Monthly Archives: January 2018

Wrapping January 2018

Reading

I had a pretty productive month, reading-wise. I now have a backlog of review materials.

  • Books Finished: 6
    • Highlights: Countdown City by Ben H. Winters, reread of The Turk by Tom Standage
  • Books DNFed: 2
  • Short Stories Read: 19
    • Highlights: “The Bell Tower” by Herman Melville, reread of “The Sandman” by ETA Hoffmann
  • Challenge Updates:
    • FrankenSlam! – Read The Sorrows of Young Werther.
    • 2018 Nonfiction Reading Challenge: Here Is Real Magic by Nate Staniforth, at 33% nonfiction.
    • 2018 TBR Challenge – Read Countdown City by Ben H. Winters.
    • Wild West Reading Challenge – Didn’t have a book planned for this challenge for January. I did end up reading The Huge Hunter; Or, The Steam Man of the Prairies by Edward Sylvester Ellis and DNFed a title I had on my initial list.
    • Shelf Maintenance – I purchased no books in the month of January.

 

Continue reading

It’s Monday, What Are You… (1/29)

…Reading?

In order to avoid ending up in a reading slump again, I’m going to be a little freer with my DNFing. Toward the middle of last week, I realized that I was avoiding reading because two of my in-progress books, World, Chase Me Down and The Steam Man of the Prairie and the Dark Rider Get Down just weren’t doing it for me. So, on to the next books!

The Turk: The Life and Times of the Famous 19th Century Chess-Playing Machine Dear Mr. Holmes: Seven Holmes on the Range Mysteries  Frankenstein Dreams: A Connoisseur's Collection of Victorian Science Fiction

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

…Doing?

Recovering from New Year Fest. Actually, health-wise, it wasn’t too bad. Yes, after playing four games on Saturday, I was pretty beat. We were short-handed and had a couple pickup players, but I don’t think we ever had more than 13 players. We lost all our games, but still had fun. I was fatigued on Sunday and didn’t even go out to watch the rest of the games, but other than my hips aching a little and good bruise on my ankle where I was stepped on during the last game, I was feeling pretty good. So, hopefully back to my regularly scheduled life.

Inadvisably, I decided to delve back into online classes. I’ve joined CS50: Introduction to Computer Science  and MUS24.1x: First Nights: Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo and the Birth of Opera through HarvardX via edX. Plus, I’m still playing around with watercolors.

What Was I Doing?

Deal Me In, Week 4 ~ “Axis”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“Axis” by Alice Munro

Card picked: 2♠ – WILD Card!
Found at: The New Yorker

The Story
I had originally picked a different story for this week’s Wild Card, but I decided to keep with the suit’s literary/classics theme instead. After a little thought, I decided to try an author that I’ve heard a lot about from fellow Deal Me In participants (and from Short Story Magic Tricks), but whom I’d never read before. I chose Alice Munro and her story “Axis.”

The story is about three characters—Grace, Avie, and Royce—and shifts between their POVs. Grace and Avie were friends, or at least classmates, in college. Both are farm girls, at the university on scholarship to study history. While they look down on the girls at the Secretarial School, who only seem to be at the university to wed boys at the Business School, they are looking to marry intellectuals themselves. Avie seems to be free spirit of the two. She has had sex with Hugo, her sort-of boyfriend. Hugo is more interested in Avie than she is in him. Avie is in fact more interested in Royce, Grace’s boyfriend. The pre-marital sex leads to several pregnancy scares which in turn leads to Avie having a dream about having two daughters, one of which cries all the time and is shut away in a basement. The dream upsets Grace more than Avie.

Over the summer, Royce visits Grace at her parent’s farm. On his way he sees Avie in a town he passes through. While he hasn’t given a thought to her before, he is taken by how happy she looks. He considers getting off the bus, but continues on. A WWII vet and a philosophy almost-graduate, he gets a taste of farm life at Grace’s. Royce doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life. He’s quit college and is working as a taxi driver. Philosophy isn’t working out for him. For a moment he thinks that farming might be nice, taking over Grace’s family farm after they’re married. Grace decides to give in to sex during his visit, but the two are interrupted during the act. Fed up, Royce leaves. While hitchhiking back, he sees the Niagara Escarpment which sparks a life-long interest in geology. He goes against what is expected of him and goes back to school.

