Mount TBR 2016 – Recap

For this recap, something a little different.  I was mighty pleased with the little mountain of to-be-reads I climbed, so everyone’s a winner – and they all get awards!  Thanks to Bev for hosting this challenge!

*** The Unexpected New Favorite Award ***
 An Artist of the Floating World – Kazuo Ishiguro
This was a thrift store find I bought on a whim.  I was greatly moved by this fictional historical memoir, written by Ishiguro (of The Remains of the Day fame).  An aging Japanese man realizes his past is not creating the bright legacy he had envisioned.  Subtly written, yet incredible.
*** The Finally, Finally Read It Award ***
The Red Badge of Courage – Stephen Crane
I liked the beginning of this book a lot.  That made the ending somewhat disappointing.  However, I had to admit it is a worthy American classic, with good writing and thought-provoking scenes.
*** The History Is Disturbing Award ***
Evita: The Real Life of Eva Peron – Nicholas Fraser, Marysa Navarro
This is supposedly the best, most judicial biography of Eva Peron out there.  After that masterful T. E. Lawrence biography by John Mack, I was underwhelmed by Fraser and Navarro’s sources; this book read more like magazine articles than a scholarly paper.  More than once, there was a statement that was an opinion, and there was no easy way for me to tell from whence the opinion originated.  Writing aside, the topic matter was chilling.  Eva, Juan, the political situation in Argentina at the time – all of it was very depressing.  An interesting read nonetheless.  Especially pertinent was reading how the Perons controlled the media and depictions of themselves.
*** The Polar History Is More My Thing Award ***
In the Land of White Death – Valerian Albanov
This little book deserves all the glowing reviews it has.  If you’re looking for an introduction to polar literature, I highly recommend the Russian navigator Albanov’s account of his survival trek through the Arctic.  The human element comes through strongly in his narrative; it’s great that he did not edit out the personal side to his story.
*** The I Need to Read More Hoffmann Award ***
Nutcracker and Mouse King and The Tale of the Nutcracker – E.T.A. Hoffmann, Alexandre Dumas
(Side note: E.T.A. is such a great set of initials.)
I let myself forget the Nutcracker I knew before, and I really, really loved the Hoffmann original.  Dumas’s version is also great, but more polished.  Read them both!  What better month to do so?

*** The Unexpectedly Disappointing Award ***
Tales of Unrest – Joseph Conrad
I’ve come to the conclusion that Conrad wrote in two ways: sheer genius, and not.  This series of depressing (unrestful) tales is not genius.  It’s not great, unfortunately.  I didn’t like any of them.
*** The Terrifying, Also Would Not Recommend Award ***
Dracula’s Guest – Bram Stoker
Friends, when a Goodreads reviewer advises you to skip a story, do not try to be a completionist.  Heed their advice.  They know what they’re talking about.  You don’t need to read all the creepy stories.  You really don’t.
*** The Beautifully Written, Tough to Understand Award ***
Memories of the Future – Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky
This author was new to me; I read the book because he’s supposed to be similar to Kafka.  Even in translation, Krzhizhanovsky is a lovely writer; his analogies and word choices seem so fresh, even original, compared to other writers.  The trouble is, I was confused most of the time.  I did like the last story, “Memories of the Future,” but it’s very similar to The Time Machine.  Would read more by him in the future (ha. ha.).
*** The Better Than the Movie Award ***
Pinocchio – Carlo Collodi
I’m not big on this fairytale, but it was certainly entertaining.  Pinocchio is such a bad son to Geppetto, and still I felt sorry for him.  Like most fairytales, the amount of exaggeration makes it hard to believe at times (I really think Pinocchio would have learned his lesson faster than he does!).  I’ll probably keep this one, though; it’s definitely a classic.
*** The Childhood Heroine Award ***
Joan of Arc: In Her Own Words
Joan of Arc has always been an inspiration to me.  This books is a compilation of quotes by her, which forms something of an autobiography.  It’s sobering to realize that the main reason we have these quotes is because she was captured and spoke the majority of these statements at her trial.  I really recommend this to anyone who wants to learn more about her.  Reading what she did and said 600 years ago makes you feel both how long ago and recent it was.
*** The Childhood Memory Award ***
The Silent World – Jacques Cousteau
I have a vague memory of watching a Jacques Cousteau film as a child.  He is probably one of the many reasons I grew up with a fascination for all things to do with the ocean.  This memoir talks about Cousteau’s early diving career, his various diving projects, and general opinions on topics related to diving.  It wasn’t gripping, but I learned quite a few things, historical and scientific, and the writing style is accessible.  A good read to learn more about him.
*** The Changed My Life Award ***
Works of Love – Søren Kierkegaard 
I left the sticky notes in this book – and not just the few that are pictured.  It’s difficult to describe a book like this without feeling vulnerable, because I can’t adequately summarize it, and I can’t say I agree with him 100%, and I can’t tell you it’s a must read.  I have no idea how Works of Love affects one reader from the next.  Yes, it changed my life; it made me look at something familiar in a new way.

