booksaplenty takes up the challenge

Discussão75 Books Challenge for 2023

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booksaplenty takes up the challenge

Editado: Fev 26, 2023, 9:22 am

Have seen the 75 Books Challenge around for years, of course, and thought it pie-in-the-sky, but “Charts and Graphs” redo on the site a while back made it possible to see that I had actually managed to read 75 books a year in COVID times. Now trying to keep up the pace. For the last few years I have been trying to read books which have languished unread on my shelves for decades: discount bargains from the textbook store in my student days, stuff I bought as a Folio Society member when the £ was in the toilet, the great Penguin Warehouse Remainder Sale of 1980—these vols have been waiting patiently and deserve a last chance. More recently I have also embraced “themes”—-Ruskinism, for example—-and this has caused me to actually use the public library for the first time since I was a student.
So, 2023. I have read Le pendu de Saint-Pholien, Palace Walk, Highland Fling, and When the Green Woods Laugh. Only the Simenon has been around unread a long time—-since 2011. It is a very early entry in the series, when Maigret’s character is barely developed. Palace Walk is my January go at the African Books Challenge. A copy is on order from The Book Depository but since North Africa is the January challenge I didn’t have time to wait so borrowed it from the library. Enjoyed it greatly and looking forward to arrival of my own copy in the Everyman edition of the entire Cairo Trilogy. Highland Fling is an entry in the Bright Young Things theme I am pursuing. Quite entertaining, which is good because the BYTs are rapidly losing their lustre for me. When the Green Woods Laugh, although from the public library, is part of the “reading books I’ve owned for decades” project, because I picked up a copy of another book in the series years ago because it had a great cover. Went to read it but discovered it was #4 so went to library to get #1. Have since ordered the rest with covers by the same photographer, but do not want to spoil them by reading them, so still going with library copies. This is a very long entry but now I am caught up and hope to keep it briefer.

Jan 18, 2023, 1:00 pm

Welcome to the 75ers! You've started your reading year well.

Jan 18, 2023, 5:56 pm

Welcome, and happy reading in 2023!

Jan 21, 2023, 9:05 am

Finished The World of Odysseus. My Folio Society edition included two appendices by Finley addressing ongoing archaeological debates concerning the Trojan War and the era in which The Iliad and The Odyssey were composed. I read them, because I’m a Completist, but that aspect of Homeric scholarship is of no interest to me. Enjoyed the illustrations, however: photographs of Greek red-figure vases featuring scenes from Homer’s narratives.

Jan 22, 2023, 7:39 pm

Finished Harold Acton’s Humdrum. Started off as a portrait of a marriage from honeymoon to disillusion, similar to Bryan Guinness’s Singing Out of Tune but with, I felt, deeper psychological insight. Interesting, as Guinness's novel was essentially autobiographical while Acton was not the marrying kind. But for this or some other reason Acton seemed to lose interest halfway through and the novel turned into a plotless portrayal of assorted Bright Young Things, probably recognisable to contemporaries but otherwise having little to offer. Disappointing, as the writing style remained impressive.

Editado: Jan 24, 2023, 6:00 pm

The Strangling on the Stage Read all of Brett’s Charles Paris mysteries back in the day. Favourites of my mother. Think I‘ve read one or two other Fetherling mysteries more recently, but remembered nothing about the amateur sleuths. Was enjoying until the end, when the mystery was solved in the most off-hand and unconvincing manner imaginable. Quite unsettling. Not a book I’ve had around—-one I brought home on temporary loan while sorting donated books. Will be returning promptly.

Jan 27, 2023, 3:44 pm

Finished Labels in Waugh Abroad. After rereading Vile Bodies apropos of my current interest in Bright Young Things I decided that Waugh’s novels were too mean-spirited to revisit at this point in my life, although Waugh’s Diaries which I am also reading (in sections, following the editor’s divisions) reveal a more vulnerable, less unlikable side of him which is also evident in his travel writing, or at least this first attempt. The Ventriloquist’s Tale arrived today. Ordered it after hearing that it was inspired by Waugh’s visit to Guyana as chronicled in Ninety-Two Days. But Remote People must be read first.

Jan 28, 2023, 5:19 pm

Finished A Far Cry from Kensington. Felt that it was less than the sum of its parts. First person narration was very strong; felt autobiographical, which should be the point, after all. But the plot strained credulity. It was not enough for Hector Bartlett to be a very bad writer who used his professional connections to retaliate against the narrator’s unswervingly negative judgement of him. He was also a con artist and morally, if not legally, a murderer. Gratuitous plot twists almost to the last page. But hard to resist Mrs Hawkins. Looked at Muriel Spark’s Wikipedia page just now, which strengthened my conviction that the author shared many of her character’s personality traits.

Jan 28, 2023, 5:25 pm

Welcome to the group!

I am also pleased to see that you took the trouble to seek out Palace Walk and that it paid off - it is a favourite of mine.