Fifty years later, Royce sees Avie on a train. Avie married Hugo, had six daughters, and was contented. She’s now widowed and is again a bit at odds with life. Royce never married but had has a fulfilling career. Grace, like the daughter in the basement of Avie’s dream, has been more or less forgotten, lost track of once all three had quit school. For a moment, it seems that Avie and Royce might have a second chance at life together in their old age, but Avie brings up Grace and Royce clams up once again.

Two daughters in the dream; one difficult and forgotten, one pleasant and given a good life.  Two female characters: Grace who strings Royce along and Avie who pretty much goes with the flow. Definitely some parallels there. And then there’s Royce, who is maybe(?) the axis, affecting one of the women’s lives and being affected by the other. It’s a story that moves effortlessly.

The Author
Nobel winner, Man Booker winner. It’s amazing that I haven’t read any of Alice Munro’s stories until now. Okay, maybe not since I read a lot of genre fiction and a lot of pre-1920s short stories, but still! I’m sure that “The Axis” won’t be the last.

Review ~ The Sorrows of Young Werther

Cover via Goodreads

The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, R.D. Boylan (Translator)

This is Goethe’s first novel, published in 1774. Written in diary form, it tells the tale of an unhappy, passionate young man hopelessly in love with Charlotte, the wife of a friend – a man who he alternately admires and detests. Goethe upset the conventional literature of his day by having his hero propose suicide as a method by which anyone might end an intolerable misery. ‘The Sorrows of Young Werther’ became an important part of the ‘Sturm und Drang’ movement, and greatly influenced later ‘Romanticism’. The work is semi-autobiographical – in 1772, two years before the novel was published, Goethe had passed through a similar tempestuous period, when he lost his heart to Charlotte Buff, who was at that time engaged to his friend Johann Christian Kestner.(via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
I read this book as part of the FrankenSlam! challenge, hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis. All the details of this challenge can be found there. The Sorrows of Young Werther is worth 275 million volts!

What Worked
I’ll be honest, one of my initial thoughts while reading The Sorrows of Young Werther was, “Wow, Morrissey didn’t invent being emo.” Superficial, but it does say a lot about the relatability  of a 243 year old text.

But of course there is an entire literary movement, Romanticism, that is chock full of natural vistas and characters feeling everything with painful clarity. It’s easy to see the roots of Romanticism in Werther. Mary Shelley chose this to be one of the texts of the monster’s education, so it’s easy to infer that Werther was important to Shelly as well. I don’t mean this in any diminishing way, but it’s very much the sort of thing that would appeal to a 19 year-old. (I was 19 years old once, I remember how important and/or heart-breaking everything was.)

There are some thoughts on fate that I’m still chewing on, and I look forward to seeing the text through the monster’s eyes when I reread Frankenstein later this year.

What Didn’t Work
At about the 2/3rds point, the narrative switches from being Werther’s letters to being a 3rd person POV explaining what happened to Werther. Werther is an intriguing narrator, possibly an unreliable one. Once we go to third person? Well, we see just how much Werther is that guy that should just really *move on*. It’s a bit painful. Goethe wrote Werther when he was 24. It was somewhat auto-biographical.  According to Wikipedia, Goethe felt haunted by it in his later years.

And BTW…
The novel lends its name to social behavior known as the Werther effect, or copycat suicides, due to a rash of young men solving their problems in the manner of Werther after the novel gained popularity. The Werther effect is the reason that a certain YouTube star took a lot of flack (well, among other reasons) for filming in Japan’s Aokigahara forest.

Acquired: Project Gutenberg, 12/29/17
Genre: epistolary novel

It’s Monday, What Are You… 1/22

…Reading?

I had gotten into the habit of alternating “It’s Monday…” with “Down the TBR Hole” because I was only finishing a book every two weeks or so. Not so in 2018! I finished Countdown City last week and am one good reading day away from finishing The Huge Hunter, or The Steam Man of the Prairie.

This week:

The Turk: The Life and Times of the Famous 19th Century Chess-Playing Machine World, Chase Me Down

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

…Doing?

Other than reading? So much ultimate!

Last Thursday was my first B division game of the season. The team I’m on is a good combination of people I play with quite often, people I’ve known for years but have never been on the same team with, and players new to me. First game went pretty well. We won!

The upcoming weekend is New Year Fest, the local tournament put together by VOTS. I plan on playing a little both Saturday and Sunday with Maul, the ladies’ (mostly) master’s team. Otherwise I’ll be helping out and/or cheering for my team. Right now is pretty much the best time weather-wise in Phoenix. The forecast for the weekend is dry, sunny, and 75-80F.

