Friday, October 29, 2021

The Ballad of Black Tom

 Oh what a book. Oh what a recommendation. Thank you, wife!

Black Tom is a short book, novella really, filled with magical realism. Slowly and subtly introduced, just as I like it. Victor LaValle wrote a great story, a la HP Lovecraft. I read this in a day. (Plane flight helped.) 

Dear reader(s) know I don't like to give spoilers, and I still won't. All I'll say is this book is fantastic, in all the meanings of the word. Well written, with plenty of wonderful homages to HPL fans. 

I'd never heard of LaValle before, but I'm on the lookout now for his other books. My wife mentioned his book The Changeling, which means something in our family, so I'll most definitely be reading that in the future. Perhaps that'll be a family book club choice in the future soon?



Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Sigh for a Strange Land

 Just finished Sigh for a Strange Land, by Monica Stirling. I read about it initially on the great blog The Neglected Books Page. I read his reviews up to I find interest in the book, then I stop. I don't want the spoilers. Stirling's book was one such. And luckily, I found it cheaply online for less than $8. 

Sigh was published in 1958 and involves a coup or revolt or something very post-WWII and very Soviet sphere in which the narrator and her aunt and her aunt's lover escape their country and become refugees. The country is never mentioned, but there's plenty of ammo there with which the reader can guess. Hell, the book never says straight up what year these things happen but one can guess from several clues (for one: when Joe mentions seeing a book of photographs from the holocaust 10 years ago). 

Stirling's book is great with imagery, and description, and despite it being in 1st person (not my favorite POV), it is a very engaging book. And short (188 pp). Look at some of Stirling's descriptions:

Back in Paris...the Seine was rising, greenish brown around the Zouave's stone thighs, while in the smoky twilight the clever, irritable crowds pressed around newspaper vendors as if round a street accident. (154-5)

This book, also, like many recently (Dirda's Browsings most recently) have mentioned other books I've read or intend on reading. 

Joe: Yet I'm crazy about war stories like that one about those British officers who captured the German general in Crete... (158)

Well, no crap, I've got that book on the bookshelf. Ill Met by Moonlight by W. Stanley Moss. I bought it in one of Boston's great used book stores some years ago and just haven't read it yet. But damn does it look good.  

As for Stirling, if I ever find another of her books at a used bookstore, I won't hesitate to grab it.  



Saturday, October 23, 2021

Maynard's House, by Herman Raucher

 It being October, and my turn to choose the book for our family book club, I searched out a haunting. I really wanted a haunted house. I also needed fewer than 400 pages. I searched out award winners and lists, resulting in several candidates: The Taxidermist's Lover, The Fourth Whore, Mexican Gothic, Mapping the Interior (almost won), The Grip of It, The Graveyard Apartment, The Family Plot, The Only Good Indians, Wylding Hall, Hell House, Haunting Bombay (another almost), Property of a Lady, Usher's Passing (loved his Swan Song), Wild Fell, and Burnt Offerings

In the end, I chose Maynard's House. Met the requirements of length, of haunting, and not 1st person POV. (While some books are great in this POV, A Clockwork Orange probably my favorite, for the most part I prefer 3rd.) 

But would I fear reading Maynard's at night in a dark bedroom? No. Not really. I was hoping for some spine tingles, but didn't get any. Some chilling moments, but not due to anything haunted, except maybe in one case. 

The ending saved this book from being 3 stars (I mean, after all, it was well written). I almost skipped the last chapter; don't! Really creative and well done ending. 4 stars!



Friday, October 22, 2021

The White Nile, by Alan Moorehead

 Great book! What is it about these adventure books, about those Brits and Germans and Americans in the 1800's who struck out with not much on their bodies and tons of sherpas. This book is about the discovery of the source of the Nile. So many men went looking for it, and when they went, they would walk hundreds of miles in search. Through other people's kingdoms, and if they were diplomatically lucky, they'd make it. But none of this was quick. 

Some of them took years to move from Zanzibar to Lake Victoria. Many (Emin anyone?) spent years and years in Africa. Truly understood Africans. Still, in a minute they could be felled, laid out in front of what passes for a city hall, missing their heads. Communications took weeks, if they got through at all. 

Since I had read The Journals of Major-Gen C.G. Gordon, I knew "the ending" of this book. Still hurt in the heart.

