2020 in Facts and Figures

I already posted my main 2020 in Review and Looking Ahead to 2021 posts a while ago — only on my new blog (separate post to come) –, but I held back on my 2020 reading statistics until the year was well and truly over.  And for all my good intentions when posting my mid-year summary back in early July 2020, the second half of the year continued pretty much in the same vein as the first half had begun; i.e., my statistics for the whole year are still a variation on the theme of Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover, or, 17 charts showing that 2020 was a year of reading Golden Age mysteries written by women (and following other Anglo-/ UK-centric reading proclivities); i.e. comfort reading galore … it was just that kind of year, I guess.

As a result, my Golden Age Mysteries / Detection Club reading project progressed very nicely.  Luckily, as I said in my main 2020 in Review post, I also managed to add a number of new countries to my Around the World challenge, and the gender balance is solidly in favor of women authors: I read almost 2 1/2 books by women for every book written by a man — in fact, I even reread more books by women than the total number of books by men.  So there was at least some progress in other areas, too.  And I liked or even loved most of the books I read in 2020 — including most of the new-to-me books –, which of course was another huge plus; in a year where reading was my go-to source of comfort, at that: most of my ratings were 4 stars or higher and thus, above the rating that marks “average” in my personal scale (3.5 stars).

Still, in 2021 I’m going to make a fresh attempt to refocus on my Around the World reading project, in furtherance of which I’ve also created a Diversity Bingo that I’ll try to get through in the space of this one year (though if it takes longer, it takes longer); and I’ll also try to include more books from my Freedom and Future Library in my yearly reading again.

And now, without any further ado:

Greatest New Author Discoveries of 2020

Classics and LitFic
Bernardine Evaristo
Olivia Manning

Historical Fiction
Dorothy Dunnett
Jean-François Parot
Paul Doherty

Golden and Silver Age Mysteries
Josephine Bell
Moray Dalton
Molly Thynne
Christianna Brand
Anthony Gilbert
Raymond Postgate
Patricia Moyes

My Life in Book Titles

This is a meme I’ve seen on quite a few blogs towards the end of 2020; it was created by Annabel at Annabookbel.  You’re to answer the prompts, using only books you have read in 2020; without, if possible, repeating a book title.  I thought I’d include it in my yearly roundup — and to up the ante a little bit further, I decided to use only books I read for the first time in 2020.

In high school I was Unspeakable (John Bercow)

People might be surprised by (my incarnation as) Lioness Rampant (Tamora Pierce)

I will never be The Horse You Came in On (Martha Grimes), nor Resorting to Murder (Martin Edwards, ed.; Various Authors)

My life in lockdown was like (a) Tour de Force (Christianna Brand) and (a) Tragedy at Law (Cyril Hare)

My fantasy job is The Thinking Machine at Work (Jacques Futrelle)

At the end of a long day I need to be Homegoing (Yaa Gyasi) (to my) Pilgrim’s Rest (Patricia Wentworth)

I hate being (around) Serpents in Eden (Martin Edwards, ed.; Various Authors)

Wish I had The Lost Tools of Learning (Dorothy L. Sayers)

My family reunions are (often with) Thirteen Guests (J. Jefferson Farjeon)

At a party you’d find me with My Friend Mr. Campion (Margery Allingham), Lady Molly of Scotland Yard (Emmuska Orczy), and other Bodies from the Library (Tony Medawar, ed.; Various Authors)

I’ve never been to Goodwood (Holly Throsby), Cherringham (Matthew Costello, Neil Richards), or At the Villa Rose (A.E.W. Mason)

A happy day includes A Small Place (Jamaica Kincaid) (of my own): My Beloved World (Sonia Sotomayor)

Motto(s) I live by: To Love and Be Wise (Josephine Tey); and We Should All Be Feminists (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)

On my bucket list is Shakespeare’s Local (Pete Brown)

In my next life, I want to have The Grand Tour (Matthew Pritchard, ed.; Agatha Christie)

The Stats

Number of books started: 273
Number of books finished: 271
DNF: 2
Average Rating (overall): 3.9
Average Rating w/o Favorite Annual Xmas Rereads: 3.8

Note: The above chart includes my 6 annual Christmas rereads, which have a habit of slightly skewing my overall rating figures upwards; without these books, the number of 5-star books is reduced by 5 and the number of 4.5-star books is reduced by 1.

Note: “F / M (mixed)” refers to anthologies with contributions by both male and female authors, as well as to books jointly written by male and female authors. — “N / A” in the protagonist gender chart refers to Martha Wells’s Murderbot, who is deliberately created as gender-neutral.

Note: “Multi-ethnic” either refers to several persons (authors / protagonists) of different genders, or to one person of mixed ethnicity.

 

Kathryn Harkup: Death by Shakespeare


Hmmm.  After having read and liked — though not loved — Harkup’s book on Agatha Christie’s use of poisons in her mysteries (A Is for Arsenic), it took the Shakespeare fan in me about a millisecond to snatch up this third book of hers when I came across it earlier this year … only to then decide, almost as quickly, to save it for the “Truly Terrifying” (or alternatively, “Paint It Black”) Halloween Bingo squares.  And as is so often the case, anticipation built over a period of time in the end doesn’t quite deliver the hoped-for bundle of goods.

My main bit of gripe is that Harkup doesn’t seem to have had a very clear picture for which audience she was writing this book.  On the one hand, she spends (I’m tempted to say, wastes) several chapters giving an abbreviated biography of Shakespeare and describing the London and the theatrical world in which he moved — NONE of which will be new to anyone even remotely familiar with the Bard and his life, time, and works (and all of which, thus, can only be of any use to a complete newbie to Shakespeare’s works) … and ALL of which I’ve seen discussed better, in greater detail and with a better-informed historical perspective by both Shakespearean scholars (most notably Stanley Wells) and general historians writing for a non-scholarly audience (e.g., Ian Mortimer and Liza Picard). (At least she doesn’t give any credence to the identity conspiracy theorists, but that still doesn’t stop her from using bits of unfounded speculation on the Bard’s life experience later in the book whenever she considers it expedient for a specific purpose.)  Similar things can be said for her comments on medicine in the Elizabethan age, which on the one hand is pretty much a staple in historical fiction set in the Plantagenet and Tudor eras; on the other hand, the details that I didn’t already know as historical fiction background, I’ve learned in greater depth by visiting Hall’s Croft, the home of Shakespeare’s daughter Susanna and her husband Dr. John Hall, who was a medical doctor (incidentally with rather advanced and well-informed views, compared to many of his contemporaries), who is widely believed to have provided his father in law with the requisite background knowledge for a plethora of deaths occurring in his plays, and whose professional equipment and records form part of the permanent exhibition on Elizabethan-era medicine that can now be visited in his former home in Stratford-upon-Avon.

On the other hand, when Harkup does finally get around to discussing Shakespeare’s portrayal of death and killings in his plays, she gives very little context to the majority of scenes she discusses, so anyone not intimately familiar with those plays (particularly the “histories”, which probably feature most widely overall in her book — and chiefly among these, the two “Henriads”) is soon going to be utterly lost as to the significance and context of the scene(s) under discussion.

Moreover, in at least one instance (Richard III and “The Princes in the Tower”) Harkup, while paying lip service to the idea that RIII perhaps “wasn’t quite as bad a tyrant as Shakespeare makes him out to be”, nevertheless falls into the very trap for which she poo-poos the medical analysis that established the bones found in the Tower in the early 20th century as those of “The Princes”, namely to reason from the desired result instead of dispassionately looking at the available evidence and letting the chips fall where they may.  This review isn’t the place for this particular bit of historical discussion, so let me just say that I am unable to take seriously any writer who, like Harkup, blandly describes the reign of Henry VII as “a new era of hope and peace for England” (or words to that effect), in either blissful ignorance or blissful disregard of, to name but a few examples,

(1) the cruelty of “Morton’s Fork”,
(2) Henry VII’s (and later his son’s) ruthless and systematic annihilation of the remaining representatives of the House of York (most notably, the execution — on demonstrably trumped-up charges — of his own closest rival for the throne, who at the time was a teenager, imprisoned in the Tower on Henry VII’s orders since his early childhood), or
(3) the fact that Henry VII (a) purposefully dated his reign from the day before his victory at Bosworth, which in one single stroke of the pen made every single combatant on Richard’s side a traitor to the crown, and (b) only crowned his wife Elizabeth queen a year after he himself had well and truly secured the crown, never mind that she had a much greater claim to the crown than he himself did to begin with.

(And let’s not even get into the inconvenient little detail that BOTH Richard III and Henry VII had their fans and detractors among the eminent writers, politicians and diplomats of the time, depending on who you were listening to and whom they were writing for, which is precisely one of the reasons why it’s so hard to determine what is self-servicing Tudor propaganda when it comes to Richard III and what is credible historical testimony.  Or the fact that Harkup blithely buys in virtually all of the things now actually known to be Tudor propaganda and hence, inherently unreliable …)

Anyway.  For what it is in terms of the actual discussion of Shakespeare’s use of death in his plays, it’s an interesting read. Unfortunately, way too much of that discussion gets lost in superfluous and, in part, downright irritating “white noise”.

 

Halloween Bingo 2020: The Second Week (+1 Day)

Posting this on Monday instead of Sunday again … oh well.

I guess after a near-phenomenal first bingo week it was only to be expected that the second week would not be quite as fabulous. Mind you, I’m not complaining — my card is coming together nicely, and none of the books I read this past week was a real dud; even if only some of them could compare with the first week’s reads (which, however, in some instances is also a “YMMV” kind of thing; i.e., it’s not the book, it’s me).

 

My “Week 2” Bingo Books:


Anthony Gilbert (Lucy Beatrice Malleson, aka Anne Meredith): Death in Fancy Dress

A carry-over from week 1, best described as “Golden Age country house mystery meets Wuthering Heights“. Lucy Beatrice Malleson was a member of the Detection Club who wrote under several pen names, including Anne Meredith and Anthony Gilbert, and reading her books almost a century after they were first published, it is hard to believe that they should have failed to attain widespread popularity, as both in Portrait of a Murderer (written as by Anne Meredith) and in this book she clearly shows herself to be a cut above many of her contemporaries.

Death in Fancy Dress concerns two young friends (one a budding solicitor, one an adventurer and “gentleman of leisure”) who are urgently called to the remote country home of the young solicitor’s — the narrator’s — extended family, which seems to be in the grip of a ruthless gang of blackmailers who have already driven a number of society figures to suicide in the face of impending scandal. (And no, this is not just a recap of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Charles Augustus Milverton.)  As indicated by the book’s title, murder ensues in short order after the two young amateur sleuths’ arrival, during a fancy dress ball no less.

Martin Edwards, in his introduction, cites Dorothy L. Sayers’s review, which highlights that one of this book’s great merits is not to leave any doubt about the fact that there is nothing cozy about this particular country house party; beginning right with the moment of the two young gentlemen’s arrival: during a storm, with the daughter of the house missing and feared in grave peril — even though she is an otherwise independent young lady, who ordinarily would easily be able to take care of herself.  Yet, right now the fact that her hand in marriage is coveted by several men would seem to be one of her lesser worries, if it weren’t also so obviously tied in with the blackmail threat. (Her suitors include one of our young sleuths, another guest who happens to be a professional detective, as well as her cousin, the local squire, who is a sort of blend of Rudolph Valentino, your quintessential dark, brooding rogue, and a sane and calculating version of Heathcliff.)  And indeed, atmosphere is big in this novel, with the squire’s (the antagonist’s) “Heathcliff” / dark, brooding rogue touch not the only Wuthering Heights overtones — the action is also set near a (fictional) moor, several hours from London: honi soit qui Yorkshire n’y pense. (Well, OK, or Exmoor, Bodmin or Dartmoor — but then we’re in Lorna Doone / Jamaica Inn / Hound of the Baskervilles territory; take your pick.)  All in all, definitely one of the highlights among the second bingo week’s books.