Jan 29, 2023, 9:49 am

>9 PaulCranswick: When I finish The Last Flight of the Flamingo for the February Lusophone segment of the Africa Novel Challenge I plan to start Palace of Desire.

Fev 4, 2023, 2:11 pm

Finished The Last Flight of the Flamingo. The book was full of wordplay and poetic language—-qualities that do not always survive translation. I normally avoid “Magic Realism,” finding it lacking in both qualities, but enjoyed this brief foray enough to order another of Couto’s books from the library.

Editado: Fev 7, 2023, 12:15 pm

Finished The Bostonians. My third reading. Saw more clearly this time that Verena is a “pleaser” with no particular commitment to the Feminist movement. Despite being referred to as a “doctress” Dr Prance is given a sympathetic presentation as a single woman pursuing a career with the professional competence it merits. The other women are in the entertainment industry, as the last scene in the book makes quite clear. Not that Olive Chancellor started out in that direction, but her relationship with Verena drew her inexorably into that milieu. I seem to recall that in the movie version there is a suggestion that Olive is going to address the waiting crowd at the Music Hall which has been disappointed by Verena’s non-appearance—-as though she might be stepping into the role she was preparing Verena for. Presumably this would be intended to mitigate the idea that she is left a humiliated victim.

Editado: Fev 12, 2023, 9:58 am

Finished Remote People. Part of the trip connected with the coronation of Haile Selassie was surprisingly devoid of much content of interest, but the homeward journey via East Africa was unexpectedly engrossing. Waugh’s cultural biases are of course very evident but he has no agenda. An observant traveller with a novelist’s ability to recreate a scene. Looking forward to Ninety-Two Days when I finish Mémoires d’Hadrien for a friend’s book club.

Fev 12, 2023, 10:58 am

>13 booksaplenty1949: Waugh could have written out the telephone book (remember them?) and made it interesting reading!
Excellent reading continues.

Have a lovely Sunday.

Editado: Fev 12, 2023, 1:43 pm

>14 PaulCranswick: Actually I recently reread Vile Bodies and found it so off-putting I have decided not to re-read any more of his fiction. Am also reading Waugh’s Diaries in sections and can see that he was an alcoholic from quite early on, with the accompanying outbursts of paranoia and hostility which I found too-thinly disguised in his novels this time round. But this website has been very useful to me as I explore Britain between the Wars and the Bright Young Things. Waugh was certainly not a man easily summarised!

Editado: Fev 15, 2023, 10:02 am

Just read Chapter 1 (of 15) of Kipling’s Kim, apropos of a mention of the book at a display of photographs of contemporary Afghanistan wall art. Realise I have no context for this book, although I have been pulled in. Illustrations by Kipling’s father are quite original in style and apparent ethnographic rather than narrative in purpose.

Fev 14, 2023, 11:43 am

Reading The Darling Buds of May with my “OutLoud” book group. Momentary fear that its charm would be lost on some members but they seemed to be drawn into Bates’s lush prose.

Editado: Fev 15, 2023, 10:13 am

Wanted to take up someone’s recommendation of the Louise Penny Inspector Gamache mystery series but could not locate my copy of the first book, Still Life. Multiple holds on paper library copies, but was able to borrow it on CDs immediately. Now about 3/4 through. Hate reader’s voice, but otherwise enjoying on car CD player, although Penny’s grasp of anything to do with church funerals is quite flawed. Hope she did more research on police procedure.

Fev 16, 2023, 5:45 pm

About 1/3 of the way into Mémoires d’Hadrien. Rather short on incident, except of the historical sort, mentioned in passing. Perhaps things will pick up when boyfriend comes on the scene.

Fev 18, 2023, 4:10 pm

Finished Kim. Felt quite lost, much of the time, but in an enjoyable way. Planning to follow up with some reading to give me some retrospective context.

Fev 19, 2023, 7:08 pm

Finished Still Life. Enjoyed the writing although the mystery plot struck me as, erm, far-fetched.

Fev 19, 2023, 7:26 pm

>15 booksaplenty1949: Some of his earliest novels are pretty obnoxious, aren't they? I have read and disliked Vile Bodies but not yet Decline and Fall which I will read as it is on the 1001 list.

I couldn't get through either Still Life or The Memoirs of Hadrian first time around so I am impressed that you look like you'll manage them both.

I did like Kim and I do remember the pleasurable escapist feelings it wrought!

Editado: Fev 19, 2023, 9:17 pm

>22 PaulCranswick: Reread Decline and Fall in 2015 and found it less offensive than Vile Bodies. Frank Kermode’s introduction to the Everyman edition was insightful, I thought. Waugh’s travel books are a pleasant surprise; he displays a vulnerable side which puts his apparent cynicism in some context. Reading Mémoires d’Hadrien with a friend who belongs to a high-stakes book club and needs support from a former English major. Otherwise think it would be a case of “On a reçu l’expérience” after first 20 pages.
Just started Mia Couto’s A River Called Time. What a great find he is, all thanks to your Africa Novel Challenge!