What Was I Doing?

Deal Me In, Week 3 ~ “How to Sync Your Spouse”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“How to Sync Your Spouse” by Russell Nichols

Card picked: 6
Found at: Fireside Fiction

The Story

When Menzi saw Lindiwe, his heart skipped a beat.

When Lindiwe saw Menzi, her heart froze.

And the two of them have been out of sync ever since, with his clockwork heart now a beat early and hers now a beat late.

And, while this sounds romantic, it leads to many relationship problems for the couple especially when it comes to…ahem…ScrewTime. How does one sync her spouse? You go to a watchman, of course. The watchman, though, has bad news: the couple’s irregularity is also the basis of their love. And, in spec fic fashion, Nichols offers a nice flash fiction analogy for many long-time relationships.

The Author
Russell Nichols is a journalist, playwright, screenwriter, and short story and poetry writer. All the writing things are his. More about his work can be found at his web page.

Review ~ Here Is Real Magic

This book was provided to me by Bloomsbury USA via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Cover via Goodreads

Here Is Real Magic: A Magician’s Search for Wonder in the Modern World by Nate Staniforth

Nate Staniforth has spent most of his life and all of his professional career trying to understand wonder—what it is, where to find it, and how to share it with others. He became a magician because he learned at a young age that magic tricks don’t have to be frivolous. Magic doesn’t have to be about sequins and smoke machines—rather, it can create a moment of genuine astonishment.

The paradox is that the better you get at creating wonder with magic for other people, the harder it gets to experience it yourself. After years on the road as a young professional magician, crisscrossing the country and performing four or five nights a week, every week, Nate was disillusioned, burned out, and ready to quit.

Instead, he went to India in search of magic. Here Is Real Magic follows Nate Staniforth’s evolution from an obsessed young magician to a broken wanderer and back again. It tells the story of his rediscovery of astonishment—and the importance of wonder in everyday life—during his trip to the slums of India, where he infiltrated a three-thousand-year-old clan of street magicians. Here Is Real Magic is a call to all of us—to welcome awe back into our lives, to marvel in the everyday, and to seek magic all around us. (via Goodreads)

I.

“Do you want to keep doing magic?”

“I don’t know.”

“Do you want to do anything else?”

“No.”

If you replace “doing magic” with “writing,” I’ve pretty much had this same conversation in the recent past with Eric, my husband. Staniforth has it with his wife after several years of successful touring as a magician. He had fallen out of love with magic, so to speak. The wonder he originally felt when doing magic and had seen on the faces of his audience had faded. This book is the travelogue of his trip to India to find wonder again.

II.

There is an aspect of this books that makes me somewhat uncomfortable. I’m aware of the cultural appropriation that occurred within magic in the late 19th/early 20th century. The exotic Far East was all the rage and many western magicians took on the persona of Indian fakirs for tricks. The Indian rope trick, a hoax, only solidified the notion that people in India believed in mysticism and needed civilizing. Staniforth is aware of this too. He mentions Peter Lamont’s The Rise of the Indian Rope Trick both in the text and in his acknowledgements, yet, when he wants to see “real” magic, India is his first (only?) thought.

I can understand the want to visit a radically different culture in an effort to find a new perspective on magic. India has that, but Staniforth also shares his notion that wonder comes easier when you’re less burdened with knowledge. Which leave the possibility of an uncomfortable a==b==c comparison. I don’t think that Staniforth intends that, and he’s pretty quick to check his privilege, but why then just India? Why not travel the world looking for wonder?

III.

It’s hard to critique someone’s personal experience of the world. Staniforth is very earnest in his want to find wonder and inspire it in others. That also occasionally comes off as self-importance. He insists that magicians are a ridiculous lot and he isn’t satisfied with the wonder of magic only lasting to the theater door. I’m in the ridiculous profession of creating stories, but I don’t mind so much if the magic of the story fades when the book is closed. I also don’t have much trouble finding moments of wonder in my life,  but I’m the sort that finds a rainbow to be more incredible because of the optics behind it.

Staniforth does find wonder, but finds it more in the people and beauty of India than in its magicians. His take-away is that we can find wonder when you slow down and let yourself. And really, I can’t argue with that.

Publishing info, my copy: ePub, Bloomsbury USA, 1/16/18
Acquired: NetGalley, 10/11/17
Genre: memoir

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