 


Marie-Elena John: Unburnable

This is a book from my Around the World project / reading list: the story of Lillian, a young woman of Caribbean descent who returns to her home island of Dominica in order to lay to rest the ghosts of her family history, which has been troubled ever since her grandmother — rumored to be a witch — was convicted for murder, after the unexplained disappearance of her male companion / common law husband, as well as the discovery of several skeletons near her remote mountainside village. Lillian believes the words that have been construed as her grandmother’s confession of guilt (“yes, I am responsible for those deaths”) to have been coerced;, and she bullies her ex-boyfriend, who still carries a torch for her and who is a lawyer specializing in overturning unjust convictions, to join her on a trip to Dominica to clear her grandmother’s name.

I thought the Caribbean / Dominican setting was well-executed; it’s obvious that John was writing from personal knowledge there — including, too, the cross-references between certain African and Caribbean cultures and belief systems.  What I liked decidedly less was the way the book was set up in what easily amounted to its entire first quarter, with apparently disconnected chapters tracing the histories of our protagonist, her mother, grandmother, as well as several other (also mostly female) characters important to the plot, and whose stories really only come together towards the end. This narrative technique is hit or miss with me, with “hits” occurring chiefly if I’m quickly drawn into each (apparently) separate character’s story, and if I can at least vaguely discern how the various strands are going to come together eventually. That wasn’t the case here, and things weren’t exactly helped by the fact that, especially at the beginning, John cuts a few corners by instances telling instead of showing, even though far be it from me to accuse her of doing this all the time (in fact, on the other end of the spectrum, there are also scenes that depict violence (by and) against women in a downright viscerally graphic manner). — Lastly, the plot fell apart for me towards the end, when it becomes clear that although Lillian (and her now-on-again boyfriend) find out what really happened all those decades ago, this is by no means the solution they have hoped for. (I do realize the depiction of Lillian’s falling apart instead of healing in Dominica is deliberate and is intended to be key to the novel, but John lost me in the way she went about depicting it.)

 


Aimee and David Thurlo: Second Sunrise

Native American police procedural meets vampires, witches and werewolves.  To give the authors their due, I guess with skinwalkers being a key part of Navajo mythology, it’s a proximate thought to capitalize on the past decade(s)’ vampire craze and go full tilt supernatural / paranormal, and the sequence of events that turns our protagonist into a (half-)vampire is / are well-enough executed.  Also, the Thurlos’ love for “their” Navajo country easily translates onto the page, and their prose and plot construction is assured and workmanlike (in a positive sense) enough for me to consider this reading experience encouragement to take a look at their “non-supernatural” Ella Clah Navajo cop series (which has actually been on my TBR longer than this particular book).  I guess I’m over vampires once and for all, though (unless they’re created by Terry Pratchett, that is) — and quite frankly, the antagonist’s back story is risible and shows that, supernatural elements aside, the authors really are only interested in giving a credible and true portrayal of Navajo Country, not also in researching the historical and political background of their plot in other respects, where instead they are quite happy to settle for hyperbole and cliché. So as I said, I guess based on their portrayal of Navajo Country (and culture) I’m still going to give them the benefit of the doubt and take a look at their Ella Clah series, but if that series should display similar downsides in its approach to the non-Navajo characters’ back stories, I won’t become a fan, however well-executed the Native American aspects of their books may be.

 


Christianna Brand: Fog of Doubt

Brand’s fifth Inspector Cockrill mystery, and of all the books by her that I have read (all of them this year), second only to Green for Danger, which remains my favorite among all of her novels. Brand specialized in closed circle mysteries, and apart from the traditional country house settings so prevalent in Golden Age mysteries, she also came up with a number of truly unusual circumstances creating that closed circle: whereas in Green for Danger it’s a WWII military hospital, here it is a house — in fact, her own Maida Vale home, as she explains in the preface — where a murder happens during a particularly vicious example of a London “pea-souper” (aka “London Particular”, which in fact was the book’s original title).  Brand’s plotting is superb, and when — like here — she doesn’t try to serve populist cliché, she has a knack for creating characters that easily draw you into the story (even if I could seriously do without the blonde ingenues that seem to be a fixture in many of her books, never mind that this particular story’s ingenue is decidedly less naïve and innocent than some of the other ones).  I only have few books by Brand left to read, and while I didn’t like all of them equally well, by and large she is one of my more notable Golden Age / Detection Club discoveries.

 


Kathryn Harkup: Death by Shakespeare

Hmmm.  After having read and liked — though not loved — Harkup’s book on Agatha Christie’s use of poisons in her mysteries (A Is for Arsenic), it took the Shakespeare fan in me about a millisecond to snatch up this third book of hers when I came across it earlier this year … only to then decide, almost as quickly, to save it for the “Truly Terrifying” (or alternatively, “Paint It Black”) Halloween Bingo squares.  And as is so often the case, anticipation built over a period of time in the end doesn’t quite deliver the hoped-for bundle of goods.

My main bit of gripe is that Harkup doesn’t seem to have had a very clear picture for which audience she was writing this book.  On the one hand, she spends (I’m tempted to say, wastes) several chapters giving an abbreviated biography of Shakespeare and describing the London and the theatrical world in which he moved — NONE of which will be new to anyone even remotely familiar with the Bard and his life, time, and works (and all of which, thus, can only be of any use to a complete newbie to Shakespeare’s works) … and ALL of which I’ve seen discussed better, in greater detail and with a better-informed historical perspective by both Shakespearean scholars (most notably Stanley Wells) and general historians writing for a non-scholarly audience (e.g., Ian Mortimer and Liza Picard). (At least she doesn’t give any credence to the identity conspiracy theorists, but that still doesn’t stop her from using bits of unfounded speculation on the Bard’s life experience later in the book whenever she considers it expedient for a specific purpose.)  Similar things can be said for her comments on medicine in the Elizabethan age, which on the one hand is pretty much a staple in historical fiction set in the Plantagenet and Tudor eras; on the other hand, the details that I didn’t already know as historical fiction background, I’ve learned in greater depth by visiting Hall’s Croft, the home of Shakespeare’s daughter Susanna and her husband Dr. John Hall, who was a medical doctor (incidentally with rather advanced and well-informed views, compared to many of his contemporaries), who is widely believed to have provided his father in law with the requisite background knowledge for a plethora of deaths occurring in his plays, and whose professional equipment and records form part of the permanent exhibition on Elizabethan-era medicine that can now be visited in his former home in Stratford-upon-Avon.

On the other hand, when Harkup does finally get around to discussing Shakespeare’s portrayal of death and killings in his plays, she gives very little context to the majority of scenes she discusses, so anyone not intimately familiar with those plays (particularly the “histories”, which probably feature most widely overall in her book — and chiefly among these, the two “Henriads”) is soon going to be utterly lost as to the significance and context of the scene(s) under discussion.

Moreover, in at least one instance (Richard III and “The Princes in the Tower”) Harkup, while paying lip service to the idea that RIII perhaps “wasn’t quite as bad a tyrant as Shakespeare makes him out to be”, nevertheless falls into the very trap for which she poo-poos the medical analysis that established the bones found in the Tower in the early 20th century as those of “The Princes”, namely to reason from the desired result instead of dispassionately looking at the available evidence and letting the chips fall where they may.  This review isn’t the place for this particular bit of historical discussion, so let me just say that I am unable to take seriously any writer who, like Harkup, blandly describes the reign of Henry VII as “a new era of hope and peace for England” (or words to that effect), in either blissful ignorance or blissful disregard of, to name but a few examples,

(1) the cruelty of “Morton’s Fork”,
(2) Henry VII’s (and later his son’s) ruthless and systematic annihilation of the remaining representatives of the House of York (most notably, the execution — on demonstrably trumped-up charges — of his own closest rival for the throne, who at the time was a teenager, imprisoned in the Tower on Henry VII’s orders since his early childhood), or
(3) the fact that Henry VII (a) purposefully dated his reign from the day before his victory at Bosworth, which in one single stroke of the pen made every single combatant on Richard’s side a traitor to the crown, and (b) only crowned his wife Elizabeth queen a year after he himself had well and truly secured the crown, never mind that she had a much greater claim to the crown than he himself did to begin with.

(And let’s not even get into the inconvenient little detail that BOTH Richard III and Henry VII had their fans and detractors among the eminent writers, politicians and diplomats of the time, depending on who you were listening to and whom they were writing for, which is precisely one of the reasons why it’s so hard to determine what is self-servicing Tudor propaganda when it comes to Richard III and what is credible historical testimony.  Or the fact that Harkup blithely buys in virtually all of the things now actually known to be Tudor propaganda and hence, inherently unreliable …)

Anyway.  For what it is in terms of the actual discussion of Shakespeare’s use of death in his plays, it’s an interesting read. Unfortunately, way too much of that discussion gets lost in superfluous and, in part, downright irritating “white noise”.

 


Patricia Moyes: The Sunken Sailor

I read Moyes’s first Henry & Emmy Tibbett book (Dead Men Don’t Ski) earlier this year and liked it a lot.  While I still liked most of book 2 as well, The Sunken Sailor (aka Down Among the Dead Men) suffers from a bit of a sophomore slump: Moyes first does a great job establishing the characters and atmosphere of the tiny Suffolk harbor community where the Tibbetts go to spend a sailing holiday with friends.  However, inexplicably, somewhere before the book’s halfway point, Henry Tibbett of all people, the man whose “nose” for crime is proverbial at Scotland Yard, after having duly “nosed out” the suspicious circumstances of the death lurking in the recent past of that seaside community, decides to let unexplained bygones be unexplained bygones … and for the worst (and in terms of his character, most unbelievable) of all reasons — as a result of being vamped by a woman (moreover, a woman who herself is one of several suspects and, even if not guilty, just might have reasons aplenty for not wanting the truth to come out).  A less convincing instance of throwing a spanner in the plot works just so as to be able to produce yet another avoidable death (as well as a belated solution) I’ve rarely come across, and based on her first book, I seriously would have expected better from Moyes.  (I also found few of the characters in thei book as likeable as Moyes obviously intends them to be.)  This isn’t an awful book, and I’m still going to continue reading this series, but I do hope we’re talking sophomore slump here and I trust I haven’t already seen the best of the bunch when I read book 1.

(In terms of bingo squares, the book just scrapes within the definition of “Dark and Stormy Night” and I’m counting it for that square as Christine expressly confirmed that it counts.  It would obviously also qualify for “Fear the Drowning Deep” — which however isn’t on my card — and, the edition I own, also for “Full Moon”, as that’s what the white dot on the cover actually is.)

 

Currently Reading


Naomi Novik: Spinning Silver

Rumpelstiltskin goes Eastern Europe and fairyland.  I’m using it for “Spellbound” (the fairy king — Rumpelstiltskin in the fairy tale — has already cast the story’s first spell,  and “fairy silver” with magic proportions has also made numerous appearances already), but it would of course also qualify for “A Grimm Tale” or “Supernatural”.

 

The State of the Card

Master Update Post: HERE

 

My Markers


Read             Called                   Read & Called   Read = Called

Ian Doescher: William Shakespeare’s Star Wars — Verily, a New Hope



Verily, a Great
Entertainment

“CHORUS:
As our scene to space, so deep and dark,
O’er your imagination we’ll hold sway.
For neither players nor the stage can mark
The great and mighty scene they must portray.
We ask you, let your keen mind’s eye be chief –
Think when we talk of starships, there they be.”

“LUKE:
Friends, rebels, starfighters, lend me your ears
Wish not we had a single fighter more,
If we are mark’d to die, we are enough
To make our planets proud. But should we win,
We fewer rebels share the greater fame.
We have all sacrific’d unto this cause.
[…]
For with the Force and bravery we win.
O! Great shall be the triumph of that hour
When Empire haughty, vast and powerful
Is fell’d by simple hands of rebels base,
Is shown the might of our good company!
And citizens in Bespin now abed,
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here.
For never shall rebellion see a time
More glori’us then our strong attack today!”


Well, of course Doescher channels the Bard’s great speeches, but this is not just parody (of either Shakespeare or Star Wars); it’s a cleverly-executed synthesis, transposing the complete screenplay(s) into Shakespearean iambic pentameter — and somehow managing to remain faithful to both.

