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.

April Reading

As I was a bit miffed about my failure to meet my goals in March, I made up for them in April.

Ongoing projects:

  • Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace
    276 pages, my quota for March and April. I had a total fail on this goal in March but got all caught up again in April.
  • Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy
    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 with this book this months. Maybe I’ll manage to read some of it in May.

Poetry:

Helen Gardner (ed.) The New Oxford Book of English Verse
I’m up to poem number 364 in this anthology, up to John Dryden (1631 – 1700). At one poem per day, I’ve almost fulfilled my year’s goal. However, the goal is about creating a habit of poetry reading, so I will keep it up. I’m enjoying it very much and I do my reading each morning in bed, when my partner is blocking the bathroom. So, I have about 20 minutes at the beginning of each day for reading poems. 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 one Francis Quarles (1592 – 1644), number 264 in the anthology:

Epigram
My soul, sit thou a patient looker-on;
Judge not the play before the play is done:
Her plot has many changes; every day
Speaks a new scene; the last act crowns the play.

Short stories:

  • Ali Smith, Public Library and Other Stories, Free Love and Other Stories, Other Stories and Other Stories.
    I’m reading my way through all the short story collections by Ali Smith and am enjoying them a lot. I read two short stories each day in April to make up for not reading any in March. All caught up.
  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, One World: A Global Anthology of Short Stories
    This collection of short stories by authors from around the globe was of mixed quality. Some of them I liked better than others. Some were brilliant. A lot were hard to take due to the harsh reality depicted in them – necessary though. Thing won’t get better if they are not spoken or written about. I’d like to try and find more stories from around the world. Glimpses into other cultures interest me.

Non-Fiction:

Michael Palin, Erebus: One Ship, Two Epic Voyages, and the Greatest Naval Mystery of All Time.
I was given this book for my birthday and took a while to read it, as I was busy with other books. It’s a great history of the voyages of exploration done by the ship Erebus in the Antarctic and Arctic oceans. The first was a voyage to find the South Pole (which you can’t reach by sea but which wasn’t known at the time). The second was to find a north-west passage to the Pacific. The famous Franklin Expedition that was lost with all hands in the 19th Century. A very well written and readable book. For someone who likes books about exploration or novels about adventures on sailing ships, I recommend it. As I’m also a fan of the novels of C.S. Forester and Patrick O’Brian, I enjoyed it a lot.

Graphic novels:

Bechdel, Alison: Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic and Are You My Mother: A Comic Drama
These two graphic novels tell the stories of Bechdel’s parents. The first one is about her father. The second is about her mother. Both are at least as much about the author (Bechdel) as about her parents. The first one is more accessible than the second, as the second one contains a lot of information about psychoanalysis, which may not appeal to every reader. Although I don’t know much about psychoanalysis, I found it fascinating. These graphic novels are very dense, and I’m sure I didn’t get all the nuances in my first reading. I think I’ll be returning to them in future (although that holds true for all books that I enjoy. I like rereading).

Novels:

  • Charles Dickens, David Copperfield
    A very good read, highly recommended. This novel has moved into first place on my list of favourite novels written by Dickens. My review is here.
  • Toni Morrison, Tar Baby
    Somewhat puzzling in parts, but also a very good read. Find my review here.
  • Mal Peet, Mr Godley’s Phantom
    A short murder mystery/ghost story with a twist. Very entertaining and clever. Made me want to look up other books by the author.

To help me keep track of my monthly reading goals, I created a score card to fill in daily. That way I avoided getting muddled about the number of short stories read or whether I was on track with the novels. Quite useful. It was a bit of a challenge, but I managed to make up for the missed goals in March and am now up-to-date and going strong. It helped that the long Easter Weekend was in April. It’s a nice success and I hope I manage to stay on top of the goals in May.

Keep safe, world.

2020_05_12

February Reading

These are the books I read in February (with some comments):

Ongoing projects:

  • Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace
    138 pages, my quota for February. Still enjoying it.
  • Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy
    Ca. 35 pages – didn’t have as much time to read in February. It’s still interesting and I’ll keep on. Will try to read a bit more than that in March.