Fev 23, 2023, 2:58 am

Did some sustained reading in Mémoires d’Hadrien and am now on the penultimate section. Also made progress in A River Called Time. And finally started The Souls. This was lent to me by someone in my OutLoud reading group as a potential follow-up to my interest in Bright Young Things. Same person who lent me Queen Bees. That was three weeks ago and it got set aside; must make some progress on it before I see him once again when group meets on Monday.

Fev 25, 2023, 3:33 pm

Finished A River Called Time last night and Mémoires d’Hadrien just now. latter left me pretty cold. I could admire its structure and discern the author’s message; it just wasn’t a message that resonated with me. Friend who is reading it for book club forwarded this article on Hadrian’s genocide in Palestine Yourcenar’s rather different take reminded me of French support for “laicité,” —-as if it were some sort of neutrality rather than its own form of religious prejudice.

Editado: Fev 26, 2023, 10:04 am

Picked up Dead Cold again. Glad I listened to audiobook of first in the series before I resumed this second book, because it’s very much in medias res although it’s a new murder case. More thoroughly unpleasant female characters. Have also started Ninety-Two Days. Waugh’s explanation for choosing British Guiana as a travel destination is basically that of Sir Edmund Hillary for climbing Mt Everest—“because it was there.” Trip off to a chaotic start owing to local incompetence. Clearly this attracts him, at some level.

Fev 27, 2023, 10:10 pm

Finished The Souls. Quite enjoyed it despite the fact that I had never heard of most of them, except the politicians. They didn’t leave lasting works of art or scholarship; mostly they were wits, or hostesses, or possessed other similar talents which are entirely ephemeral. But Abdy and Gere managed to create a very engaging series of portraits. I thought that this was a loan from a fellow OutLoud book group member but when I tried to return it today he assured me that it was intended as a gift, which was excellent news.

Mar 1, 2023, 10:51 pm

Finished Dead Cold. Realised Gamache is Maigret, but better dressed. The one who can keep his head when all about him etc. Anchored by a perfect wife and an appreciation of the art of the table. Mystery was solved, but many plot lines remain unresolved. Reading this series out of order would be very confusing, I would imagine.

Editado: Mar 4, 2023, 8:41 am

Finished Ninety-Two Days. Remained baffled to the end as to the point of Waugh’s trip, but nonetheless enjoyed his ability to make an entertaining narrative out of it. Have started The Ventriloquist’s Tale, a novel set in Guyana with references to Waugh’s trip.

Editado: Mar 4, 2023, 11:34 am

Finished Genesis readings for this Church year so took opportunity to look at book of Genesis in The Holy Scriptures According to the Masoretic Text There is a “Table of Scriptural Readings” which divides it into twelve sections, which is helpful. Also reading volume 1 of The Legends of the Jews which covers Genesis 1-36.

Mar 6, 2023, 4:52 pm

Finished Quest for Kim: In Search of Kipling’s Great Game which I hoped would give me some retrospective context for my recent reading of Kim. The book of a fan rather than a scholar, but no doubt a scholarly book would have been wasted on me as I quickly realised that my knowledge of Indian history and even geography was close to non-existent. Have put aside The Ventriloquist’s Tale in order to read The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born. March issue of Lampsletter mentioned that the Arts & Letters Club book club would be discussing it on Wednesday. Although the writer is from Ghana, and the African Novel Challenge will not be getting to West Africa until December I felt I could not pass up an opportunity to discuss this book with someone knowledgable. Required driving across town in aftermath of a blizzard to buy only local copy, but that was an adventure in and of itself.

Mar 7, 2023, 8:37 am

Finished The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born. I am sure this is an important work of post-colonial fiction, but I was rather distracted by the author’s obsession with human excretions. People sweat a lot. We spend a significant amount of the novel in various unsanitary latrines. The escape of a disgraced Party member who lowers himself through the seat of the outhouse toilet into the sewer is the far-from-subtle climax of this imagery.

Mar 10, 2023, 10:57 am

Finished The Fall of an Icon: Psychoanalysis and Academic Psychiatry. After I saw the play Hysteria in 2000 I started reading all the works by Freud and about Freud which I had collected over the years but never read. I was always unenthusiastic about Freud, probably because of his aggressive atheism, but this made me something of an outlier in my generation and I had nonetheless been given or picked up a fair number of books on the subject, things by Norman O. Brown, Marcuse, and Philip Rieff. Then I went on the hunt for Freud de-bunkers. This was shortly after Frederick Crews had launched his crusade and I found a lot of books critiquing Freud’s theory of mind, intended by him to be a scientifically objective theory of mind=brain but of course undermined by subsequent research, and also books about Freud’s clinical and professional practice which at the distance of a century exposed the man beneath the myth. 20+ years later the “Freudian Empire” is just a memory. Joel Paris is writing from the vantage point of a psychiatrist trained in the 60s who has seen psychoanalysis completely disappear from medical education. The “Freud Wars” are over and the subject is now of interest to historians, not practitioners. I enjoyed having that perspective.