I am glad that I opted for the audio version, though: Just as Shakespeare’s plays are best experienced in performance (and, well, George Lukas wrote movie scripts, not novels), Doescher’s synthesis of the two really comes to life when performed.  And I have to give huge kudos to the actors who, while they are clearly having more fun than should be permitted, take the work seriously and give it their full attention, all the way from R2-D2’s “beep, squeak, squeeeaak”s (Death of Rats, anyone?) and Han Solo’s “hey, I’m just here for the money” attitude to the weightier interactions between Obi-Wan, Luke, Leia, and Darth Vader.  (Interestingly, the total length of Doescher’s text also falls squarely within the average range of that of a Shakespearean play.)   I’m not one of those who can do Star Wars marathons, nor will I typically watch more than one play by the Bard at a time, so I don’t see myself bingeing on Doescher’s syntheses of the two sources. But I’m glad there is more than one of these — they just may turn out to be the things to turn to when my life needs a bit of brightening up.

 

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/2640779/verily-a-great-entertainment

Ngaio Marsh: Light Thickens


“Duncan is in his grave;
After life’s fitful fever he sleeps well;
Treason has done his worst: nor steel, nor poison,
Malice domestic, foreign levy, nothing,
Can touch him further.
[…]
Ere the bat hath flown
His cloister’d flight, ere to black Hecate’s summons
The shard-borne beetle with his drowsy hums
Hath rung night’s yawning peal, there shall be done
A deed of dreadful note.
[…]
Come, seeling night,
Scarf up the tender eye of pitiful day;
And with thy bloody and invisible hand
Cancel and tear to pieces that great bond
Which keeps me pale! Light thickens; and the crow
Makes wing to the rooky wood:
Good things of day begin to droop and drowse;
While night’s black agents to their preys do rouse.”
William Shakespeare: Macbeth (Act III, Scene 2)


The final book of the Roderick Alleyn series and perhaps not everybody’s cup of tea, set, as it is, in Marsh’s “main” professional domain — the world of the theatre — and featuring a plot in which the murder only occurs at the halfway point, almost as an afterthought: And yet, upon revisiting the book, I instantly realized all over again why this (the first mystery by Marsh I’d ever read) was the one book that irresistibly drew me into the series and made me an instant fan.  This isn’t so much a mystery as a Shakespearean stage director’s love letter to the Bard, and to his “Scottish play” in all of its permutations; as well as to the Shakespearean theatre, and more generally, the world of the stage as such.  Roderick Alleyn (rather far advanced in his career and definitely not having aged in real time) eventually shows up to solve the inevitable murder, faithful sidekick Inspector (“Br’er”) Fox in tow and quoting Shakespeare with the best of them, but the stars of the show remain the actors themselves, the play’s director (whom those who read the series in order will, at this point, already have encountered in a prior installment), and ultimately, Shakespeare himself.  This may not be everybody’s cup of tea in a mystery … to me, it proved irresistible, the first time around as much as upon revisiting the book now.

Halloween Bingo 2019 PreParty — Question for 08/02 (Day 2): Vampires, Werewolves, Zombies or Other?

Witches.

One of my very first literary heroine was a little witch who manages to get the better of all the bigger, older witches after having been put down by them — the heroine of Otfried Preußler’s Little Witch.  (In fact, I loved that book enough to write my very first fan letter to the author about it … and I still love it enough to have put it on MR’s “1001” list.)

Ever since, I’ve come to be interested in them because women are almost always maligned as “witches” when people are afraid of them because they — the women in question — happen to be better at something (or are merely perceived as being better at something) than others.  That’s true for the poor ladies of centuries past who just happened to know their herbs a bit better than their neighbors, potentially even better than the local monastery’s herbalist, and who, after having helped countless community members with every ailment from headaches to abortion, were duly burned at the stake for their troubles the second they even inadvertently stepped on someone’s toes.   And it’s still true for women who happen to be better at their jobs nowadays than their (mostly, but not necessarily male) colleagues.  Other slurs plainly denigrate — “witch” (and to a certain extent also “bitch”) implies an irrational element of fear.  In light of that, the transformation of witches — or their perception — from the worst of evil bogey(wo)men conceivable to a positive identification with the “women’s power” movement is a thing to behold; not least in literature.

Which, incidentally, is just one more reason why I love Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens.   And along the same lines, who wouldn’t love Mr. Pratchett’s Granny Weatherwax and her coven?

Though, speaking of Pratchett, he has also created just about the only werewolf I can get behind (and for similar reasons) — Angua of the Night Watch.

And, well, yeah, in terms of stories that were films before they were books, Ladyhawke of course … which isn’t so much a horror as a “doomed lovers” story, obviously.

Vampires, though?  Hmm.  I mean, on the one hand, give me Dracula rather than Edward Cullen any day of the week (and I’m saying that as a confirmed non-horror reader).  On the other hand, I read Anne Rice’s vampire novels — until she turned BBA, that is — for just about everything but the horror aspect; in fact, if she’d ramped up that one I’d have been gone in a flash.  (Incidentally, Rice once revealed in an interview that Lestat’s character was inspired by Rutger Hauer’s portrayal of Etienne de Navarre in Ladyhawke.  Go figure.)

 

And zombies?  Leave me alone and get the hell out of here.  They creep me out so badly I won’t even go anywhere near them in a supposedly humorous context (like the “white trash zombie” novels that are currently all the rage).

 

 

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ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1929432/halloween-bingo-2019-preparty-question-for-08-02-day-2-vampires-werewolves-zombies-or-other

Crowdsourced: More Books with a Difference — Fiction

You asked, Moonlight Reader?  To quote from one of my additional entries below:  “As you wish …”

Without any further ado:

Hilary Mantel: Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies
When Lillelara added A Place of Greater Safety to her list, I could have kicked myself —  because Hilary Mantel’s Cromwell books were definitely among the most impressive books I’ve read in the past couple of years.  (A Place of Greater Safety as well, but the Cromwell duology even more so.)  They’ve changed my perception of Cromwell from that of a ruthless schemer to an incredibly complex and astute person (and politician): perhaps still not somebody I’d have wanted to be around all the time, but definitely someone for whom I’m caring from afar and back across several centuries.  And I’m both looking forward to and dreading the release of book 3 (now apparently scheduled for 2020).

Ben Jonson: The Alchemist
Speaking of scheming, the best evidence (if such a thing was needed) that get-rich-quick schemes are not the invention of the likes of Ponzi, P.T. Barnum, Madoff et al. — they’ve always been around.  A ribald, laugh-out-loud satire that’s best experienced on the stage rather than on the page … Philosopher’s stone, anybody?

Ellis Peters: Brother Cadfael series
MbD has already listed this series’s first book, A Morbid Taste for Bones, but really, the whole series is absolutely canon for me.  Peters condenses the complexities of the first English Civil War down to installments of roughly 200 pages, and she does so not only with great knowledge and insight but also with great empathy, through the eyes of one of literary history’s most engaging and worldly-wise characters.

Dorothy L. Sayers: Gaudy Night
And it’s the exact reverse here: I’ll be the first to get behind anybody’s adding all of Sayers’s writing to the list by way of a blanket reference, but the simple fact is that you haven’t really read Sayers until you’ve read Gaudy Night.  It’s the crowning achievement not only of her Lord Peter Wimsey series (and Wimsey / Vane subseries) but of all of her writing, not only until then — no wonder she was essentially done writing mysteries after this one.  MR rightly asked yesterday how come nobody has added Gaudy Night by name to the list, yet … it shall be so no longer!

Agatha Christie: Murder on the Orient Express, Murder at the Vicarage, Crooked House, Witness for the Prosecution, and The Mousetrap
We already have “all of Christie” (minus Passenger to Frankfurt) and several individual titles on the list, and I swear I’ve tried to really keep a lid on things, but … look, I just don’t think I want to look at a crowdsourced BL list that doesn’t at least contain the above-named books as well.

Ray Bradbury: Fahrenheit 451
My personal tetralogy of must-read dystopias consists of George Orwell’s 1984, Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.  Orwell’s and Atwood’s books are already on the list.  I’d (very grudgingly) be willing to live without  Huxley (even though the opening chapter alone should send a chill down everybody’s spine, particularly in light of the recent advances in genetic engineering).  But Fahrenheit 451 just has to be included — it’s never been more relevant than today, and it completely blows my mind that it was written in the 1950s.

Aravind Adiga: The White Tiger
I was initially going to include this in my first list, but took it off again after seeing that it was on the infamous published “1001 books” list.  Given that we’ve since clarified that this is not necessarily an exclusionary criterium, I’m happily listing it again: This is one of the funniest, most acidly satiric tough-love letters to one’s own country (packaged as a letter to a visiting foreign potentate) that you’ll ever come across.  Your laughter may be sticking in your throat a couple of times when you realize that you’ve just exposed your vocal chords to a razor blade hovering a nano-inch right above them, but even that won’t keep you from laughing out loud again and again on the very next occasion.

Louis de Bernières: Birds Without Wings
As book lists go, an exercise in contrasts vis-à-vis The White Tiger:  Just as panoramic in scope, just as searing to your various and assorted body parts, though in this instance, your guts (individually and collectively): a foray into early 20th century Turkish history as showcased in one particular community and by the friendship of two boys; Turkish-Greek (Muslim-Christian Orthodox) relations, Galllipoli, women’s roles, displacement, diaspora and all.  As gorgeously written as utterly devastating.  (Some of the characters, I’m told, resurface in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin — which I’ve yet to read, though.)

T.C. Boyle: The Tortilla Curtain
Like Adiga’s, Boyle’s sword is satire first and foremost, but there is a good deal of anger here, too:  Upper middle class gated community meets illegal Mexican immigrants — the quintessential Southern Californian culture clash.  This book, too, has never felt more relevant than today.

Edna O’Brien: In the Forest and Down by the River
O’Brien caused a stir and got herself onto her country’s censorship index with her Country Girls trilogy (and given 1960s’ morals, at least in  Ireland, that sort of figures), but it’s these two books by her that have left an indelible impression on me; on account of their topics (the prohibition of abortion — even in cases of incestual rape — in Down by the River, and a serial killing spree in In the Forest) and even more so because I’ve never before or since seen topics like these discussed in prose like O’Brien’s, with a brutal and yet lyrical immediacy that grabs you by the throat and never lets you go.

Bernard MacLaverty: Cal
If you only ever read one book on the (Northern) Irish “Troubles”, make it this one — simple as that.  Short and profoundly heartbreaking, and if afterwards you still don’t have a sense of what’s (been) going on there, you never will.

Heinrich Böll: Die verlorene Ehre der Katharina Blum (The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum) and Irish Journal
Böll’s two sides: One, an angry polemic on one woman’s loss of privacy, employment, security, and pretty much everything else as a result of a vicious tabloid campaign following on the heels of her being falsely accused of being a member of a gang of terrorists; the other, a humorous, upbeat and downright serene account of his life in Ireland (or at least, some of its episodes).  Böll at his best in both instances, and taken together they showcase both the breadth and the depth of his writing.

Bertolt Brecht: Der aufhaltsame Aufstieg des Arturo Ui (The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui)
Brecht is best known for The Threepenny Opera, Mother Courage and, perhaps, The Caucasian Chalk Circle, but I’m not aware of any play that satirizes a demagogue’s rise to absolute power as trenchantly as this one, set in Chicago and written after Brecht had emigrated to the U.S. (There is no question that Arturo Ui is meant to be Hitler.)  Like all plays, obviously best experienced on the stage; and I swear Ian McKellen took more than a page out of Brecht’s book when transposing Richard III to a fascist version of 1930s Britain in his 1995 movie — characterization, set decorations and all.

Su Tong: Raise the Red Lantern (aka Wives and Concubines)
The first narrative actually by a Chinese author set in the world that I had previously only known through Pearl S. Buck’s novels; and it completely broke my heart.  (So did the movie starring Gong Li.)  It’s not easy being a rich man’s young minor concubine … in fact, it may clean drive you insane.

Amy Tan: The Kitchen God’s Wife
The Joy Luck Club is a good book, but it’s here, in her second novel, that Tan really gets up, close and uncomfortably personal with married life in early 20th century China.  Like most of her writing, partially informed by her own family’s experience, which adds ever so much more immediacy to the storytelling.

Colleen McCullough: The Thorn Birds
People may have watched the TV series for the romance (and, um, for Richard Chamberlain), but I’ll take any bets you like that you will read the book for the history, the sweeping canvas of Australia, and all of the characters — though there is, of course, only one Mary Carson, and that’s probably a good thing, too.