Poetry:

  • Ted Hughes, Collected Poems
    Still find this one challenging and read but a few poems.
  • Helen Gardner (ed.) The New Oxford Book of English Verse
    I read the first 29 poems in this anthology. I’ve owned it since my days at university but have only read a few poems here and there. I thought it might be a good idea to do poetry reading with this book – it gives an overview of the development of poetry since Chaucer. I particularly liked the poem “Philip Sparrow” by John Skelton. It’s about the death of a pet sparrow, and how the funeral is organized with a flock of different birds taking the roles of the officiants. Here’s an excerpt:

    […]
    When I remember again
    How my Philip was slain,
    Never half the pain
    Was between you twain,
    Pyramus and Thisbe,
    As then befell to me,
    I wept and I wailed,
    The teares down hailed,
    But nothing it availed
    To call Philip again
    Whom Gib, our cat, hath slain.
    […]

Short stories:

  • Ramona Asubel, A Guide to Being Born: Stories
  • Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger (eds), A Study in Sherlock: Stories Inspired by the Holmes Canon
  • Christine Lucas, Fates and Furies
    I’ll write a separate post with some details about the stories I liked best.

Non-fiction:

  • Jon Kabat-Zinn, Meditation Is Not What You Think: Mindfulness and Why It Is So Important. Coming to Our Senses Part I
    I find Kabat-Zinn’s works on meditation to be interesting and helpful for my meditation practice. I plan to read the whole series. I can also warmly recommend Full Catastrophe Living (about MBSR mindfulness-based stress reduction) which I read a couple of years ago.

Graphic novel:

  • Nora Krug, Belonging: A German Reckons with History and Home
    This is an excellent memoir-type graphic novel where Krug explores her family’s and home town’s involvement with the Nazi regime. As a German, I can relate particularly well to this story. It should be interesting for anyone who wants to learn about what it’s like to live with that kind of family history.

Novels:

  • Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers
    Loved it, rather to my surprise. I’d expected it to be boring. I’ll write a separate post about it.
  • Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye and Sula
    I enjoyed both novels very much (they were both rereads, but I hadn’t read them for a long time). I’m in the middle of writing a separate post about Sula and I’ve already written one about The Bluest Eye. Be warned, both reviews contain spoilers!

No vacation in February and it was a short month. So, I didn’t manage to read as much as I did in January, but I did manage to meet my monthly reading goal, although it was a near thing.

January Reading

As I had a long holiday over Christmas and the New Year, I had more time than usual for reading in January and I exceeded my monthly goals. These are the books I read (with some comments):

Ongoing projects:

  • Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace
    138 pages, my quota for January. My edition has 1380 pages and I’m planning to finish in October, so that’s the number of pages per month). I’m liking it. The cast of characters is manageable (I thought it would be worse) and they are interesting. Some likeable, some less so, a good mix.
  • Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy
    Ca. 125 pages – that was just the address to the reader, an explanation why the author felt he had to write this Anatomy (an exhaustive description of melancholy). He argues, if I understand it correctly, that everyone is to some degree mad (or melancholy) and that makes it of interest to all. The author has a very flowery language, using lists of words to describe everything. Takes some getting used to, but once you do, it’s surprisingly entertaining. Also somewhat satirical. I haven’t set a date by which I want to be done, I’m just letting it develop.

Poetry:

Ted Hughes, Collected Poems
I got this huge book last year and have been working my way through it in stops and starts. I read my quota of 31 poems (but actually read a lot more – I stopped counting). I find this collection challenging. At least three quarters of the time, I don’t understand the poems, but they still somehow keep me engaged. I’m hoping that reading more poetry will help with the understanding. Maybe poetry isn’t always meant to be understood, but rather felt?

Short stories:

M.R. James, Complete Ghost Stories
This is a Kindle edition that I bought last year, because I liked the looks of it, and it was cheap. I read a few of the stories last year but didn’t finish them. So, I made them my January project, since they are just a few more stories than January has days (although I didn’t read them daily). They have just the right amount of horror that I’m not scared witless. A kind of understated horror that leaves things open to the imagination. Very worthwhile.

Non-fiction:

Julie Yip-Williams, The Unwinding of the Miracle: A Memoir of Life, Death, and Everything that Comes After
This autobiography is based on a blog. The author was an immigrant from Vietnam, who, despite disability (bad eyesight), managed to build a successful career and gain a lovely family, but was then faced with a cancer diagnosis. An interesting and moving read, but in places it has a fairly materialistic mindset. It’s sometimes it’s a bit obnoxious.

Most cancer memoirs seem to be written by well-off people (at least all the ones I have red). I suppose poor or working-class people don’t have the resources to write cancer memoirs. I’m fascinated by this type of memoir, because I want to know how people deal with such life-and-death scenarios and where they find hope. Some of these books are very thoughtful and inspiring — this one not so much, I’m afraid.

Graphic novel:

Una, Becoming Unbecoming
Autobiography of a young girl growing up in Yorkshire during the time of the Yorkshire Ripper. Shows how society and the police dealt with the crimes (victim-blaming) and the effect this had on Una. Very highly recommended.

