June Reading Wrap-Up

Challenges

15booksfinal ReadMyOwnDamnBooksbutton

I’m doing pretty well with 15 Books of Summer…after I added an additional few titles to the list in mid-June. I’ve finished five 15 Books of Summer and have started two others. #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks is still suffering from my library trips in May. I kept my acquisitions to a minimum though NetGalley continues to be my Achilles heel.

Finished in June

Additions to my Library

  1. Presto by Penn Jillette, 6/9/16, NetGalley, ARC
  2. Summerlong, Peter S. Beagle, 6/9/16, NetGalley, ARC

Review ~ Frankenstein

Frankenstein

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

“I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, & then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life & stir with an uneasy, half-vital motion.” A summer evening’s ghost stories, lonely insomnia in a moonlit Alpine’s room & a runaway imagination–fired by philosophical discussions with Lord Byron & Percy Bysshe Shelley about science, galvanism & the origins of life–conspired to produce for Mary Shelley this haunting night specter. By morning, it had become the germ of her Romantic masterpiece, Frankenstein. (via Goodreads)

I first read Frankenstein in 1995. I was 20 years old and had just changed my college major from Biology to English. I read it in my first literature class and wrote my first paper about it.

At the time, I was very taken by the themes of responsibility. The creature’s big beef with his creator is that Frankenstein didn’t take responsibility for his creation. Basically, the creature is a disadvantaged son confronting his absent father. And I think that is the important “science” lesson that can be taken away from the novel: not that we shouldn’t be ambitious in our reachings, but that we need to be prepared to take responsibility for what we’ve done.

Twenty years later, it’s more evident to me that this novel was written by a young person. Shelley was 19 when Frankenstein was published. Her characters feel everything incredibly deeply. There is no joy or anxiety in half measure. And to me, now, it’s a little tiring. All Victor Frankenstein does for 90% of the book is run away. The creature takes a handful of interactions with people as reason to hate the world. The story seems to find fault in the Romantic connection of beauty and goodness, but also completely buys into it.

I read Frankenstein this time as part of a online class with some guided discussions. What interested me more this time around is why Frankenstein has remained in the public eye, more so than perhaps any other work of the period. (What other work from the early 1800s is averaging a movie adaptation a year in the past decade?) I think it goes back to something Michael Chabon mentions in Maps and Legends. When a story has gaps, we want to fill them. The biggest gap in Frankenstein concerns the creation of the monster.

It was on a dreary night of November, that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils. With an anxiety that almost amounted to agony, I collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse  a  spark  of  being  into  the  lifeless  thing  that  lay  at  my  feet.  It  was  already  one  in  the morning; the rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limb.

That’s it. Everything we think of when we think of the creation of Frankenstein’s monster is what’s been put there by other people. In the 1910 movie, it’s a sort of primordial soup and an incubator. In the 1920s, H.P. Lovecraft riffs on the story with Herbert West and his assistant grave-robbing and pumping bodies with chemicals. In the 1930s, it’s lightning and Tesla coils. In 2016, it could be a genetic engineering in a cloning vat.

The text also give the reader three separate stories: Walton’s (the first level of the frame story, a sailor seeking a northern route), Victor’s, and the creature’s. These narratives can be read in many different ways. Is Frankenstein a simple story about ambition? Or is it a moral tale about parental responsibility? Is it a critique of Romanticism? Or is it about the dangers of unrestrained scientific research? Is it a seminal Gothic novel or one of the first science fiction stories? It can be all of these things. That gives readers (and screenwriters, filmmakers, and viewers) the opportunity to play with basic aspect of the story in many different ways.

Publishing info, my copy: PDF, Lackington, Hughes, etc., 1818
Acquired: class download
Genre: literary, horror

Magic Monday ~ Cards and Catch-Up

MagicMonday

I like Mondays. I also like magic. I figured I’d combine the two and make a Monday feature that is truly me: a little bit of magic and a look at the week ahead.

A slightly longer video than usual, but a truly lovely performance by Shin Lim:

It’s Monday, What Are You Reading?

513dIX7t2nLRealized on Thursday, that the Kindle version of Yevgeny Onegin (a NetGalley ARC) was poorly formatted, which means I have to read it as an epub file…the license to which expires in five days because the publisher archived the book ages before its publication date. I started it Thursday before we headed to San Diego for the weekend and am enjoying the translation.

I’m also taking a little bit of book break to read the available nominees for the Eugie Award.

It's Monday! What Are You ReadingIt’s Monday! What Are You Reading, hosted by Book Date!

What Am I Writing?

Been dragging feet on getting David P. Abbott in the Open Court finished. Here’s what I have left:

  • Need to decide if I want to add another picture (the file size is maybe starting to get big)
  • Do a final edit, especially of the final article which makes mention of the photos
  • Write an introduction
  • Add front matter
  • Cover

YesterNews ~ Sports Drink, 1911

I’m headed to San Diego to play in the Southwest Masters Women’s Regionals*. Or in layman’s terms: to play more ultimate frisbee than is advisable for this 41-year-old.

I figure I’m going to need all the help I can get:
GroundChocolateOmaha daily bee. (Omaha [Neb.]), 04 Feb. 1911. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

*My team’s name is Maul. Any cheering from remote distances will be appreciated.

Review ~ The Nazi Seance

Cover via Goodreads

The Nazi Seance by Arthur J. Magida

World War I left Berlin, and all of Germany, devastated. Charlatans and demagogues eagerly exploited the desperate crowds. Fascination with the occult was everywhere – in private séances, personalized psychic readings, communions with the dead – as people struggled to escape the grim reality of their lives. In the early 1930s, the most famous mentalist in the German capital was Erik Jan Hanussen, a Jewish mind reader originally from Vienna who became so popular in Berlin that he rubbed elbows with high ranking Nazis, became close with top Storm Troopers, and even advised Hitler.