Margaret Mitchell: Gone with the Wind
Speaking of romance tearjerkers, though … Look, I know, it’s racist to the core and Ashley is the wettest of wet towels (even if he’s played by Leslie Howard in the movie).  But Scarlett is a complete and utter badass, and that alone means she has every right to be on a list bearing that very word in its title; Rhett and Scarlett have more memorable lines of dialogue between the two of them than a whole other library’s worth of romance novels, and Mellie almost certainly is one of literary history’s most underappreciated characters.  (Also, Rhett Butler will of course always be Clark Gable.)

Elizabeth von Arnim: The Solitary Summer
MbD listed this book’s prequel, Elizabeth and her German Garden, but I think the two should be read together; and though I haven’t read everything by von Arnim yet I’ve read enough to know that her books are absolutely part of my personal canon.  Charming, witty, here also frequently contemplative — and way ahead of her time in terms of her insights on society.  (Also, there’s an obvious reason why she nicknamed her husband The Man of Wrath.)

John Mortimer: Rumpole of the Bailey
This has to be one of very few examples of storylines first developed for a TV series later being turned into book form and making their central character an icon both on the page and on screen.  Rumpole will always look like Leo McKern to me (it’s no coincidence that some of the book covers are cartoons mimicking him in the role, either); and I’ve learned more about common law criminal trials and about the differences between British and American criminal procedure than from many a textbook.  Also, the manifold ways in which Mortimer kept Rumpole from actually “taking silk” (i.e., becoming a QC — queen’s counsel — in his own right and allowed to first-chair trials), and thus keeping him safely in the disdain of his wife Hilda, aka “she who must be obeyed”, never cease to astound me.

Peter May: The Blackhouse
I’m fairly late to May’s books and, based on what I’ve read to date, I’d have no hesitation in blindly recommending the entire Lewis Trilogy and everything else he’s written that is set on the Hebrides as well.  As it is, I’m going to content me with one of the two books I actually have read so far, the first installment of the Lewis Trilogy.  (The other book by him I’ve read is The Coffin Road, which is every bit as good.)  Darkly atmospheric, gripping; just all around phantastic writing.

James D. Doss: White Shell Woman and Grandmother Spider / Tony Hillerman: Leaphorn & Chee series
Two  series focusing on Native American cops and making the most of their Southwestern U.S. setting and the culture and mythology of the Native people at their core: Hillerman’s Navajo mysteries, I’ve been aware of for a long time (though not quite from the time of its actual beginning), but Doss’s Ute tribal investigator Charlie Moon, his best buddy sheriff Scott Paris and his shaman aunt Daisy Perika are fairly new to me, and boy am I glad I finally discovered them!  I’ve read all of Hillerman’s mysteries — those by him, not the sequels by his daughter, that is — and love (or at least like) most of them well enough to recommend the entire series; my favorites are probably some of the first books after Leaphorn and Chee were first lumped together (after having initially worked alone in three books each): Skinwalkers, A Thief of Time, Coyote Waits, and Sacred Clowns, as well as the final book written by Tony Hillerman himself, Skeleton Man. — By contrast, I still have quite a bit of catching up yet to do with Mr. Doss, but he’s definitely a new favorite already, and I’m very much looking forward to the rest of my journey through his catalogue.  Of the books I’ve read so far, Grandmother Spider and White Shell Woman are far and away the best.

John Le Carré: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes — who will spy on a spy; who’ll guard the guardians?  The eternal question, ever since rulers first figured out that it might be worthwhile keeping tabs on their friends and enemies, abroad as well as at home (and also keep tabs on the people keeping those tabs); and nobody before or since nailed it the way Le Carré does here.  The Spy Who Came in from the Cold may have been his breakout success (and for a reason), but to me, in setting, characters, story arc and everything else, Le Carré’s writing will always come down to this one book.  Even Stella Rimington (former head of MI 5) grudgingly acknowledged that he gets it right … and even if he had written no other book at all, his would still be one of the most important contributions to the genre — and to a wider understanding how secret services operate –, for this one book alone.

Edgar Allan Poe: The Masque of the Red Death
Heaven knows I’m no horror fan, and Poe creeped the heck out of me when we read The Tell-Tale Heart way back when in high school.  While I acknowledge his mad genius, I admire some, but not all of his writing (The Black Cat is not a story I ever want to go near again in my life, and the Dupin Tales, though of course groundbreaking in terms of genre, leave me somewhat unimpressed from a storytelling perspective); but you’ll have to look long and hard to find another as spine-chilling portrayal, in the brief span of a short story at that, of a society literally partying itself to death in complete oblivion of the peril it has conjured right into its midst.

Stephen King: Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption
Even more than Poe, Stephen King is able to creep me out like nobody’s business, but even if you’re not into horror, if there’s one piece of fiction writing by him that I think everybody should read it is this one, for its middle finger salute to adverse fate if nothing else.  (Also, Edmond Dantès has nothing on Andy Dufresne.  And I’m saying this as a big fan of The Count of Monte Cristo.)

James Goldman: The Lion in Winter
Modern TV has discovered the Tudors as soap opera material (and there’s a point to that, obviously), but if there’s one family in the centuries-long history of the (immediately preceding) Plantagenet dynasty, it’s Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine and their sons, not coincidentally known as “the devil’s brood”.  If you don’t believe me, watch this play … or the movie based on it.  It gives a whole new meaning to the term “family feud” — and this all actually happened!

William Goldman: The Princess Bride
This, on the other hand, is a fairy tale.  (Or is it?)  Well, at least the best bits are; “S. Morgenstern” my foot.  This one is of course worth it for the one-liners alone (as is, again and even more so, the movie — the Goldman brothers really had a run in Hollywood).  And seriously, how can we possibly have a “favorite 500” crowdsourced list without this book on it?

Jules Verne: Mich(a)el Strogoff (aka The Tsar’s Courier)
One of the first adventure novels I was seriously hooked on; a ripping great yarn set in Tsarist Russia.  It helped that there was a TV adaptation when I was in my most impressionable years in terms of hero worship, but who hasn’t ever wanted to be chosen to carry a secret message from the Tsar’s Moscow court all the way to Irkutsk in Siberia, fight bandits and Tartars on the way and have all sorts of other adventures (romantic, with a killer partner, included)?

Robert Louis Stevenson: Kidnapped
Before there was Michael Strogoff (for me), there was David Balfour.  Replace Russia by Scotland, and you had me at “adventure”:  Jekyll and Hyde came later, but neither it nor The Treasure Island has ever occupied even remotely the place in my heart that is firmly reserved for the adventures of David Balfour.  Als, note to Mr. Dickens: See, I really like your larger than life characters, but this little book is proof positive that you can deliver this sort of story in the space of a little less than 300 pages and even include a sea voyage and some nifty swashbuckling.  It doesn’t have to be a 950-page brick like Nicholas Nickleby

Giovanni Guareschi: The Little World of Don Camillo
Another book that I discovered via its TV adaptation, starring French comedian Fernandel as Don Camillo: The daily feuds of the local Catholic priest and his friend and rival, communist mayor Peppone, in small-town post-WW II Italy.  Cheeky, funny and an all-around feel-good book — and always with an upbeat, hands-on solution to whatever problem has arisen in the course of the narrative (even if occasionally a somewhat … unusual one).  If only all politics would work like that, village setting or not!

Francis Hodgson Burnett: Little Lord Fauntleroy
Yes, it’s sentimental (then again, so are The Secret Garden and A Little Princess, which tend to get somewhat more play when it comes to “must read” lists), and I know it’s not even a Christmas novel as written — it was only tweaked that way in the TV adaptation starring Alec Guinness and Ricky Schroder –, but it’s been one of my feel-good go-to books, around Christmas especially, since practically time immemorial.

T.S. Eliot: Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats
Most people know it because it’s provided all except one of the song lyrics and feline characters for the musical Cats, but seriously, people — whether or not you are a cat person yourself, just read it, laugh and enjoy.  Eliot wrote this for his godchildren, and he obviously had a ball.  He also knew cats really, really well.

J.R.R. Tolkien: Letters from Father Christmas
Tolkien’s letters to his children, responding to their letters and wish lists to Santa Claus (Father Christmas) — do yourselves a favor and get the hardcover edition, which is illustrated with Tolkien’s own drawings.  This is where The Hobbit came from … and probably parts of Lord of the Rings as well.

Otfried Preußler: Die kleine Hexe (The Little Witch)
Otfried Preußler, in Germany, is sort of Frank L. Baum, Dr. Seuss and Lewis Carroll rolled into one — he is, or used to be, one of the most popular children’s authors for decades.  Many of his stories were inspired by the myths and legends of his native Sudeten region (today: chiefly in Poland and the Czech Republic); including this one, which has always been my absolute favorite.  Talk about a middle finger to adversity ending … —  Preußler was also the first author to whom I ever wrote a fan letter … in first grade, when I had barely learned to read and write!

Bill Watterson: The Complete Calvin & Hobbes / René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo: Asterix the Gaul
Hobbes forever. — And you couldn’t grow up in Europe when I was a kid without knowing about (and loving) Asterix and his village of crazy Gauls.

 

And since books that are on “those lists” are no longer absolutely taboo, I’m hereby also offering the following additions from the “I know they’re on all of ‘those lists’, but they’re canon to me and there’s nothing to be done about that” department:

Jane Austen: Mansfield Park and Persuasion
All of Austen, really, but if I have to pick individual books, it’s always going to be Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, and Mansfield Park.  Since Moonlight Reader has already added P&P, I’m obviously going to go with the other two.  Of course you can’t help but love Lizzy Bennet (and Colin Firth is Mr. Darcy, period), but I’ve always had a special place in my heart for Austen’s quieter heroines; not least because they’re having so much more of a hard time sticking to their guns and they persevere nevertheless.

Charlotte Brontë: Jane Eyre
Not the only badass among the Brontë sisters’ heroines, but however much I may like The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Jane still takes the cake.  We first met when I was barely a teenager — I guess that kind of lengthy acquaintanceship is just a bit too long to upend, even by charracters from the pen of another member of the same family of writers.

Elizabeth Gaskell: Cranford and North & South
It’s not hard to see how Gaskell and the Brontës (especially Charlotte) were friends.  But where CB kept things essentially to a personal level, Gaskell took it to a wider scope (also, I can’t read North and South without seeing Richard Armitage as Mr. Thornton).  Her greatest jewel, though, is Cranford and the microcosm of its village life — nowhere else does Gaskell’s wit and insight into human nature sparkle as much as there.  Besides, how can you resist a book about a village where men are merely tolerated and nobody really dare dispute that women are the infinitely superior sex?

William Shakespeare: Macbeth, Richard III, Hamlet
For obvious reasons I’m tempted to list half his catalogue, but even if you’re not into Elizabethan theatre at all, the three plays by the Bard that you absolutely ought to see are Macbeth, Richard III, and Much Ado About Nothing.  Since Tea, Stitch, Read thankfully already listed Much Ado, I’m going to stick with the other two — plus my personal favorite (after many meanderings), Hamlet.  Nobody does the ruin of a human being — and his complete entourage — as the consequence of a single destructive character flaw like Shakespeare, and these three plays are among his very best.

Alexandre Dumas (père): The Three Musketeers
We already have The Count of Monte Cristo on the list, and I totally agree with that of course, but I met M. Dantès at around the same time as D’Artagnan and his friends, and they’ve been an item in my mind ever since.  Besides, Artos, Portos and Aramis totally rule at wisecracking while swashbuckling.  So onto the list they go!

John Steinbeck: The Grapes of Wrath
Steinbeck wasn’t on my high school curriculum, and that was perhaps fortunate, as no teacher had the opportunity to ruin him for me and I could discover him all by myself and in my own time.  My two “must read” entries by him are East of Eden and The Grapes of Wrath; since we already have East of Eden, obviously I’m going to go with his pull-no-punches, kick-in-the-gut Depression Era masterpiece.

Tennessee Williams: A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Williams named his fictional world “Dragon Country” and described it as an uninhabitable place of pain that is nevertheless inhabited — that’s really all you need to know about his plays.  These two hit me the hardest by far.