Mar 12, 2023, 4:08 pm

Finished The Ventriloquist’s Tale. Main plot was entirely conventional but the details of life in the interior of Guyana kept my interest. Several other plot lines seemed to lead nowhere. Evelyn Waugh played a very minor role in the novel, but it is no doubt significant that his three months in (then) British Guiana count more in the First World than the entire rest of Guyanese history and culture, with the possible exception of the end of Jonestown.

Editado: Mar 13, 2023, 8:52 pm

Continuing my reading of The Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, moving on to his wartime diaries. Which of course he shouldn’t have been keeping in the first place. Although I suppose we should admire Waugh for volunteering for active service at the age of 36, he was predictably entirely unsuited either to giving or receiving orders. So far (1941) the diary is unmitigated bleat. Overcrowded accommodation, wretched food, miscommunication, incompetence.

Mar 15, 2023, 10:32 am

Finished “The Wartime Diary” section of The Diaries of Evelyn Waugh. A litany of failure. Reveals that he was drunk four days out of five, on average, while in service in the UK. A very unsettling account of Randolph Churchill in his lengthy entries during deployment to Yugoslavia, a mission from which Waugh was ultimately removed. A few references to his children, including daughter who died shortly after birth, of shocking indifference. And yet, in the midst of this self-portrait—beyond unflattering—is an account of the composition of Brideshead Revisited in about six weeks of intensely focussed composition.

Mar 18, 2023, 1:04 am

Well into E F Benson’s Dodo, following up on my reading of The Souls .

Mar 18, 2023, 2:28 pm

Finished The Cossacks. Classic Bildungsroman, but set in an environment which seems remote and magic. Read it with friend who will be discussing it with his all-male book club soon. I think he should be prepared for a lot of over-sharing.

Editado: Mar 19, 2023, 9:36 am

At about the halfway point of The Cruellest Month on audio disc. Solution of the mystery proceeds at a snail’s pace amid psychological profiling and a full description of every bite of food consumed. Secondary plot involves payback to Chief Inspector Gamache for his role in taking down a senior member of the Sureté who had gone rogue. Some mystery writers focus on means and let motive come as something of a surprise. This was generally true of Penny’s first book, Still Life. Here we have already had several strands of possible motive introduced, although of course they may be red herrings.

Editado: Mar 23, 2023, 2:49 pm

Finished Dodo. Did not really *enjoy* although I can see its interest from a sociological perspective. Planning to take a break from the Dodo Omnibus; will attempt next entry if I get to it before book comes due at the library.

Mar 23, 2023, 2:54 pm

Finished The Cruellest Month. I’m sure I would like Insp Gamache if I knew him in real life but as a fictional character he is pretty much of a plaster saint. Reminds me of Maigret, except that Maigret isn’t constantly preaching, nor is Simenon, unlike Ms Penny. Character insights are interesting; Penny’s mysteries are sort of the polar opposite of Agatha Christie’s, with fully rounded characters but thin, unconvincing plot lines.

Abr 2, 2023, 8:42 pm

Finished Dodo the Second. Dodo was essentially plotless; a series of conversations followed by a “twist” ending that left us nowhere. The sequel however does have a plot, “of more than usually revolting sentimentality,” I have to say. But I was diverted from it by the fact that Dodo seemed to have “got” religion. She comments regularly on life in theological terms which I found quite sympathetic. Quite unexpected.

Abr 5, 2023, 3:49 pm

Finished Dodo Wonders. Set during WW I, and an interesting glimpse of the Home Front, but as plotless as the first Dodo entry. By the time he wrote the Mapp and Lucia series Benson seems to have acquired the technique of hanging entertaining dialogue on a storyline.

Editado: Abr 11, 2023, 9:40 pm

Trying to buzz through Butter Honey Pig Bread for a book club meeting tomorrow. Interesting, mostly for extra-literary reasons.

Abr 13, 2023, 12:00 pm

Finished Butter Honey Pig Bread. Book itself was pretty feeble. A well-worn plot—-family estranged by failure to acknowledge/prevent child abuse—-which gained nothing from being set in Nigeria, a land of comfortable privilege in this writer’s experience, apparently. Lots of richly evocative descriptions of food being prepared, and plenty of graphic lesbian sex. But didn’t add up to much. Read this for a book club, however, and discussion there was quite enjoyable. Members generally in agreement that it was a weak book, but it was interesting to explore exactly why.

Abr 14, 2023, 8:40 pm

Halfway through Woman of the Ashes. Took a wee break to read a bit more of The Murder Stone and am also trying to finish the Criticism section in Kim Norton Critical Edition so I can reread Kim. Think it will be particularly interesting in the context of the African novels I have been reading, as I widen my understanding of colonialism. Acquired some interesting new books today, or rather new books with interesting covers—-three of them by Antonio Frasconi and one by Derek Birdsall.

Abr 18, 2023, 11:20 am

Finished Woman of the Ashes. A bit too much Magic Realism for my taste, and a female, indigenous narrator, although part of the story also consisted of letters sent back to Portugal by a Portuguese army officer. Plot, like that of Half of a Yellow Sun, a reminder that the “national” boundaries in colonial Africa usually did not reflect/respect local tribal settlement.