Called “Europe’s Greatest Oracle Since Nostradamus,” Hanussen assumed he could manipulate some of the more incendiary personalities of his time just as he had manipulated his fans. He turned his occult newspaper in Berlin into a Nazi propaganda paper, personally assured Hitler that the stars were aligned in his favor, and predicted the infamous Reichstag Fire that would solidify the Nazis’ grip on Germany. (via Goodreads)

Before the era of television and movies, magicians had to engage in a certain amount of myth-making. The magician was selling the story of himself before an audience ever saw him pull a rabbit out of his hat. When Arthur J. Magida examined some of the stories Erik Jan Hanussen wrote in Meine Lebenslinie, an account of Hanussen’s early years, Magida wasn’t surprised that there were few corroborating details. The tale of how Hermann Steinschneider became Erik Jan Hanussen is full of exaggeration with Hermann always cast as the hero. This is the backdrop that must be kept in mind with Hanussen. If the rumor was that Hanussen was the personal advisor to Hilter, why would he refute that?

Magida does a good job sifting through the rumors and the exaggerations. Hanussen played a very dangerous game, being a Jew with ties to the Nazi party. He was obviously a very talented psychic, using a combination of cold reading, muscle reading, and his own intuitions. Unfortunately, he let fame and ego blind him to the danger he was in after Hitler became chancellor.

This books is also an interesting look at the rise of the Third Reich. What I know about WWII is based around the Holocaust. That’s an important narrative, but I think remembrance needs to stretch back to how it came about. Hanussen wasn’t a pure, naive victim of the Nazis, but he was an entertainer who loved Berlin. It was his home; it was were he wanted to stay and he was willing to jockey for good position no matter what the cost.

Publishing info, my copy: hardback, Palgrave Macmillan, 2011
Acquired: Tempe Public Library
Genre: nonfiction

And I really can’t mention Hanussen without a shout-out to  Neil Tobin’s “interactive biographical comedy-drama” Palace of the Occult. Check out the trailer!

Magic Monday ~ Outlook Good

MagicMonday

I like Mondays. I also like magic. I figured I’d combine the two and make a Monday feature that is truly me: a little bit of magic and a look at the week ahead.

Tomorrow, I’ll post a review of The Nazi Seance, a biography of clairvoyant Erik Jan Hanussen. In the meantime, here’s a neat video on another famous fortune teller: the Magic 8 Ball.

It’s Monday, What Are You Reading?

Finished both The Nazi Seance and Frankenstein in the past week.

Next in the “queue” was my last library book, Magic Words by Gerald Kolpan. It’s a historical fiction novel involving Julius Meyer, an interpreter, and Alexander Herrmann, the magician, in the late 1800s. Within the first 20 pages, young Julius makes reference to sawing women into halves. This trick, though iconic now, wasn’t innovated or performed until the 1920s. And this is a huge pet peeve of mine. Ginormous. Yes, I know that I’m inconsistent in views. I watch Houdini and Doyle and it doesn’t bug me that Houdini is doing the water torture cell escape in 1901 (he didn’t do the trick until 1912). The closest I’ve come to explaining my inconsistency is that on Houdini and Doyle, it feels like they know what they’re getting wrong because they get other details right. When a character casually refers to a trick being common and iconic 50 years before it existed, I lose confidence in the author. So, right or wrong, I DNFed Magic Words

The Last Policeman (Last Policeman, #1) 513dIX7t2nL

…And moved on to The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters, which I am enjoying quite a bit. As fast as I’m going through it, I doubt it will last the week. Next up, I should probably work on an ARC, probably the new translation of Yevgeny Onegin by Alexander Pushkin.

Shockingly, all these books are on my 15-ish Books of Summer list!

It's Monday! What Are You ReadingIt’s Monday! What Are You Reading, hosted by Book Date!

Deal Me In, Week 24 ~ “The Story of the Eldest Princess”

20140105-160356

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“The Story of the Eldest Princess” by A. S. Byatt

Card picked: Six of Hearts
From: The Djinn in the Nightengale’s Eye

Thoughts: Once upon a time (and this is how Byatt begins this story), the sky over a kingdom between the mountains and the sea turns green. It’s still a beautiful sky made up of all the possible shade of green, but…well, it’s green not blue. The wise men and witches of the kingdom suggest that a Quest must be undertaken to restore the sky. The single silver bird and her nest of ash-branches must be retrieved. The King and Queen have three daughters. It is, of course, decided that the eldest daughter must be the one to go on this Quest.

The eldest daughter willingly sets out because she feels it’s her duty to help the kingdom. But as she walks along the Road (and she must not stray from the Road), she remembers all the tales she’s read about Quests. She realizes that the eldest is always the first to go on a Quest, but it’s never the first who succeeds. The first always fails in some way—turned to stone, imprisoned in a vault, cast into magic sleep. Rescuing the first becomes part of the Quest for some later person. This doesn’t sit well with the eldest princess. It seems terrible to waste five or seven years of life as a statue. If she isn’t going to succeed in finding the single silver bird and her ash-branch nest, will it make any difference if she decides to leave the Quest of her own volition? Surprisingly, it’s the nudgings of a scorpion, a poisonous toad, and a cockroach, that make the decision seem reasonable.

Sometimes, a story comes along at a good moment, as “The Story of the Eldest Princess” has for me. Stepping off the Road is a scary, counter-intuitive thing, but maybe it’s the better idea for the princess. The sky will be okay whether it’s green or blue.