Edith Wharton: The Age of Innocence
Wharton won the Pulitzer for this novel, and even if perhaps she’d already deserved one a lot earlier, there’s no question that it’s justified here.  Social conventions were never so stifling, scheming never so vicious — and all hidden under a perfect, completely scratch-proof, shining veneer.  In equal parts chilling and heartbreaking.

Virginia Woolf: Orlando and A Room of One’s Own
The first of these, Woolf’s tongue in cheek but heartfelt love letter to Vita Sackville-West (also one of the most approachable among her novels), the other one her feminist manifesto.  It’s hard, indeed, not to recognize both Sackville-West and her beloved Knole in Orlando‘s title character and key setting, and this is one of the few books where both time travel and a gender swap really work for me.  A Room of One’s Own, on the other hand, contains the famous “anonymous poet(ess)” quote, but it shouldn’t be reduced to that — it’s really quite a trenchant analysis of the history of women’s literature, and much of it still rings very true today.

Aristophanes: Lysistrata
A sex strike to prevent a war … maybe we should revive that idea, what do you think?

Sophocles / Jean Anouilh: Antigone
Antigone has been one of my heroines ever since I first came across her story, and not even a French teacher who almost managed to ruin Camus for me (whom, in turn, I had to rediscover on my own after having graduated from high school) could muddy those particular waters.  In fact, in a way I’ve even come to love Anouilh’s version of the play just a tiny bit more than Sophocles’s original.

Jean-Paul Sartre: Huis Clos (No Exit)
L’enfer, c’est les autres — hell is other people.  I didn’t have to see this play to form that particular conviction, but Sartre really nails it — and all he needs is three characters and a stage set with three chairs and a locked door.

George Orwell: Animal Farm
Yes, it’s manipulative to the nth degree, yet, “all pigs are equal but some pigs are more equal than others” and “four legs good, two legs bad” are far and away no longer applicable to the communist dictatorships that Orwell aimed this at.  A worthy companion to his masterpiece 1984 (which is already on our list anyway).

Kazuo Ishiguro: The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go
Ishiguro’s big theme is the unreliability of memory — and indeed, nobody does unreliable narrators like him.  He deserved the Lit Nobel for these two novels alone.

Thomas Mann: Doktor Faustus, as well as Mario und der Zauberer (Mario and the Magician) / Klaus Mann: Mephisto / Heinrich Mann: Der Untertan (Man of Straw, aka The Loyal Subject)
The Mann family’s individual and collective takedown of the Nazi regime and the society that made the Nazis’ rise to power possible.  Thomas Mann’s seducer (in the novel) and magician (in the short story; in both instances, an obvious parable for Hitler — with the novel’s Faustus standing in for the German people), aided and abetted by charismatic opportunists like Klaus Mann’s Mephisto, who mesmerized a people conditioned for centuries to obey and even slavishly adore authority without question, like the eponymous protagonist of Heinrich Mann’s novel.

E.M. Remarque: Im Westen nichts Neues (All Quiet on the Western Front)
In a sense, the prequel to the above-mentioned Mann family’s writings: the story of the lost generation bamboozled into joyfully rushing into the slaughter that would be WW I.  This will make you angry, and it will also break your heart (several times).

And with that, I’ll leave it for the time being … nonfiction additions (if we still have space for them) to follow tomorrow!

 

 

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1906574/crowdsourced-more-books-with-a-difference-fiction

Books With a Difference

Responding to Moonlight Reader’s “call for papers (= titles / authors)” — there are quite a number of excellent lists out there already; anyway, here’s my contribution … or a first draft, at least.  Links go to my reviews (or status updates / summary blog posts / author pages) to the extent I’ve posted any.

Not necessarily in this (or any particular) order:

Dorothy L. Sayers: Are Women Human?
Sayers didn’t like to be called a feminist, because she was adverse to ideology for ideology’s sake, but nobody makes the case for equality and for the notion that a person’s qualification for a job depends not (at all) on their sex but solely — gasp — on their qualifications and experience more eloquently than she did in these two speeches.  (I gave up on the attempt to review this little book when I realized that I was basically fawn-quoting half its contents, but the BL book page lists two very good reviews by others.)  Sayers’s crime fiction is legendary, of course, but she’d totally be short-changed if she were ever reduced to that … even to a brilliant book like Gaudy Night (which transforms into fiction much of what she addresses here).  This should be taught and listed right alongside Virginia Woolf’s Room of One’s Own and Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Women.

Moderata Fonte: The Worth of Women
If you thought women in the Middle Ages and the early Renaissance didn’t know how to speak up for themselves, think again.  There’s Margery Kempe, Julian of Norwich, Hildegard of Bingen, Christine de Pizan … and then, there is 16th century Venetian Moderata Fonte.  The Worth of Women is, essentially, a witty, pithy conversation among several women preparing one of them (the daughter of another one of their number) for her wedding, and it covers everything from women’s daily life and struggle (as such, but in particular vis-à-vis the stupidity and inferiority of the other sex, which without any justification whatsoever has been declared “superior”), their wishes, desires, etc.  The young bride, who actually doesn’t much feel like marrying to begin with, is consoled over the fact that she really has to (the only alternative being the cloister) by the assurance that every effort has gone into finding her a good husband (i.e., the best specimen from an inherently inferior selection), and receives manifold advice on how to get around him.  The whole text reads refreshingly contemporary, very much to the point — and in part, it is just laugh-out-loud funny.  (“Moderata Fonte” was, incidentally, the pen name of a lady actually named Modesta Pozzo, which means … exactly the same thing: Modest Fountain.  [Or Fountain of Modesty.]  And yes, I probably should review this book at some point, too — God knows, I added enough quotes from it on Goodreads back in the day …)

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Half of a Yellow Sun
One of my highlights of 2018 and the book that (in large parts) inspired my personal “Around the World in 80 Books” challenge; an insightful, heartbreaking, unflinching, and just all around amazingly written look at the 1960s’ Biafra war, post-independence Nigerian society and the human condition as such, by one of today’s most brilliant writers, period.  Eye-opening in so many ways.  (And yes, admittedly this one is on several of those published “must read” lists, too, but in this one instance I don’t care.  This really is a book that everybody should read.)

Aminatta Forna: The Memory of Love
My Half of a Yellow Sun of 2019; the book which alone would have made that “Around the World” challenge a winner even if I’d hate every other book I’ve so far read for it (which I don’t).  Trauma, fractured lives and society, love, betrayal, war and peace in post-independence Sierra Leone (1960s-70s and present day).  Forna is Adichie’s equal in every respect and then some.  For a bonus experience, get the audio version narrated by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith: He transforms a book that is extraordinary already in its own right from a deeply atmospheric and emotional experience into visceral goosebumps material.

Xinran: The Good Women of China
Before she emigrated to the UK, Xinran was a radio presenter in Nanjing: Inspired by the letters she received by women listeners, she started a broadcast series dedicated to their stories, some of which she tells in this book.  Her broadcasts gave Chinese women — firmly under the big collective male thumb for centuries and still considered beings of a lower order today — a voice that they hadn’t had until then; now her books give non-Chinese readers a pespective on an aspect of Chinese society that most definitely doesn’t figure in the pretty picture of a modern high-tech society that China would love to present to the world.

Astrid Lindgren: Pippi Longstocking and Lindgren’s Wartime Diaries (“A World Gone Mad”)
Pippi Longstocking taught me, when I had barely learned to read, that girls can go anywhere and do anything they set their minds to. — Lindgren’s wartime diaries are tinged with the same sense of humor and profound humanity as her children’s books, in addition to containing a spot-on analysis of the political situation in the years between 1939 and 1945 and many insights into her daily life.

Lion Feuchtwanger: Die Jüdin von Toledo (Raquel, the Jewess of Toledo, aka A Spanish Ballad)
A bit hard to come by in translation, but absolutely worthwhile checking out (and an indisputable evergreen classic in the original German): Set during the medieval Spanish Reconquista (the era when Christian princes and armies were wresting the Spanish peninsula back from the Muslims), in Toledo, during a phase when Christians, Jews and Muslims were living together peacefully in Castile; the true-life story of — married — (Christian) King Alfonso of Castile and his love for a young woman of Jewish faith.  Lots of food for thought on multicultural societies, tolerance, broadmindedness and responsible choices that applies today just as much as it did then.  I first read this decades ago and it has stayed with me ever since.

Iain Pears: The Dream of Scipio
More on multicultural societies, tolerance, conscience and choices; set in the Avignon area of Provence during three distinct historical periods: the end / breakdown of the Roman empire, the medieval schism of the Catholic church (when the popes were residing in Avignon), and the Nazi occupation of France.  All three periods are linked by a mysterious manuscript, and in all three periods the (male) protagonists are guided by a woman who is their superior in wisdom and who becomes their inspiration.  Another one of those books that have stayed with me for years and years.

Wallace Stegner: Remembering Laughter
MR mentioned Angle of Repose, and I’d agree that is Stegner’s best novel (it’s also far and away my favorite book by him); but I do also have a soft spot for his very first novella, written as his (winning) entry in a writing competition, in which all of the hallmarks of his fiction are already present, most importantly the backdrop of his beloved Western Plains and the topic of people’s isolation from each other (even when they’re ostensibly in company).

Gabriel García Márquez: Crónica de una muerte anunciada (Chronicle of a Death Foretold)
100 Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera may be the books by García Márquez that the creators of those “must read” lists tell you to read (and I don’t exactly disagree), but this brief novella set in a small Columbian seaside town is every bit as worthwhile of notice: A deconstruction, in a mere 100 pages and in reverse chronology, of an honor killing and the society that has allowed it to happen.  Completely and utterly spine-chilling.

Salman Rushdie: Joseph Anton
Actually, any nonfiction by Rushdie (for my money, most of his fiction writing as well, but part of that is on “those lists” anyway, and I know Rushdie’s style of fiction writing isn’t everybody’s cup of tea).  I’ve read some of his essays, but not enough of them yet to make for a full collection, so I’ll go with the one nonfiction book of his that I actually have read cover to cover: His memoir of the fatwā years.  Unapologetically personal and subjective, even if oddly — and to me, jarringly — written in the third instead of the first person; but definitely one of my must-read books of the recent years and one that I have every expectation will stand the test of time.

For completion’s sake: His essays are collected in two volumes entitled Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981-1991 and  Step Across This Line: Collected Nonfiction 1992-2002.  I’m hoping to complete both of them, too, some day soon.

Graham Greene: Our Man in Havana and John Le Carré: The Tailor of Panama
Two takes on essentially the same topic — corruption, Western espionage and military shenanigans in Central America –, both redolent with satire and featuring a bumbling spy against his own will as their MC.  I’m not a fan of either author’s entire body of work, but I find both of their takes on this particular topic equally irresistible … and unfortunately, they seem to have regained consiiderable topicality in recent years.

Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman: Good Omens
By which I do not mean the recent TV adaptation but the actual book, as well as (by way of a companion piece) the full cast BBC audio adaptation.  Armageddon will never again be as much fun — but Pratchett and Gaiman wouldn’t be Pratchett and Gaiman if there weren’t a sharp-edged undercurrent, too: Unlike the TV adaptation with its squeaky-clean looks, the book does not shy away from taking an uncomfortably close look at religion and society.  And then, of course, there’s Crowley and Aziraphale …

(Honorary entry from Pratchett’s Discworld series: Hogfather.  Just because.)

Michael Connelly: Harry Bosch Series
One of the two ongoing crime fiction series that I’m still following religiously and have been, from very early on.  Connelly nails L.A., to the point that it becomes a character in its own right in his novels rather than merely a backdrop.  Harry Bosch is a Vietnam vet, your quintessential curmudgeonly loner with a big heart, fiercely loyal (motto: “Everybody counts or nobody counts”) and hates corruption, grift and nepotism in the LAPD more than anything else.  One of my all-time early favorite entries in the series is book no. 6, Angels Flight (which deals with the Rodney King riots and their fallout), but really, Connelly just keeps getting better and better.  The TV series starring Titus Welliver as Harry makes for great companion material, but to me the books will always come first.  (Even more so now that some of them are actually narrated by Mr. Welliver in the audio versions.)