I think of Kierkegaard as this lonely person who is thinking through everything out loud, and some of it is confusion, and some of it is inspired, and he offers it all up to the reader without apology, because he is only human and never expected to think “perfect” thoughts, only to strive for truth.  I don’t know if that’s Kierkegaard, or me projecting myself onto the impression of him.  I think he was born to write this book, in any case.

Whatever the world takes away from you, thought it be most cherished, whatever happens to you in life, however you may have to suffer because of your striving, for the good, if you please, if men turn indifferent from you or as enemies against you…if even your best friend should deny you – if nevertheless in any of your strivings, in any of your actions, in any of your words you truly have consciously had love along: then take comfort, for love abides. (p. 279)

The Bookish Tag

Saw this over at Kristin’s blog Wool and Wheel…it’s been a while since I did one of these, so I thought it would be a fun interlude to reviews.  Feel free to fill this out on your own blog, or in the comments – would love to read your answers!

1. What book is currently on your nightstand?  Right now, there’s The Heart of the Antarctic (Ernest Shackleton), the Bible, my Nook, and my tablet.

From my 2014 Powell’s trip.  On the left is Albanov’s In the Land of White Death,
an excellent polar (north) memoir which I haven’t reviewed but highly recommend.

Heart is turning out to be a lovely read so far – more informal and relaxed in tone than South.  Maybe it’s the pre-War zeitgeist, or Shackleton’s personal optimism at this earlier point in his experience.  His excitement over the ponies is rather sobering…considering he didn’t bring them on the Endurance, I can only imagine how badly things will go on the Nimrod.  (But, I digress.)

2. What was the last truly great book that you read?  An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro.  I’d recommend it to nearly anyone; it was that great.  The Japan he wrote about may be somewhat fanciful, but it’s his poignant portrayal of humans and their relationships that is really timeless.  It’s also a masterful example of how social attitudes (e.g. classism, patriarchy, and political correctness) can change in just one generation.

3. If you could meet any writer, dead or alive, who would it be? And what would you want to know?  Well, of course, I’d like to meet T. E. Lawrence.  I wouldn’t have any questions planned, just hopefully have an organic conversation about books, music, maybe politics (maybe not).

4. What books might someone be surprised to find on your shelves?  I have an antique, one-volume William Shakespeare: Complete Works.  I don’t love Shakespeare, but a relative gifted it to me and I treasure it as a beautiful edition of Hamlet and other stories I might enjoy if I tried more of them.  😉

5. How do you organize your personal library?  I got a new bookshelf recently, smaller than the old one, and everything fits nicely.  Top-left corner is “to read” books.  Then, from left to right and on to the second shelf, my fiction is roughly sorted by era, with some non-fic history books at the very end.  I used to sort by author, but there is something aesthetically delightful about Bronte next to Pushkin, Verne next to Doyle, and T. E. Lawrence next to Fitzgerald.  Most of these are paperbacks, since I prefer soft to hardcover.

On the lower shelves, I have a number of other books that don’t fit in the classic paperbacks category – some Mass Media, Trixie Beldens, large hardcovers (complete Sherlock Holmes !!!), notebooks, and mega textbooks that I’ll probably never open again.  I also keep my scraps of writing on my bookshelf, which includes most of the handwritten draft of an adventure-romance novel that needs some TLC at some point…

6. What book have you always meant to read and haven’t gotten around to yet? Anything you feel embarrassed never to have read?   I’ve been meaning to read The Scarlet Letter for ages – I love Hawthorne, have read most of his other works, but still haven’t got to this one. There’s several I’m a little embarrassed never to have read (yet)…The Odyssey, 1984, Shakespeare in general…  But these days I’m very selective about what I spend time on reading, so I prioritize books that sound the most promising.

7. Disappointing, overrated, just not good: what book did you feel you were supposed to like but didn’t? Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing?  The last book I abandoned to the “to-finish” list was On the Nature of Things by Lucretius. I hadn’t expected to like it, though, based on reviews.  The last book I expected to like was The Republic by Plato.  That one got sent to the “not-finishing” list…an exaggeration, since I’ll no doubt attempt a different translation.  But the beginning at least wasn’t the work of genius I was expecting.

Vilhelm HammershøiThe Collector of Coins

8. What kinds of stories are you drawn to? Any you stay clear of?  I’m drawn to stories of stamina, psychology, philosophy, and human behavior – especially where these things intersect.  I have a soft spot for stories about loners, people alone in their perspective or beliefs compared to the majority surrounding them.  The characters that really get to me are the ones who have personal issues and are struggling to find healing or closure. I fall for books that are about people doing something extraordinary, something out of the norm, something bigger than themselves (or is it? that is always the question…).  Most of my favorite books, fic and non-fic, remind me of the Christian life in some way.

