Well, I’ve read it now, and it was not bad but not great.

The biography goes into a lot of detail about all the occurrences in Johnson’s life. I learnt a lot that wasn’t mentioned in Boswell’s Life, especially about Johnson’s early life, before he met Boswell. A lot about his struggles with procrastination (very relatable), writer’s block, and depression as well as illness. A great deal about his efforts to earn money before at last he was granted a pension – he was a poor and struggling author for many years. Boswell mentioned it as well, but not in such detail.

Martin_Johnson

There is a lot more information about Johnson’s relationships with his wife and other women, especially with Mrs. Thrale, into whose family Johnson was integrated for many years until the death of Mr. Thrale. Mrs. Thrale then went on to marry a younger Italian, much to everyone’s censure. She also published recollections of her time with Johnson which mentioned complaints about his behaviour and his excessive reliance on her during his bouts of illness and depression – Boswell saw that as an act of betrayal and didn’t go into details but rather vilified Mrs. Thrale. It does seem rather nasty of her to publish such details after Johnson’s death, when he couldn’t give his view of things anymore, but on the other hand, Johnson does seem to have been a difficult guest at times. Still, she probably also published her recollections to cash in on Johnson’s fame and they were estranged because of her marriage, so it’s no wonder that she didn’t want to present Johnson in a purely adulatory way. And it’s interesting of course to have differing views on the same person.

In general, Martin’s biography dwells a lot more on Johnson’s hard life and the difficult side to his character while also showing his empathy and charity for others. Johnson supported quite a few people in his household who would otherwise have been in dire straits and didn’t forsake them although they could be very quarrelsome and sometimes made his life uncomfortable in his own home. He was contentious and liked to win arguments while also quickly ready to be reconciled with his friends when he had fought with them. He had a larger than life personality, which both biographies reveal.

Reading Boswell’s Life, I got the impression that Johnson was a Tory, a conservative, as opposed to a Whig (apparently the progressives of the 18th century – I’m not very well informed about the politics of the time). But with the details that Martin provides, it becomes much clearer that while Johnson had some conservative convictions, he also had a lot of progressive or libertarian ideas. In short, he used his brains and made up his own mind, always informed by his religious convictions and charitable attitudes.

Martin’s biography also dwelt on Johnson’s fear of death, which I don’t recall being so prominent in Boswell’s account. It’s quite striking but very relatable that someone like Johnson, a moralist, a Christian and person full of charity should be so uncertain about his state of redemption. He was eager to undergo horrible medical treatments if there was a chance that they would prolong his life and only became calm and reconciled with death in his last days or even hours (which are very well reported because a lot of his friends were with him during his last days, except for Boswell, who lived in Scotland and wasn’t in London at the time).

Martin’s biography gave a more detailed (in some parts) and perhaps more complete picture of Johnson than Boswell’s did, but I enjoyed Boswell’s view and writing much more. It is a work of art that I’m sure I’ll want to reread. Martin’s seems to be a well-researched biography, and I don’t regret reading it, but it is dry and kind of cold in comparison. I probably won’t want to reread it, but I’ll use it as a reference book, to look up facts, not to read for pleasure. If you are interested in Samuel Johnson, I think that the best and most congenial start is still Boswell’s Life of Johnson.

Keep safe, world.

March Reading

Considering that I’ve been and still am very busy at work and sometimes felt too tired to read, I did manage to read quite a bit in March. Here’s the list:

Ongoing project:

Murasaki Shikibu and Royall Tyler (trsl.), The Tale of Genji.
I didn’t manage to read any of this in March – probably what made me feel that I’m in a slump. I was too tired to immerse myself into this complicated Japanese society. I’m falling behind, my reading buddy is at least 200 pages further along. I need to catch up, so we can continue discussing it. I haven’t read a single page in April yet, either…

Poetry:

  • Patrick Crotty (ed.), The Penguin Book of Irish Poetry.
    Finished! A very good anthology.
  • Emily Dickinson and Thomas H. Johnson (ed.), Final Harvest.
    Also finished – I love Emily Dickinson’s poems (even if I don’t always understand them). This was only a selection. One of these days I will get her entire collected poems.

Short Stories:

  • J. Sheridan Le Fanu, Green Tea and Other Weird Stories.
    Old-fashioned ghost and horror stories. Some of the stories were more like novellas. I enjoyed them, but I prefer the short stories by M. R. James, which are in the same vein and which I read last year. I’m never going to feel the same way about green tea again – apparently it can make you susceptible to harassment by supernatural creepy monkeys who are terrible for your life expectancy. 😉
  • Robert L. Mack, Arabian Nights’ Entertainments.
    This Oxford Worlds Classic paperback has been on my shelves for years and I’ve only ever browsed in it a little. I’m reading it all through this time. Not really short stories, more like folk or fairy tales, but they are good. Sinbad the sailor sure wasn’t scrupulous about killing other people to further his own survival on his adventures!

Perth_Dog

Non-Fiction:

  • Samuel Johnson and David Womersley (ed), Selected Writings.
    Essays and letters and other miscellaneous stuff. Very interesting. I got to the half-way mark in March, about 600 pages.
  • May Sarton, The Fur Person.
    Absolutely delightful story of a cat’s life, written from the point of view of the cat and with a few fabulous “cat song” poems in it. I stumbled across it, because I was looking for another poet to read after Emily Dickinson, and Sarton is a poet that I was considering (actually, I’m reading Adrienne Rich at the moment, but Sarton is an option for another day). Very short and quick read, but lovely.
  • Peter Martin, A Dog Called Perth: The Voyage of a Beagle.
    Another interesting story of a pet’s life. This time a dog. Also shortish and a quick read. The dog had a very eventful life, and I loved her, but her owner was a sometimes arrogant person who did quite a few idiotic things with poor Perth that I wouldn’t do with mine. It was pure luck that things turned out fine. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it a lot.

Novels:

  • Laurie R. King, O Jerusalem.
    Installment 5 of the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series. Another reread, and very enjoyable. Russell and Holmes doing undercover spy stuff in Palestine during WWI.
  • Sally Wright, Pursuit and Persuasion and Out of the Ruins.
    Books 3 and 4 in the Ben Reese crime series I stared in February. Anti-stress (for me) crime novel. Kind of dark academia in that the protagonist works as an archivist for a university. I’m still planning to write a more detailed review of the series. There’s only one more book to go.

Two pet stories and three crime novels. A fun reading month!

Keep safe, world.