Ian Rankin: Inspector Rebus Series
The other long-lasting crime fiction series that I’ve been following since pretty much forever; for similar reasons as Connelly’s Harry Bosh series: Edinburgh is a character of its own rather than mere backdrop; John Rebus (ex-S.A.S.) is Harry Bosch’s brother in spirit in virtually every respect — except that Bosch has a daughter, whereas Rebus has (or had, until recently) his booze — and like Connelly, Rankin does not shy away from addressing the social and political topics of the day in his novels.  For me, Rankin had found his Rebus legs, oddly enough, also in book 6 of the series, Mortal Causes (which deals with the “white supremacy” /  neofascist brand of Scottish nationalism), but he, too, just keeps getting better and better.

P.D. James: Inspector Dalgliesh Series
From the waning years of the Silver Age of detective fiction (post-WWII through the 1960s) all the way to the New Millennium, James was the reigning queen of British mystery writers, and for a reason.  Her friend (and rival for those honors) Ruth Rendell may have been more prolific, but every so often gave in to populism and cliché — not so James.  She was unequaled at setting a scene and creating a suspenseful atmosphere, and in the best tradition of the Golden Age masters, her mysteries always turned on psychology first and foremost.  Means and opportunity were important, but it was humans and their relationshp that she was chiefly interested in.   I have no doubt that her books will stand the test of time just as well as those of Conan Doyle, Christie, Sayers and their generation of mystery writers.

Joy Ellis: Their Lost Daughters
The second book in Ellis’s Jackman and Evans series; an absolute stunner in every single way.  Mike Finn and Jennifer(‘s Books) weren’t that enchanted with Ellis’s other series (Nikki Galena), and I have only read one other book by her so far (Jackman & Evans no. 1), but be that as it may, this one is completely worth it and then some.  Set in the Fen Country, dripping with dark atmosphere, with a likeable and fully rounded pair of detectives as MCs — and a veritable jaw-dropper of a finale.  Oh, and the audio version (of the entire series) is narrated by Richard Armitage.

Peter Grainger: An Accidental Death
New Fen Country crime fiction series no. 2, and every bit as atmospheric and well-written as Ellis’s Their Lost Daughters.  This is the first book in the DC Smith series, which centers on a formerly higher-ranking policeman who has chosen to stay on the job as a detective sergeant (rather than go into retirement), so as to be able to actually do hands-on crime solving work instead of being shackled to his desk dealing with police administration.  Again, highly recommended, and I am very much looking forward to continue reading the series. — With this series and those by Ellis, I’m also really, really happy to have found not one but several new series set in a part of Britain that has not yet been written to death.

Donna Andrews: Meg Langslow Series
I am not anywhere near a reader of modern cozies (and though Golden Age mysteries are often lumped into that category, to my mind few of them really belong there) — I quickly get bored by trademark kinks and similar forms of repetitive humor, and I often find their plotlines, characters and settings unconvincing, shallow and overly sugarcoated.  Donna Andrews is the exception to the rule: I probably still wouldn’t read too many of her books back to back, but visits to the crazy but comfortable world of her small-town Virginia have become a Christmas reading tradition in the last couple of years that I’ve really come to look forward to.  Favorite entries to date: Duck the Halls, The Nightingale Before Christmas, and Six Geese A’Slayin’.

Jennifer Worth: Call the Midwife
Midwifery in London’s East End, in the mid-20th century.  I’m not even a mother myself, but man, I’ve never been more grateful for the advances in modern medicine than after reading this book.  Well, and other social advances obviously.  Gotta love the Sisters, though …

 

Jared Diamond: Collapse and The World Until Yesterday
Diamond won a Pulitzer for Guns, Germs and Steel, but these two books (particularly: Collapse) are, to my mind, much more relevant to the world in which we’re living today; in analyzing both the state of our modern, globalized world (and its chances for a sustainable future) and the lessons to be learned from past societies: those whose choices led them to failure as much as those whose choices led to success and long-term survival.  Diamond is anything but a prophet of disaster, but being a scientist, he cannot and of course does not shrink from simple, indisputable facts and realities.  At no time have voices like his needed to be listened to and taken seriously as much as today.

  Full disclosure: I know Jared Diamond personally; he’s a longtime friend of my mother’s.  That doesn’t however impact my belief that his voice, and those of scientists like him, need to be heard now more than ever.

Stanley Wells, James Shapiro, Tarnya Cooper and Marcia Pointon: Searching for Shakespeare
Hard to believe this started life as a National Portrait Gallery exhibition catalogue, but it did: A lavishly, gorgeously illustrated, supersized, book-length (240 p.) showcasing of Shakespeare’s life and times; companion to the 2006 exhibition on the NPG’s examination of the authenticity of six portraits then believed to be of the Bard (of which only one, the Chandos Portrait, in addition to the famous First Folio cover of Shakespeare’s works and the statue in Stratford’s Holy Trinity Church survived that scrutiny).  More informative in both text and images than many a Shakesperean biography or a book on the history of the 16th / 17th century.

Stanley Wells: Shakespeare and Co.: Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Dekker, Ben Johnson, Thomas Middleton, John Fletcher and the Other Players in His Story
The world of Elizabethan theatre, by the grand master of British Shakespearean scholars and long-time chairman of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.  Equally engaging, informative and entertaining — and I’m pretty sure the Bard would have appreciated Wells’s not just occasionally pithy turn of phrase.

Antony Sher and Gregory Doran: Woza Shakespeare: Titus Andronicus in South Africa
The future artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company and one of Britain’s greatest contemporary Shakespearean actors (himself born in South Africa) — off stage, a couple — take the Bard’s most controversial and violent play to Sher’s home country … in the middle of Apartheid.  Judging by their tour diaries (in essence, this book), it must have been quite a trip.

Final note, for those who are wondering: Golden Age mysteries have been covered by several other list creators here on BL already, so I decided not to replicate that (obviously, otherwise the better part of the entire canons of Arthur Conan Doyle, Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie and others would have shown up on my list, too).  Similarly, while Jane Austen, the Brontës, and several other 19th century writers are unquestionably part of my personal canon, they’re also on just about every published “must read” list out there, so there hardly seemed any point in including them here.  Ditto Greek mythology.  Ditto William Shakespeare (the plays themselves, that is).  Ditto Oscar Wilde.  Ditto John Steinbeck.  Etc. …

And now that I’m finally about to hit “post”, I’m probably going to think of a whole other list of books that I really ought to have included here!

 

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1903597/for-moonlight-reader-books-with-a-difference

My KYD Reads … or: Harry Potter, and What Else I read in March 2018

A big thank you to Moonlight Reader for yet another fun, inventive BookLikes game!  I had a wonderful time, while also advancing — though with decidedly fewer new reads than I’d origianlly been planning — my two main reading goals for this year (classic crime fiction and books written by women).

 

Harry Potter – The Complete Series

This was a long-overdue revisit and obviously, there isn’t anything I could possibly say about the books that hasn’t been said a million times before by others.  But I’ve gladly let the magic of Hogwarts and Harry’s world capture me all over again … to the point of giving in to book fandom far enough to treat myself to the gorgeous hardcover book set released in 2014 and, in addition, the even more gorgeous Gryffindor and Ravenclaw anniversary editions of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.


That said, particular kudos must also go to Stephen Fry for his magnificent audio narration of the books, which played a huge role in pulling me right back into to books, to the point that I’d carry my phone wherever I went while I was listening to them.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - J.K. Rowling, Stephen Fry Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - J.K. Rowling, Stephen Fry Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - J.K. Rowling, Stephen Fry Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - J.K. Rowling, Stephen Fry Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - J.K. Rowling, Stephen Fry Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - J.K. Rowling, Stephen Fry Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - J.K. Rowling, Stephen Fry

As for the rest of my KYD books … roughly in the order in which I read them:

Ngaio Marsh: Death at the Dolphin
(aka Killer Dolphin)

Killer Dolphin - Ngaio Marsh Death at the Dolphin - Ngaio Marsh

Also a revisit: One of my favorite installments in Marsh’s Roderick Alleyn series, not only because it is set in the world of the theatre — always one of Marsh’s particular fortes, as she herself was a veteran Shakespearean director and considered that her primary occupation, while writing mysteries to her was merely a sideline — but because this one, in fact, does deal with a(n alleged) Shakespearean relic and a play based on Shakespeare’s life, inspired by that relic.

The Hog's Back Mystery - Freeman Wills Crofts, Gordon GriffinFreeman Wills Crofts:
The Hog’s Back Mystery

Part of Crofts’s Inspector French series and my first book by Crofts, who was known for his painstaking attempts to “play fair” with the reader; which here, I’m afraid, hampered the development of the story a bit, in producing a fair bit of dialogue at the beginning that might have been better summed up from the third person narrator’s point of view in the interest of easing along the flow of the story, and in holding French back even at points where a reasonably alert reader would have developed suspicions calling for a particular turn of the investigation.  But I like French as a character, and as for all I’m hearing this is very likely not the series’s strongest installment, I’ll happily give another book a try later.

Unnatural Death: A Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery - Dorothy L. Sayers, Ian CarmichaelDorothy L. Sayers:
Unnatural Death

Not my favorite Lord Peter Wimsey book by Sayers, but virtually the only one I haven’t revisited on audio recently — and as always, I greatly enjoyed the narration by Ian Carmichael.  That said, here again Sayers proves herself head and shoulders above her contemporaries, in devising a particularly fiendish, virtually untraceable method of murder (well, untraceable by the medical state of the art of her day at least), and perhaps even more so by hinting fairly obviously at two women’s living together in what would seem to be a lesbian relationship.

The Red Queen - Margaret DrabbleMargaret Drabble:
The Red Queen

Ummm … decidedly NOT my favorite read of the month.  ‘Nuff said: next!

 

 

A Red Death: An Easy Rawlins Mystery - Walter Mosley, Michael BoatmanWalter Mosley: A Red Death

I’d long been wanting to return to the world of Easy Rawlins’ mid-20th century Los Angeles, so what with Mosley’s fiction making for various entries in the KYD cards, including at least one book by him in my reading plans for the game seemed only fitting (… even if I ended up using this one for a “Dr. Watson” victim guess!). — This, the second installment of the series, deals with the political hysteria brought about by the McCarthy probes and also makes a number of pertinent points on racial discrimination and xenophobia, which make it decidedly uncomfortable reading in today’s political climate.

One, Two, Buckle My Shoe - Hugh Fraser, Agatha ChristieAgatha Christie:
One, Two, Buckle My Shoe

Another revisit, and in no small part courtesy of Hugh Fraser’s narration, I liked the book a good deal better than I had done originally.  This is one of several entries in the Poirot canon where we learn about Poirot’s phobia of dentist’s visits, which obviously makes for the high point of the book’s humour … and of course it doesn’t exactly help that it’s Poirot’s dentist, of all people, who turns out the murder victim. — The plot features several clever slights of hand, and you have to play a really long shot to get the solution right in its entirety (even if strictly speaking Christie does play fair).  Well, that’s what we have Monsieur Poirot’s little grey cells for, I suppose!

Imperium - Robert HarrisRobert Harris: Imperium

The first part of Harris’s Cicero trilogy, and both a truly fast-paced and a well-researched piece of historical writing; covering Cicero’s ascent from young Senator to Praetorian and, eventually (and against all the odds), Consul.

The first part of the book deals at length with one of Cicero’s most famous legal cases, the prosecution of the corrupt Sicilian governor Verres, and Harris shows how Cicero employed that case in order to advance his own political career.  Notably, Cicero quite ingeniously also ignored established Roman trial practice in favor of what would very much resemble modern common law practice, by making a (by the standards of the day) comparatively short opening statement — albeit a supremely argumentative one — and immediately thereafter examining his witnesses, instead of, as procedural custom would have dictated, engaging in a lengthy battle of speeches with defending counsel first.  As a result of this manoeuver, Verres was as good as convicted and fled from Rome in the space of the 9 days allotted to Cicero as prosecuting counsel to make his case.

The second part of the book examines Cicero’s unlikely but eventually victorious campaign for consulship, and his exposure of a conspiracy involving Catiline, generally believed to be the most likely victor of that year’s consular elections, who later came to be involved of conspiracies on an even greater scale, and whose condemnation in Cicero’s most famous speeches — collectively known as In Catilinam (On, or Against Catiline) — would go a great way towards securing both Cicero’s political success in his own lifetime and his lasting fame as a skilled orator.