Novels:

  • Charles Dickens, Hard Times
    A short novel compared with Dicken’s other door-stoppers. I choose it because I decided on my Dickens reading goal late in January and I wanted to finish the first novel. It’s set in fictitious Coketown, a town full of factories, focused on capitalism. It shows what happens when the only things that count are “facts” that is, materialism, profit, and self-interest without any tempering with humanity, religion, and culture. It is satirical in places (very funny) and critical of the exploitation of workers. Sometimes also sad and moving. A good read.
  • Penelope Fitzgerald, Offshore and The Bookshop
    Offshore is about life on a barge on the Thames.
    In The Bookshop a widow starts a bookshop in a quiet sea-side town in England. She has some success but runs into unexpected obstacles. Some rather nasty small-town class conflicts and political manoeuvering. These were both very good, I think I’ll read more by Fitzgerald.
  • Delia Owens, Where the Crawdads Sing
    This was a gift, but I’d considered getting it for myself. I enjoyed it — it has lovely descriptions of nature and the story was engaging, with elements of suspense and romance. The ending was a surprise. I’ve seen reviews that argue that the premise of a small girl growing up mostly by herself in a swamp is farfetched and I kind of agree, but I’ve found out that the author also lived in unusual circumstances at times, so maybe those inspired the novel. I may want to read some of the other, autobiographical works of the author.
  • Patrick Rothfuss, The Wise Man’s Fear
    I’ve owned this book since it came out, because I really enjoyed the first book of The Kingkiller Chronicle series, The Name of the Wind. I don’t know why I didn’t read this sooner. The story continues with the adventures of Kvothe and is as well written as the precursor. I’m waiting (as many readers are) for the next volume. But I don’t mind waiting. Good books need time. I reread the first book in December and still loved it (although Kvothe, the main character, can be an absolute arrogant fool).
  • Margaret Atwood, The Testaments
    Sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale. Not bad, but not great. It takes place after the events in Handmaid’s Tale and tells what happens to some of the characters from that novel. I think it ties up the narrative too much – everything is explained, nothing is left open. This is not very believable, as the conceit of the two novels is that the story is reconstructed from randomly found documents. One would think that not everything could be reconstructed. I think that The Handmaid’s Tale can stand very well on its own.

Bookish Goals for 2020

I had a lot of fun coming up with a interesting reading plan for the year. I’ve never done this before – usually I just read whatever I feel like. Let’s see what a structured reading experience will be like. Here are the goals:

  • Leo Tolstoy: War and Peace.
    I last read this as a teenager, but that’s aeons ago and I can’t remember anything. I’m doing a read-along with a friend, spaced out over the year. So far, I’m enjoying it a lot.
  • Robert Burton: The Anatomy of Melancholy.
    For some reason I’ve had a paperback of this tome on my shelves for years. It’s about time it got read. I’m reading it in short bits and think I’ll get it done this year. It’s absolutely fascinating. Very learned (good thing all the Latin quotes are translated), extravagant use of words, often funny and satirical.
  • Participate in the Toni Morrison challenge on Book Tube, which is basically reading all of Morrison’s novel in order of publication plus some additional works.
    I love Toni Morrison’s writing and was very sorry when I heard of her death last year. I’ve read about half of her novels, but it was years ago and I’m sure I’ll enjoy rereading them. Beloved is my favourite (so far). I’ve already read The Bluest Eye – it’s very powerful. I’m looking forward to the novels I haven’t read yet.
  • Read one Charles Dickens novel per month.
    A nice contrast to Morrison’s oeuvre. I’m reading these in no particular sequence. In January I read Hard Times, now I’m reading The Pickwick Papers.
  • Read one short story per day.
    Short stories are not a genre that I’ve read much in, except for Edgar Allan Poe or Arthur Conan Doyle. I would like to branch out a bit from novels. I’m not adhering strictly to the one-a-day rule, but I do plan to read one for each day of each month, although probably mostly bundled.
  • Read one poem per day.
    Same reason as above for the short stories and same modus operandi.
  • Read six works of non-fiction this year – one every two months.
    I’ve got a lot of unread nonfiction on my Kindle and on my shelves that I want to start making inroads on.
  • Read one graphic novel per month.
    I haven’t read that many graphic novels. I’d like to read some of the classics, like Persepolis and others that I’ve heard good things about.
  • Read unread books from my shelves and my Kindle.
    These can also be books from the goals above.
  • Read whatever else touches my fancy.

As I’m a real bookworm, I think I’ll be able to meet these goals without too much trouble. I’m on track at the moment, but of course it’s early in the year.