This is what this book covers. And it was a great ride. 



I borrowed this book from my boss, then of course I spilled something on the dj, so I bought a replacement for him. Hopefully it'll be here soon. As I finished this today, I borrowed another book form the boss, which I'll start soon: The Kaiser's Holocaust, by David Olusoga and Casper Erichsen. 

Sunday, October 17, 2021

My CC Spin number is...

 ...TWELVE!

That's means I'll be reading The Penguin Book of Modern Short Stories for the Classic Club's CC Spin #28. I have till 12 Dec to finish, which shouldn't be a problem. Will probably read it after I finish Maynard's House, by Herman Raucher, which was my choice for our family book club. 


#ccspin #ccwhatimreading


Saturday, October 16, 2021

CC Spin #28

 Now that I've joined the Classics Club, I can take part in the CC Spin #28! What's that, you ask? A CC Spin consists of 20 books chosen from your 50 classics list. On a particular day, the CC blog will pick a number, and whatever number they pick, you have about eight weeks to read that book.

Therefore, here are 20 books from my list of 50:

1. Dark Star Safari

2. For Whom the Bell Tolls

3. Solaris

4. Hadji Murad

5. Endurance

6. Empire of the Sun

7. The Death of the Heart

8. King Lear

9. The Guide

10. Wuthering Heights (reviewed here

11. In Patagonia

12. The Penguin Book of Modern Short Stories  <--- CC Spin #28 selection

13. A Grain of Wheat

14. Wuthering Heights

15. Kidnapped

16. Dead Souls

17. Cakes and Ale

18. King Soloman's Mine

19. The Talented Mr. Ripley

20. The Professor

Tomorrow I'll see what book I'm reading. So exciting! #ccspin

The Classics Club

 I've decided to join The Classics Club. I like classics, and have plenty I should read. Part of the requirements for joining include listing 50 classics you'd like to read (or reread, as that's allowed). Fifty is a bunch, but you have up to five years to read them all. Ten a year isn't much, especially since I'm reading 70-ish books every year anyway. 

So here goes, 50 classics I'd like to read over the next five years. (No links this time as that'll take me forever; I'll link them as I read them. And they're in no particular order. If in a foreign language, English follows in parens, and yes, it means I want to read it in the original.) Let's just round up: I'd like this list to be read by 31 Dec 2026:

1. Out of Africa

2. Of Human Bondage

3. The Turn of the Screw

4. Pride and Prejudice

5. The Penguin Book of Modern British Short Stories (reviewed here)

6. Wuthering Heights (reviewed here

7. Orlando

8. The Monk

9. Семнадцать Мгновений Весны (Seventeen Moments of Spring, in Russian)

10. Dark Star Safari

11. The Fellowship of the Ring

12. Kidnapped

13. The Guide

14. Dead Souls

15. Parade's End

16. The Emperor: Downfall of an Autocrat

17. Tender is the Night

18. The Groves of Academe

19. Homage to Catalonia

20. Maskerado ĉirkaŭ la morto (Dancing around death, in Esperanto)

21. Rebecca

22. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists

23. Beowulf (in Old English)

24. For Whom the Bell Tolls

25. American Pastoral

26. A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland and The Journal of a Tour of the Hebrides

27. The Mosquito Coast

28. From Here to Eternity

29. Solaris

30. In Patagonia

31. The Name of the Rose

32. The Good Soldier Schweik

33. Cakes and Ale

34. A Grain of Wheat

35. King Lear

36. Hadji Murad

37. Na Drini ćuprija (Bridge on the Drina, in Serbo-Croatian)

38. King Soloman's Mines

39. Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage

40. The Death of the Heart

41. The War of the End of the World

42. The Talented Mr. Ripley

43. The Stories of J.F. Powers

44. Мастер и Маргарита (The Master and Margarita, in Russian)

45. Empire of the Sun (reviewed here)

46. Black Lamb and Grey Falcon

47. Catcher in the Rye (reviewed here)

48. One Hundred Years of Solitude

49. The Professor

50. Love's Labour's Lost


I really suck at this

 I know I promised this already, but this time I mean it! OK, maybe not, but who knows. Without further ado, here's what I've been doing since my last post way back in August: 

For one, we moved. Back in northern Virginia. w00t! I also observed the first annual DC Marathon Swim for a friend of mine, Elaine. She did great, through what was a brutal swim. She was right when she said (at the end) that the race only began at the Woodrow Wilson bridge (after she already swam 11.3 miles and had another 9.2 to go). She's a beast.