Murder is Easy - Agatha ChristieAgatha Christie: Murder Is Easy

Another Christie revisit, and I regret to say for the most part I’m down to my less favorite books now.  This isn’t a bad book, and the ending in particular is quite dark … but the middle part, much as I’m sorry to have to say this, simply drags.

The Distant Echo - Val McDermid, Tom CotcherVal McDermid: The Distant Echo

Holy moly, how did I ever miss this book until now?!  Even more so since the Karen Pirie series is actually my favorite series by Val McDermid … OK, Pirie herself has little more than a walk-on role here; we’re talking absolute beginning of her career, and the focus is decidedly not on her but on her boss and  on a quartet of suspects involved in a 25-year-old murder case — in fact, the whole first half of the book is set 25 years in the past, too, describing the immediate aftermath of the murder and its consequences for the four main suspects, chiefly from their perspective.  But still!  Well, I sure am glad I finally caught up with it at last … definitely one of the best things McDermid ever wrote.

Unterleuten: Roman - Juli ZehJuli Zeh: Unterleuten

A scathing satire on village life, on post-Berlin Wall German society, on greed, on the commercialization of ideals … and most of all, on people’s inability to communicate: Everyone in this book essentially lives inside their own head, and in a world created only from the bits they themselves want to see — with predictably disastrous consequences.  The whole thing is brilliantly observed and deftly written; yet, the lack of characters that I found I could like or empathize with began to grate after a while … in a shorter book I might not have minded quite so much, but in a 600+ page brick I’d have needed a few more characters who actually spoke to me to get all the way through and still be raving with enthusiasm.  If you don’t mind watching a bunch of thoroughly dislikeable people self-destruct in slow motion, though, you’re bound to have a lot of fun with this book.

Von Köln zum Meer: Schifffahrt auf dem Niederrhein - Werner BöckingWerner Böcking: Von Köln zum Meer

Local history, a read inspired by conversations with a visiting friend on the history of shipping and travel by boat on the Rhine. — A richly illustrated book focusing chiefly on the 19th and 20th centuries, and the mid-19th-centuriy changes brought about by diesel engines and the resulting disappearance of sailing vessels (which, before the advent of engines, were pulled by horses when going up the river, against the current): undoubtedly the biggest change not only in land but also in river travel and transportation, with a profound effect on large sectors of the economy of the adjoining regions and communities.

And last but not least …

"A Brief Discourse of Rebellion and Rebels" by George North: A Newly Uncovered Manuscript Source for Shakespeare's Plays - Dennis McCarthy, June SchlueterDennis McCarthy & June Schlueter: “A Brief Discourse of Rebellion and Rebels” by George North — A Newly Uncovered Manuscript Source for Shakespeare’s Plays

The lastest in Shakespearean research, also a read inspired by conversations with the above-mentioned visiting friend, and a February 7, 2018 New York Times article on a possible new source text for passages contained in no less than 11 of Shakespeare’s plays.  The story of the discovery itself is fascinating; the research methods applied are in synch with modern Shakesperean scholarship … and yet, for all the astonishing textual concordance, unless and until someone proves that Shakespeare not only had the opportunity to see this document but actually did (at least: overwhelmingly likely) see it, I’m not going to cry “hooray” just yet.  According to the authors’ own timeline, Shakespeare would have been about 11 years old when this text was written, it was kept in a private collection even then, and there is no record that the Bard ever visited the manor housing that very collection — which collection in turn, if the authors are to be believed, the text very likely at least did not ever leave during Shakespeare’s lifetime (though it was undoubtedly moved at a later point in time).  And Shakespearean research, as we all know, has been prone to a boatload of dead-end streets and conspiracy theories pretty much ever since its inception …

 

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1654647/my-kyd-reads-or-harry-potter-and-what-else-i-read-in-march-2018

16 Tasks of the Festive Season: Updates / Blackout

I’ve yet to read at least one book for some of the squares, but I’ve completed a minimum of either one book or one task for all of the squares, and in several cases, more.

 

 

The Markers:

Stack of Books: Books read

 

 

 

Red Bows and Ribbons: Other Tasks completed

 

The Squares, Books and Other Tasks:

Square 1: November 1st: All Saints Day / Día de los Muertos & Calan Gaeaf

Book themes for Día de Muertos and All Saint’s Day: A book that has a primarily black and white cover, or one that has all the colours (ROYGBIV) together on the cover.

Book themes for Calan Gaeaf:
Read any of your planned Halloween Bingo books that you didn’t end up reading after all, involving witches, hags, or various types of witchcraft –OR– read a book with ivy or roses on the cover, or a character’s name/title of book is / has Rose or Ivy in it.
=> Terry Pratchett: Carpe Jugulum
1 point.

Tasks for Día de Muertos and All Saint’s Day: create a short poem, or an epitaph for your most hated book ever.
=> Epitaph for 50 Shades of Grey and Twilight
1 point.

Tasks for Calan Gaeaf: If you’re superstition-proof, inscribe your name on a rock, toss it in a fire and take a picture to post –OR– Make a cozy wintertime dish involving leeks (the national plant of Wales) and post the recipe and pictures with your thoughts about how it turned out.
=> Bami Goreng
1 point.

 

Square 2: November 5th: Guy Fawkes Night & Bon Om Touk

Book themes for Guy Fawkes Night: Any book about the English monarchy (any genre), political treason, political thrillers, or where fire is a major theme, or fire is on the cover.
=> S.J. Parris: Heresy
1 point.

Book themes for Bon Om Touk: Read a book that takes place on the sea, near the sea, or on a lake or a river, or read a book that has water on the cover.
=> P.D. James: The Lighthouse
1 point.

Tasks for Guy Fawkes Night: Post pictures of past or present bonfires, fireworks (IF THEY’RE LEGAL) or sparklers. Or: Host a traditional English tea party, or make yourself a nice cup of tea and settle down with a good book to read. Which kind of tea is your favorite? Tell us why.
=> Tea and book
1 point.

Tasks for Bon Om Touk: Post a picture from your most recent or favorite vacation on the sea (or a lake, river, or any other body of water larger than a puddle), or if you’re living on the sea or on a lake or a river, post a picture of your favorite spot on the shore / banks / beach / at the nearest harbour.
=> Norfolk Coast / Rhine Valley at and near Bonn
1 point.

 

Square 3: November 11th: St. Martin’s Day & Veterans’ Day / Armistice Day

Book themes for St. Martin’s Day: Read a book set on a vineyard, or in a rural setting, –OR– a story where the MC searches for/gets a new job. –OR– A book with a lantern on the cover, or books set before the age of electricity. –OR– A story dealing with an act of selfless generosity (like St. Martin sharing his cloak with a beggar).
=> Kazuo Ishiguro: An Artist of the Floating World
1 point.

Book themes for Veteran’s Day / Armistice Day: Read a book involving veterans of any war, books about WWI or WWII (fiction or non-fiction). –OR– Read a book with poppies on the cover.

Tasks for St. Martin’s Day: Write a Mother Goose-style rhyme or a limerick; the funnier the better. –OR– Take a picture of the book you’re currently reading, next to a glass of wine, or the drink of your choice, with or without a fire in the background. –OR– Bake a Weckmann; if you’re not a dab hand with yeast baking, make a batch of gingerbread men, or something else that’s typical of this time of the year where you live. Post pics of the results and the recipe if you’d like to share it.

Tasks for Veteran’s Day / Armistice Day: Make, or draw a red poppy and show us a pic of your red poppy or other symbol of remembrance –OR– post a quote or a piece of poetry about the ravages of war.
=> Quotes and poppies
1 point.

 

Square 4: November 22nd and 23rd: Penance Day (22nd) & Thanksgiving (23rd)

Book themes for Penance Day: Read a book that has a monk, nun, pastor / preacher, priest or other representative of the organized church as a protagonist, or where someone is struggling with feelings of guilt or with their conscience (regardless over what).

Book themes for Thanksgiving Day: Books with a theme of coming together to help a community or family in need. –OR– Books with a turkey or pumpkin on the cover.

Tasks for Penance Day: Tell us – what has recently made you stop in your tracks and think? –OR– What was a big turning point in your life? –OR– Penance Day is a holiday of the Protestant church, which dates its origins, in large parts, to Martin Luther, who published his “95 Theses” exactly 500 years ago this year. Compile a catalogue of theses (it needn’t be 95) about book blogging! What suggestions or ideas would you propose to improve the experience of book blogging?

Tasks for Thanksgiving Day: List of 5 things you’re grateful for –OR– a picture of your thanksgiving feast; post your favourite turkey-day recipe. –OR– Be thankful for yourself and treat yourself to a new book – post a picture of it.
=> 5 things to be grateful for.
1 point.

 

Square 5: December 3rd and following 3 Sundays: Advent

Book themes for Advent: Read a book with a wreath or with pines or fir trees on the cover –OR– Read the 4th book from a favorite series, or a book featuring 4 siblings.

Tasks for Advent: Post a pic of your advent calendar. (Festive cat, dog, hamster or other suitable pet background expressly encouraged.)
=> TA’s Advent calendar.
1 point.

–OR– “Advent” means “he is coming.” Tell us: What in the immediate or near future are you most looking forward to? (This can be a book release, or a tech gadget, or an event … whatever you next expect to make you really happy.)

Bonus task: make your own advent calendar and post it.

 

Square 6: December 5th-6th and 8th: Sinterklaas / Krampusnacht (5th) / St. Nicholas Day (6th) & Bodhi Day (8th)

Book themes for Sinterklaas / St. Martin’s Day / Krampusnacht: A story involving children or a young adult book, or a book with oranges on the cover, or whose cover is primarily orange (for the Dutch House of Orange) –OR– with tangerines, walnuts, chocolates, or cookies on the cover.

Book themes for Bodhi Day: Read a book set in Nepal, India or Tibet, –OR– which involves animal rescue. (Buddhism calls for a vegetarian lifestyle.)
=> Aravind Adiga: The White Tiger
1 point.

Tasks for Sinterklaas / St. Martin’s Day / Krampusnacht: Write a witty or humorous poem to St. Nicholas –OR– If you have kids, leave coins or treats, like tangerines, walnuts, chocolate(s) and cookies in their shoes to find the next morning and then post about their reactions / bewilderment. 😉 If you don’t have kids, do the same for another family member / loved one or a friend.

Tasks for Bodhi Day: Perform a random act of kindness. Feed the birds, adopt a pet, hold the door open for someone with a smile, or stop to pet a dog (that you know to be friendly); cull your books and donate them to a charity, etc. (And, in a complete break with the Buddha’s teachings, tell us about it.) –OR– Post a picture of your pet, your garden, or your favourite, most peaceful place in the world.
=> Pet & peaceful garden
1 point.

 

Square 7: December 10th & 13th: International Human Rights Day (10th) & St. Lucia’s Day (13th)

Book themes for International Human Rights Day: Read a book originally written in another language (i.e., not in English and not in your mother tongue), –OR– a book written by anyone not anglo-saxon, –OR– any story revolving around the rights of others either being defended or abused.
–OR– Read a book set in New York City, or The Netherlands (home of the U.N. and U.N. World Court respectively).
=> Patrick Senécal: Le vide, part 1 – Vivre au Max
1 point.

Book themes for Saint Lucia’s Day: Read a book set in Scandinavia (Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Sweden and Finland for the purposes of this game) or a book where ice and snow are an important feature.

Tasks for International Human Rights Day: Post a picture of yourself next to a war memorial or other memorial to an event pertaining to Human Rights. (Pictures of just the memorial are ok too.) –OR– Cook a dish from a foreign culture or something involving apples (NYC = Big Apple) or oranges (The Netherlands); post recipe and pics.

Tasks for Saint Lucia’s Day: Get your Hygge on — light a few candles if you’ve got them, pour yourself a glass of wine or hot chocolate/toddy, roast a marshmallow or toast a crumpet, and take a picture of your cosiest reading place.
=> Hygge!
1 point.

Bonus task: Make the Danish paper hearts: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jur29ViLEhk

 

Square 8: December 12th – 24th: Hanukkah (begins 12th, ends 20th) & Las Posadas (begins 16th, ends 24th)

Book themes for Hanukkah: Any book whose main character is Jewish, any story about the Jewish people –OR– where the miracle of light plays a significant part in the stories plot.