I stay clear of the inverse of the above.  😉

9. If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be?  I honestly don’t know.  Currently, I recommend The Metamorphosis (Kafka) and Magellania (Verne) to anyone who’s interested.

10. What do you plan to read next?  Probably Peter-Pan (Barrie), or The Secret Agent (Conrad), and thus finishing out the Read London challenge.

Blog name changing! And Ishiguro.

Hi all,

I’ve been so remiss in my blogging this year, it hardly seems like a big announcement – still, if I don’t explain it, it may be confusing altogether…so, yes, it’s worth announcing.  After five years of being Tanglewood – from Hawthorne’s Tanglewood Tales – this blog is (soon) going to be noonlightreads.blogspot.com.

Since the time I split out my book reviews into their own blog, I’ve always felt 1), glad I organized it that way, and 2) still wistful my book reviews were partitioned off from my main blogging.  Recently I’ve concluded that changing the name and URL is probably the easiest solution to this quandry.  By naming it similar to my non-book blogs, the blog can still be its own “thing,” but it’ll make it easier for me to link content across all three blogs, as sometimes I’d like to.

I did a bad thing this weekend, and that was to buy another book.  Actually, what I did next was worse: I started reading it.

When I think about it, Ishiguro is probably my #1 writer’s inspiration – not in terms of style, but as regards his actual ability to write about topics he would supposedly not “know about,” yet write about them with plausible conviction and extraordinary insight.  Granted, I base my impressions of him on the only book I’ve read through, The Remains of the Day.  That alone is enough to impress, but, as I flipped through An Artist of the Floating World, I became even more interested in seeing how this Japanese immigrant had approached a topic close to his roots, post-WWII Japan.  To me, as a biracial American, the most intimidating subject would be to tackle one’s own ethnic heritages.  I’m reading An Artist with that thought in the background – how would you go about writing this?

Four (more) short reviews

The Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane
The Remains of the Day 
Kazuo Ishiguro
4 out of 5 stars
This award-winning novel is about an English butler, Mr. Stevens, who takes a road trip in the English countryside.  Though he attempts to keep a travelogue, he ends up reminiscing about his father, his friendship with housekeeper Miss Kenton, and his former employer’s role in the Inter-War/WWII era.

The book is pretty good, but I enjoyed the Anthony Hopkins film more.  His portrayal of Mr. Stevens is really moving, whereas book!Stevens is harder to like or understand.

 
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
Washington Irving
5 out of 5 stars
I knew the story already (from the Disney animated film), but it was a delight to read the original!  Ichabod is a rather egotistical, materialistic guy in the book, so one hardly feels sorry for him.
 
A Passage to India
E. M. Forster
 2 out of 5 stars
This book was really well-written, with some interesting depictions of the British Raj, but that’s about it.  I didn’t like the characters much, including but not limited to Mrs. Moore.  (By comparison, Conrad’s Heart of Darkness was a lot deeper and more vague, yet somehow easier to understand.) I’m not exactly sure what was the point of A Passage to India, although as an illustration it is ok.
Kafka’s Selected Shorter Writings
from ManyBooks.net
 5 out of 5 stars

This is a nice read for Kafka fans or readers who just want to sample his work.  The stories are very short (in fact, I believe the Gatekeeper story is an excerpt from The Trial).  Recommended if you have a half-hour to spare!

Weekend Quote: Bantering

“It is all very well, in these changing times, to adapt one’s work to take in duties not traditionally within one’s realm; but bantering is of another dimension altogether. For one thing, how would one know for sure that at any given moment a response of the bantering sort is truly what is expected? One need hardly dwell on the catastrophic possibility of uttering a bantering remark only to discover it wholly inappropriate.”
– Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day

This is from my second reading for British history class.  I had tried Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go recently and didn’t finish it, but this (more renowned) novel of his is really good so far.  It’s in the form of a 1956 travelogue by Mr. Stevens, the butler of Darlington Hall, during his road trip in the English countryside.

Overall, the characterization of Mr. Stevens is well-done, and it cracked me up to read of his attempts to reply with “witticisms” to his American employer’s jokes (but as for his characterization…why are Americans always portrayed as informal and jokey?).  Some may see Mr. Stevens as paranoid, but I feel the same way sometimes, truly terrified of having possibly said the wrong thing!

The book makes me even more depressed about the class system, though.  It seems like Mr. Stevens feels like he has to constantly prove himself worthy and constantly maintain “dignity.”  And I can see how somebody in his position could come to feel undignified or ridiculous, which is sadder still.