Abr 18, 2023, 1:07 pm

Finished The Murder Stone. Haiku summary on the LT main page, which I have since erased, did indeed reveal the murderer, but I don’t enjoy Louise Penny enough to be annoyed.

Editado: Abr 20, 2023, 11:23 am

Now reading Waugh in Abyssinia, which I should have read before moving on to his wartime diaries. A quite journalistically professional “Intelligent Woman’s Guide to the Ethiopian Question” opens the book, which is predictably sympathetic to Mussolini. Have also started (finally) Season of Migration to the North.

Abr 20, 2023, 11:22 pm

Finished Season of Migration to the North, which I thought was brilliant.

Abr 22, 2023, 10:33 am

Finished Waugh in Abyssinia. Of course, in covering the Italian invasion in 1934-5 Waugh did not have the advantage of knowing that this was a key moment in the run-up to WW II. He notes that the League of Nations response was nil, but the implications are lost on him. He and the scores of other journalists in Ethiopia at the time had virtually no access to any kind of “front line” and he is forced to fill up the pages, after his introductory overview of the political situation, with his usual local observations, most scathingly negative. As we know from his account of attending Haile Selassie’s coronation in 1930, included in Remote People, he is unimpressed by the Emperor and regards Ethiopia as a Third World backwater that can only benefit from Italian governance. There is a brief account of an encounter with a local governor, the Dedjasmach Matafara, en route to Dessye, where he admires “the age-old order… gracious and sturdy, out of sight beyond the brass bands and bunting, the topees and humane humbug of Tafari’s régime… Whatever the outcome of the present war: mandate or conquest or internationally promoted native reform—-whatever resulted at Geneva or Rome or Addis Ababa, Dedjasmach Matafara and all he stood for was bound to disappear.” This is a rare appreciative note in an otherwise fairly contemptuous account. I can see why Waugh did not allow this book to be reprinted during his lifetime.

Abr 22, 2023, 5:37 pm

Listening to The Brutal Telling on CDs on the car radio. At what point did Ruth Zardo’s Canada Goose turn into a duck?

Abr 26, 2023, 6:45 am

Reading Camus’ L’etranger on Internet Archive, as I will probably never see my copy again. Also started The Woman in White apropos of a conversation about it with some Senior College colleagues I will no doubt see again. But cannot read former on the subway and do not want to start lugging around my copy of the latter, which is 150 years old this year. 🎂 So I have started Nancy Cunard, which I picked up at a Penguin remainder sale a mere 45 years ago. Many references to her in previous BYT selections.
Birnam Wood has proved disappointing. Set aside.

Abr 28, 2023, 9:33 pm

I often find myself nodding in agreement when reading your comments on certain books:

Penny - too preachy and character over plot (that's why that series hasn't taken off for me).
Couto - too much magic realism.
Tayeb Salih - brilliant

Have a lovely weekend.

Abr 29, 2023, 7:02 am

>54 PaulCranswick: It seems fashionable to opine that social media are tearing society apart but I am old enough to be still in awe of the fact that one can get new ideas from and share common insights with a stranger on the other side of the planet. Especially exciting when it involves books—-products of that piece of tech also regarded as very dangerous when it first appeared 600+ years ago—the printing press. What a world! Thank you for reminding me.

Abr 29, 2023, 7:10 am

Having finished l’Etranger I am well into Meursault, contre-enquête. One of those books whose concept is so brilliant one might excuse the author from actually having to write it, but Daoud set the tone with his opening line “Aujourd’hui, M’ma est encore vivante.”

Editado: Maio 3, 2023, 2:52 pm

Finished Meursault, contre-enquête. Narrative never quite attained the brilliance of its concept, IMHO, but still a very worthwhile read, especially in the context of discussion about Camus’ Algerian/African identity. Continuing to listen to The Brutal Telling. Enjoying it more than previous Inspector Gamache mysteries because Penny seems to have foregone the complicated back stories that cluttered up the first three novels. Perhaps her editor pointed out that as the list of Three Pines novels got longer new readers would be discouraged from picking one up if they felt that they would be coming into the middle of something rather than enjoying a stand-alone mystery. As a consequence Gamache is a bit less of a plaster saint, although Penny still spends a fair amount of time telling us how awestruck everyone is by him rather than showing us an awe-inspiring man.

Maio 4, 2023, 9:45 pm

Finished Pts 1&2 (of 3) of Birnam Wood. A quick read, and well-written although in a “non-fiction” way—-ie Catton tells rather than shows. Characters’ feelings and intentions are identified and analysed by the narrator, relieving the reader of any interpretive effort. Entertaining but hardly worthy of the over-the-top blurbs—-“terrific,” “phenomenal,” “fantastic,” “spectacular”—-and a comparison to George Eliot for good measure. Nothing is any good anymore, because everything is “great.”