Book themes for Las Posadas: Read a book dealing with visits by family or friends, or set in Mexico, –OR– with a poinsettia on the cover. –OR– a story where the main character is stranded without a place to stay, or find themselves in a ‘no room at the Inn’ situation.

Tasks for Hanukkah: Light nine candles around the room (SAFELY) and post a picture. –OR– Play the Dreidel game to pick the next book you read.

Assign a book from your TBR to each of the four sides of the dreidel:

נ (Nun)
ג (Gimel)
ה (He)
ש (Shin)

Spin a virtual dreidel: http://www.torahtots.com/holidays/chanuka/dreidel.htm
– then tell us which book the dreidel picked.
=> Dreidel pick: ה (He) – Kazuo Ishiguro: An Artist of the Floating World 1
point.

–OR–
Make your own dreidel: https://www.activityvillage.co.uk/make-a-dreidel, –OR–
Play the game at home, or play online: http://www.jewfaq.org/dreidel/play.htm and tell us about the experience.–OR– Give some Gelt: Continue a Hanukkah tradition and purchase some chocolate coins, or gelt. Post a picture of your chocolate coins, and then pass them out amongst friends and family!

Tasks for Las Posadas: Which was your favorite / worst / most memorable hotel / inn / vacation home stay ever? Tell us all about it! –OR– If you went caroling as a kid: Which are your best / worst / most unfortettable caroling memories?

Bonus task: Make a piñata (https://www.wikihow.com/Make-a-Pi%C3%B1ata), hang it from a tree, post, basketball hoop, clothesline or similarly suitable holder and let your neighborhood kids have a go at breaking it.

 

Square 9: December 21st: Winter Solstice / Mōdraniht / Yuletide & Yaldā Night

Book themes for Winter Solstice and Yaldā Night: Read a book of poetry, or a book where the events all take place during the course of one night, or where the cover is a night-time scene.

Book themes for Mōdraniht: Read any book where the MC is actively raising young children or teens.

Book themes for Yuletide: Read a book set in the midst of a snowy or icy winter, –OR– set in the Arctic or Antartica.

Tasks for Winter Solstice and Yaldā Night: Read a book in one night – in the S. Hemisphere, read a book in a day. –OR– Grab one of your thickest books off the shelf. Ask a question and then turn to page 40 and read the 9th line of text on that page. Post your results. –OR– Eat a watermelon or pomegranate for good luck and health in the coming year, but post a pic first!.
=> Bibliomancy: William Shakespeare’s answer (9th line of p. 40 of the Complete Works, Illustrated Stratford Edition)
1 point.

Bonus task: Read a book in one night.

Tasks for Mōdraniht: Tell us your favourite memory about your mom, grandma, or the woman who had the greatest impact on your childhood. –OR– Post a picture of you and your mom, or if comfortable, you and your kids.

Bonus task: Post 3 things you love about your mother-in-law (if you have one), otherwise your grandma.

Tasks for Yuletide: Make a Yule log cake — post a pic and the recipe for us to drool over.

 

Square 10: December 21st: World Peace Day & Pancha Ganapati begins (ends 25th)

Book themes for World Peace Day: Read a book by or about a Nobel Peace Prize winner, or about a protagonist (fictional or nonfictional) who has a reputation as a peacemaker.

Book themes for Pancha Ganapati: Read anything involving a need for forgiveness in the story line; a story about redemption –OR– Read a book whose cover has one of the 5 colors of the holiday: red, blue, green, orange, or yellow –OR– Read a book involving elephants.
=> Henry Wade: Lonely Magdalen
1 point.

Tasks for World Peace Day: Cook something involving olives or olive oil. Share the results and/or recipe with us. –OR– Tell us: If you had wings (like a dove), where would you want to fly?
=> Spaghetti and tomato sauce
1 point.

Tasks for Pancha Ganapati: Post about your 5 favourite books this year and why you appreciated them so much. –OR– Take a shelfie / stack picture of the above-mentioned 5 favorite books. (Feel free to combine these tasks into 1!
=> Most and least favorite books of 2017.
1 point.

 

Square 11: December 21st-22nd: Soyal (21st) & Dōngzhì Festival (22nd)

Book themes for Soyal: Read a book set in the American Southwest / the Four Corners States (Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah), –OR– a book that has a Native American protagonist.

Book themes for Dōngzhì Festival: Read a book set in China or written by a Chinese author / an author of Chinese origin; or read a book that has a pink or white cover.

Tasks for Soyal: Like many Native American festivities, Soyal involves rituals such as dances. What local / religious / folk traditions or customs exist where you live? Tell us about one of them. (If you can, post pictures for illustration.) –OR– Share a picture you’ve taken of a harvest setting or autumnal leaf color.
=> Carneval in the Rhine Valley — 11/11, 11:11 AM Kick off
1 point.

Tasks for Dōngzhì Festival: If you like Chinese food, tell us your favorite dish – otherwise, tell us your favorite desert. (Recipes, as always, welcome.)

 

Square 12: December 23rd Festivus & Saturnalia ends (begins 17th)

Book themes for Festivus: Read anything comedic; a parody, satire, etc. Books with hilariously dysfunctional families (must be funny dysfunctional, not tragic dysfunctional). Anything that makes you laugh (or hope it does).

Book themes for Saturnalia: The god Saturn has a planet named after him; read any work of science fiction that takes place in space. –OR– Read a book celebrating free speech. –OR– A book revolving around a very large party, or ball, or festival, –OR– a book with a mask or masks on the cover. –OR– a story where roles are reversed.
=> Dorothy L. Sayers: Murder Must Advertise
1 point.

Tasks for Festivus: Post your personal list of 3 Festivus Miracles –OR– post a picture of your Festivus pole (NOTHING pornographic, please!), –OR– Perform the Airing of Grievances: name 5 books you’ve read this year that have disappointed you – tell us in tongue-lashing detail why and how they failed to live up to expectations.
=> Most and least favorite books of 2017.
1 point.

Tasks for Saturnalia: Wear a mask, take a picture and post it. Leave a small gift for someone you know anonymously – a small bit of chocolate or apple, a funny poem or joke. Tell us about it in a post. –OR– Tell us: If you could time-travel back to ancient Rome, where would you want to go and whom (both fictional and / or nonfictional persons) would you like to meet?

 

Square 13: December 25th Christmas & Hogswatch

Book themes for Christmas: Read a book whose protagonist is called Mary, Joseph (or Jesus, if that’s a commonly used name in your culture) or any variations of those names (e.g., Maria or Pepe).

Book themes for Hogswatch Night: Of course – read Hogfather! Or any Discworld book (or anything by Terry Pratchett)
=> Terry Pratchett: Hogfather (buddy read)
1 point.

Tasks for Christmas: Post a picture of your stockings hung from the chimney with care, –OR– a picture of Santa’s ‘treat’ waiting for him. –OR– Share with us your family Christmas traditions involving gift-giving, or Santa’s visit. Did you write letters to Santa as a kid (and if so, did he write back, as J.R.R. Tolkien did “as Santa Claus” to his kids)? If so, what did you wish for? A teddy bear or a doll? Other toys – or practical things? And did Santa always bring what you asked for?

Tasks for Hogswatch Night: Make your favourite sausage dish (if you’re vegan or vegetarian, use your favorite sausage or meat substitute), post and share recipe.

 

Square 14: December 25th Dies Natalis Solis Invicti & Quaid-e-Azam’s Day

Book themes for Dies Natalis Solis Invicti: Celebrate the sun and read a book that has a beach or seaside setting. –OR– a book set during summertime. –OR– set in the Southern Hemisphere.
=> Ian Fleming: The Man With the Golden Gun
1 point.

Book themes for Quaid-e-Azam: Pakistan became an independent nation when the British Raj ended on August 14, 1947. Read a book set in Pakistan or in any other country that attained sovereign statehood between August 14, 1947 and today (regardless in what part of the world).

Tasks for Dies Natalis Solis Invicti: Find the sunniest spot in your home, that’s warm and comfy and read your book. –OR– Take a picture of your garden, or a local garden/green space in the sun (even if the ground is under snow). If you’re in the Southern Hemisphere, take a picture of your local scenic spot, park, or beach, on a sunny day. –OR– The Romans believed that the sun god rode across the sky in a chariot drawn by fiery steeds. Have you ever been horseback riding, or did you otherwise have significant encounters with horses? As a child, which were your favorite books involving horses?

Tasks for Quaid-e-Azam: Pakistan’s first leader – Muhammad Ali Jinnah – was a man, but both Pakistan and neighboring India were governed by women (Benazir Bhutto and Indira Gandhi respectively) before many of the major Western countries. Tell us: Who are the present-day or historic women that you most respect, and why? (These can be any women of great achievement, not just political leaders.)

 

Square 15: December 25th-26th: Newtonmas (25th) & St. Stephen’s Day / Boxing Day (26th)

Book themes for Newtonmas: Any science book. Any book about alchemy. Any book where science, astronomy, or chemistry play a significant part in the plot. (For members of the Flat Book Society: The “Forensics” November group read counts.)
=> Provisorially: Val McDermid: Forensics
1 point.

Book themes for Boxing Day/St. Stephen’s Day: Read anything where the main character has servants (paid servants count, NOT unpaid) or is working as a servant him-/ herself.

Tasks for Newtonmas: Take a moment to appreciate gravity and the laws of motion. If there’s snow outside, have a snowball fight with a friend or a member of your family. –OR– Take some time out to enjoy the alchemical goodness of a hot toddy or chocolate or any drink that relies on basic chemistry/alchemy (coffee with cream or sugar / tea with milk or sugar or lemon, etc.). Post a picture of your libations and the recipe if it’s unique and you’re ok with sharing it.

Tasks for St. Stephen’s Day / Boxing Day: Show us your boxes of books! –OR– If you have a cat, post a picture of your cat in a box. (your dog in a box works too, if your dog likes boxes) — or any pet good-natured enough to pose in a box long enough for you to snap a picture.
=> Cats in (and on) boxes.
1 point.

BONUS task: box up all the Christmas detritus, decorations, or box up that stuff you’ve been meaning to get rid of, or donate, etc. and take a picture and post it.

 

Square 16: December 26th-31st: Kwanzaa (begins 26th, ends 31st) & New Year’s Eve / St. Sylvester’s Day

Book themes for Kwanzaa: Read a book written by an author of African descent or a book set in Africa, or whose cover is primarily red, green or black.
=> Margery Allingham: Traitor’s Purse

1 point.

Book themes for Hogmanay / New Year’s Eve / Watch Night / St. Sylvester’s Day: a book about starting over, rebuilding, new beginnings, etc. –OR– Read anything set in medieval times. –OR– A book about the papacy –OR– where miracles of any sort are performed (the unexplainable – but good – kind).

Tasks for Kwanzaa: Create a stack of books in the Kwanzaa color scheme using red, black and green and post your creation and post a photo (or post a photo of a shelfie where black, red and green predominate).

BONUS task: Create something with your stack of books: a christmas tree or other easily identifiable object.

Tasks for Hogmanay / New Year’s Eve / Watch Night / St. Sylvester’s Day: Make a batch of shortbread for yourself, family or friends. Post pics and recipe. –OR– Light some sparklers (if legal) and take a picture – or have a friend take a picture of your “writing” in the sky with the sparkler. –OR– Get yourself a steak pie (any veggie/vegan substitutions are fine) and read yourself a story – but take a pic of both before you start, and post it.–OR– make whatever New Year’s Eve / Day good luck dish there is in your family or in the area where you live or where you grew up; tell us about it, and if it’s not a secret recipe, we hope you’ll share it with us.

MASSIVE HUGE BONUS POINTS if you post a picture of yourself walking a pig on a leash. (Done to ensure good fortune of the coming year.)

 

The Bonus Jokers:

Surprise, Surprise 1: Melbourne Cup

My “ponies”:

1. Marmelo
2. Almandin
3. Johannes Vermeer

2 bonus points (Johannes Vermeer)

 

Total Points, to Date:

30 points.

 

 

 

 

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1615040/16-tasks-of-the-festive-season-updates-blackout