Did a bunch of reading, to.

Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson. Outstanding. Part of the Todd Family of (currently two) books. This woman can write. I am almost scared to try any of her other books. Could the Todd stories be one-offs? There's also a war theme to them, which is a favorite of mine. Whenever someone in my many booky FB groups asks for a novel recommendation, I suggest this one or her A God in Ruins.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, by John Berendt. Love the movie, everyone in it is great, and the story! The book is even better. Must see Savannah!

Bright Lights, Big City, by Jay McInerney. Would never had read this if my wife hadn't picked it for our family book club. I had seen the movie when I was younger, and the only thing I remember is a very high Michael J. Fox saying no to two beautiful women he found in a bathroom stall, making out with each other, when they asked him, "Want to join us?" That's when I knew drugs made you stupid. What man would say no to that question? Anyway, the book is in 2nd person and Wow, it works. In fact, it is probably so far in our multi-year family book club history the best book. 

War Music: An Account of Homer's Iliad, by Christopher Logue. My wife had read this many years ago and raved. I knew I'd read it someday, and last month seemed the right time. She was right, as usual. This is a great translation and the anachronisms are so good, they should be used in a writing class on how to effortlessly slip these things into stories. 

The Illustrated Diary of a Nobody, by George Grossmith. Interesting? SIL choice for the club. Strange I'd never heard of it, considering my fav author Waugh described it as the funniest book he'd read. It was funny, in a very British way, but hardly something I'll ever read again. 

Schlump, by Hans Herbert Grimm. Great book in the Schweik or Forrest Gump kind of way. This one from a German POV. Quick read with a great ending. 

The Fall of Arthur, by J.R.R. Tolkien. The master's take on Arthur, in verse. Love the metre and alliteration. 

The Book of Blam, by Aleksandar Tišma. I came to this one because the NYRB book club sent out #3 in Tišma's series about the Hungarian occupation of Yugoslavia during WWII. Great book. I will read numbers two and three soon. 

Wolves Eat Dogs, by Martin Cruz Smith. Dear reader(s) will remember how much I love Arkady Renko. Probably my favorite book detective. This one is very good, maybe #3 after Polar Star and Havana Bay. Scary. How many rads does a man need? Six feet? 

The Yiddish Policemen's Union, by Michael Chabon. Reread as I read this, what, 10 years ago? Is it that old? Loved it then, still love it. My #2 fav of Chabon after The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

Browsings: A Year of Reading, Collecting and Living with Books, by Michael Dirda. Another reread, this time on Audible, for free with our membership. Thankfully, the books I got interested in, when I looked at my Kindle copy, were highlighted from when I read this book about 3-4 years ago. What's changed are some of the books he mentioned I'd since (or am currently) read(ing), like The White Nile, which I am about 60% through.

Piccadilly Jim, by P.G. Wodehouse. October read for the FB P.G. Wodehouse Book Club. I'd never read this one before, so that was nice. Also interesting (spoiler follows) that one of the characters in it is the main kid in The Little Nugget, which I read (and forgot about) years ago!

Language-wise, I studied Swahili for a couple months. I've decided not to DLPT in it. Weird policy at work: If I DLPT in a language, but don't score at least a 1+ in all three proficiencies, then I can't get any training in the language (paid by employer). I'd rather not have an attempt listed so that if I ever want to get training in Swahili in the future, they can't say No due to my sad scores. (Though they can say No for so many other reasons!)

I've also gotten back into the Old English book I used a couple years ago for a short (4-week) challenge over the Christmas holidays. TY Complete Old English is pretty great, I like it better than the traditional intros out there (Intro to Old English by Baker and The Cambridge Old English Reader by Marsden). I'm on unit 5 now, which is as far as I got during the challenge, so everything from here on out is new! Already reading some sections of Beowulf which helps with my ultimate goal of reading the poem in the original.

I'll start back at Russian soon, and a new section of Middle Egyptian is starting Nov 1 with Glyphstudy, so I'll probably jump in on that. Maybe this time I'll actually finish! 

The Double, by Jose Saramago

 This is my first Saramago that I've read. My wife loved  Blindness . I couldn't get into it years ago when I attempted it. But this...