Editado: Maio 6, 2023, 11:39 am

Finished the supplementary material in Kim Norton Critical Edition. Was distressed to discover that the last essay, a hard-core Freudian/Lacanian interpretation concluding, surprise surprise, “that the anxieties of empire are the anxieties of family,” was written by the editor. Fortunately she included a wide range of alternative readings of the text. Now looking forward to re-reading Kim.
Also saw some relevance to the idea of “The Great Game” in Birnam Wood which I had to set aside within sight of the ending because it was just too catastrophic. I won’t say “dark,” because I had no fondness for any of the characters except Tony, the reporter. Maybe he’s Kim. Will muse on this.

Maio 6, 2023, 2:56 pm

Finished Birnam Wood, or Bretton Woods as I miscalled it once. Read it because it is up for discussion at Jack’s book club on Sunday; otherwise would have thought it a popular thriller and far beneath me. Noted that it is the author’s first book in ten years. Think she should take up non-fiction writing. She’s much better at telling than showing, if this novel is anything to go by.

Maio 8, 2023, 7:57 am

About halfway through Nancy Cunard, pursuant to the Bright Young Things. Also a Harlem Renaissance connection. And the Spanish Civil War, I see, looking ahead. Surprising to see that several more biographies of her have appeared since Chisholm’s; while she certainly seems to have known an impressive range of contemporary artists and celebrities, many in a professional capacity as publisher and aspiring poet, her personal life seems pretty incoherent and repetitive.
This is one of the 100+ vols I picked up at a Penguin remainder sale in the warehouse in Markham in 1980 so I am happy that its patience has been rewarded and it is finally being read.

Maio 10, 2023, 12:46 pm

Started Maisie Dobbs. Shares a problem with many works with a “period” setting: conspicuous research. When a writer is contemporary with his or her characters they put on shoes, get into cars, stop at cafes. In a period novel, we are invited to give our attention to the height of the shoe and what it’s made of; the lines and upholstery of the car, its now non-existent make and model; the decor of the cafe and the outfit of the server. And helpful info like “she gazed at the daffodils just starting to bloom in Mecklenburg Sq., named after the wife of George III.” Ho-hum.

Maio 11, 2023, 12:41 pm

Finished Nancy Cunard. Ended on a very depressing note, as Cunard’s alcoholic mood swings descended into paranoia, and her coeval friends lacked the will or the ability to get her the help she needed. Then listened to last disc of The Brutal Telling. Obvious suspect was arrested with a disc left, so naturally I expected a surprise ending, but no—-just Penny wittering on about the Real Meaning of Life. Series seems to be turning into The Mitford Years, which I must admit I quite enjoyed, but those books did not represent themselves as mysteries. Think I will take a break from Three Pines. Also see no reason to force myself to finish Maisie Dobbs.

Maio 13, 2023, 10:58 am

Making good progress in The Woman in White. Recall that a colleague’s daughter wrote a thesis on marriage settlements in the 19thC novel or some such and I can see that it is a complicated topic with lots of plot potential if your readers have time to wade through thirty pages of explanation from a solicitor.

Maio 13, 2023, 9:02 pm

Taking a bit of a break at the halfway point of The Woman in White to make a final assault on Waugh’s Diaries. Last 170 pages of an 800 page text. Hard to believe he is only 42. Seems like quite an old man.

Maio 14, 2023, 10:34 am

Waugh just back from the trip to Hollywood which inspired The Loved One, but although he alludes to finding “a deep mine of literary gold” at Forest Lawn cemetery he either kept his notes elsewhere or relied on his memory. Latter seems unlikely.

Editado: Jun 3, 2023, 5:55 am

Closing in on denouement in The Woman in White. Key piece of evidence involving a character’s date of departure for London proves elusive owing to a rather unlikely number of potential witnesses who are a) illiterate b) out of it or c) just don’t seem to notice what day of the week it is. Am finally figuring out why Laura’s father might have pledged her in marriage to Sir Percy Glyde, but still unclear as to why she felt obligated, years after her father’s death, to honour his choice. I assume it had no legal force.
As I am travelling I am reading last part of the book on-line at Project Gutenberg rather than risking my old and rather well-preserved vol. Only disadvantage, apart from absence of John McLenan’s illustrations, is that I am addicted to checking page numbers and placement of the bookmafk. ☹️

Editado: Jun 3, 2023, 6:02 am

Finished The Woman in White. Collins is no Charles Dickens; plot certainly privileged over character, but the Foscos were consistently interesting, as were some minor characters. Not sure what all the fuss is about Marian Halcombe, unless her apparent ugliness reminds people of George Eliot. Although certainly she has more personality than her sister. But Walter falls in love with Laura more or less at first sight, having casually announced that Marian will obviously be single her whole life owing to a “large, firm, masculine mouth and jaw” and “dark down on her upper lip.” I had assumed that somehow Sir Percy had learned that Laura’s father had an illegitimate daughter and this was the leverage he used to become promised to Laura in marriage, but this plot line was never in fact used. Maybe exposure of the father’s behaviour would have been no big deal. In any event, he is clearly meant to be seen as a jerk, leaving Laura’s adherence to his wishes somewhat arbitrary. Vulnerability of women at the time a consistent theme.
Meanwhile, bogged down in Christmas Pudding. Seems quite inferior to Highland Fling and very repetitive. Nothing else to read on transit yesterday, however, so now have only 40 pages to go and may press on. Have also started Crome Yellow as follow-up to Nancy Cunard.

Maio 22, 2023, 10:48 pm

Finished Crome Yellow and thought of moving on to next work in Waugh Abroad but don’t feel up to Mexico at the moment, so have begun The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold. Having recently finished reading Waugh’s Diaries the autobiographical nature of the book is painfully obvious to me.

Maio 23, 2023, 9:27 am

Crome Yellow a typical first novel insofar as it is a) a youthful self-portrait c) gives the reader the sense that the writer has ideas for many more novels. In this case, as is often pointed out, we see a key plot point of Brave New World, ten years in advance. Despite its flaws I found it vastly superior to Christmas Pudding. But am going to lay aside country house parties and BYTs for a while.

Editado: Maio 25, 2023, 3:26 am

The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold was a bit of a chore. Plot premise left me cold. Opening either a chilling self-portrait or part of a satirical pose behind which Waugh maintained his privacy. Critical opinion seems divided depending on whether critic is or isn’t a Waugh fan. Waugh’s evident long-term alcoholism suggests to me that it is a stretch to imagine that the apparent extreme self-absorption and resistance to any change or novelty was merely a humorous facade.
About halfway through Richler’s The Acrobats. Picked it up apropos of a reference to it in a lecture on the Mac-Paps in the Spanish Civil War but it is as imbued with Jewish Montreal as Duddy Kravitz or Barney’s Version, IMHO.

Editado: Maio 28, 2023, 10:17 pm

Finished The Acrobats. Despite some difficulty keeping track of who was who, perhaps a symptom of my general problem with names these days, I found it a very strong first novel. Have put Son of a Smaller Hero on the roster once I finish next vol of The Cairo Trilogy. Also into l’Ombre chinoise as a backup for public transit when the Mahfouz doorstop is not an option.

Jun 2, 2023, 5:23 pm

About halfway through Bury Your Dead on CDs. Insp Gamache is on leave and only involved informally with the murder inquiry taking place, so the “mystery” elements are rather low key. As they do not strike me as Penny’s strong suit their absence allows me to appreciate some humorous dialogue and interesting character development. Background story behind Gamache’s leave, slowly pieced together throughout the book, is simultaneously boring and depressing. I seem to meet many people who, when Louise Penny is mentioned, share all my reservations about the series but like me seem compelled to keep on reading her.

Jun 2, 2023, 9:11 pm

Whoops. Forgot to mention that my “OutLoud” reading group finished The Odyssey last Monday. Robert Fagles’ translation, which we all agree is a banger. It’s a book club where we take turns reading the book aloud, so the lively quality of that version really added to the experience. We plan to move on to his translation of The Iliad after a break. I recall that when I read Homer previously I was surprised to find The Iliad the more engaging text, so definitely looking forward to Fagles’ version.

Jun 2, 2023, 10:08 pm

>73 booksaplenty1949: It is funny because I am one of the few who didn't fall under her spell. Started the opener in the series but never made it very far.

Jun 3, 2023, 5:47 am

>75 PaulCranswick: Perhaps the excitement of reading a book where someone is drinking a “double double” from Tim Hortons is lost on you. Compensates, in certain circles, for the weak plotting and authorial preaching.

Editado: Jun 11, 2023, 7:21 pm

Finished L’ombre chinoise. An LT reviewer described it as “depressing” and I have to agree. Maigret spent even less time than usual doing any apparent detecting and there were few glimpses of him eating, talking to fellow detectives, or at home with Mme Maigret. Just the exposé of the unfortunate circle of the victim. Had a conversation with a fellow concert-goer who saw me with the book and she opined that Simenon’s French was more difficult in his earlier novels than it became later. Must research this further, but certainly found some phrases hard to translate, and my English version—-Maigret Mystified—which I bought for the cover photograph, seemed to sidestep these issues, as the choice of title suggests. Also realised how Louise Penny came to emphasise, with her Maigret-spinoff detective, Insp Gamache, that in a murder investigation means and opportunity count for little, and motive is all. There is of course an alternative school of thought to the effect that motive often remains opaque to anyone but the murderer and should not be the focus of the investigation. Presumably detective novelists of the “motive” school feel that we will relate to the murderer’s feelings even though we have chosen to deal differently with our experiences.

Jun 12, 2023, 9:29 am

Started to reread Barchester Towers with a friend who is reading it for a book club. As I am also reading Palace of Desire and A Grain of Wheat I am particularly struck by the contrast between Trollope’s robust third person omniscient narration and the more recent authors’ use of their characters’ inner lives to tell the story, in both cases a significantly political story but mediated through personal relationships, mostly painful ones. In the case of Half of a Yellow Sun I felt that the Nigerian civil war and the Biafran humanitarian crisis were the backdrop, rather than the focus, of the novel. Like the American Civil War in Gone with the Wind. But in A Grain of Wheat, particularly, the personal crises mediate and to some degree explicate the political situation. There is of course a political situation in Barchester Towers but it is clearly of no inherent interest to Trollope—-merely a hook to hang his plot on, like the Italian blood brotherhood in The Woman in White. In A Grain of Wheat Uhuru is the whole focus of the book.

Editado: Jun 17, 2023, 4:11 am

Finished Bury Your Dead. Not really a murder mystery, although murders had taken place, as neither of the detectives in the story was officially investigating them. And since member KatherineGregg once again named the murderers in her recent review here, there wasn’t much suspense for me. Solutions struck me as unsatisfactory, in any event. Flashbacks to a traumatic hostage-taking incident added some interest. I kind of hate these books, and find it hard to see how Penny has stretched out the series to 18 novels, but am somehow compelled to keep picking them up. A form of junk food, I guess.

Jun 19, 2023, 11:32 am

Finally re-read Chapter 1 of Mimesis, “Odysseus’ Scar,” as I have been meaning to do since my reading group finished The Odyssey. What a brilliant piece of writing, and how helpful in thinking about three novels I have recently read or am reading. More to follow.

Jun 20, 2023, 9:22 am

Found Palace of Desire remarkable for the amount of inner dialogue it contained—-sometimes whole quoted conversations shadowed by the inner reflections of one of the main characters. And all men! So often relegated to wordless emotional response, expressed in action. Or at least, as in Barchester Towers, which I am about halfway through, expressed as inner calculation, from which future action will be derived.

Jun 22, 2023, 8:52 am

Finished the first section (of five) of A Girl is a Body of Water. Stylistically, not great. Magic Realism, not a favourite genre, and a lot of information about local tribal beliefs about women disguised as dialogue. But interesting in the context of the Africa Novel Challenge.

Jun 25, 2023, 2:55 am

Finished Barchester Towers . Struck by Trollope’s robustly omniscient third-person narration, occasionally breaking the fourth wall to discuss the process of novel-writing itself.

Jun 25, 2023, 8:53 am

Started A Trick of the Light. First chapter included a close-up of neurotic Carol being helped off the floor at her vernissage, the lovebirds Gamache chez eux, and an awkward summary of the plot of the previous two books, disguised as a conversation. Looks like Art with a capital “A” is going to loom large in the plot of this one.

Jun 26, 2023, 5:18 pm

Seem to recall that when it finally dawned on me, retrospectively, that Ulysses was a broad retelling of The Odyssey with each episode treated in a different literary style I decided that someday I would reread Homer and then read Ulysses a fourth time, finally getting the point. Even picked up some guides to Joyce’s text. Homer has not been on the menu since then, but now the OutLoud group has finished The Odyssey and if I do not read Ulysses while it is reasonably fresh in my mind I will have to concede that this project is a chimera. So—-have just finished the chapter identified as “Telemachus.” 700 pages to go.

Jun 28, 2023, 9:50 pm

As a quasi-hater, now have to come out and say that A Trick of the Light is a step up from previous books in the series. Constant allusions to Stevie Smith’s “Not waving but drowning” are pretty unsubtle but indicative of an attempt at a unified narrative. I gather from Penny’s Wikipedia bio that she is an alcoholic so assume AA element of the plot is first-hand. General sense of the book holding together.

Jul 1, 2023, 8:24 pm

Finished A Girl is a Body of Water. Coming-of-age novel in the Little Women tradition. An interesting, if overly-detailed, picture of daily life in Uganda in the Amin era and earlier. Plot lacked any real resolution.

Jul 2, 2023, 1:33 am

Read chapter 3 of Ulysses—-apparently often a deal-breaker for those attempting the novel.

Editado: Jul 3, 2023, 12:41 pm

Finished A Trick of the Light and was unexpectedly impressed. Not least by my persistence in ploughing through previous six books in the series which I have found very uneven and occasionally off-putting. But this one, despite its focus on AA, an organisation about which I have mixed feelings, seemed quite disciplined. Maybe I was just more receptive to the sermon. Will have to see if The Beautiful Mystery is equally enjoyable. Blurb (“enormous empathy for the troubled human soul”—-courtesy of People Magazine—-a little ominous but we shall live in hope.

Jul 3, 2023, 3:58 pm

>88 booksaplenty1949: It took me 6 months to read Ulysses. Never could get into it. Alison Bechdel references it quite a bit in her graphic novel Fun Home when trying to understand her father and his actions.

Jul 3, 2023, 4:15 pm

>90 ocgreg34: Had forgotten that about Fun Home. Will take a look.

Jul 7, 2023, 12:35 pm

Reading Trust with a friend whose suggestion for his book club (Barchester Towers) turned out to have been voted down in his absence in favour of the Diaz novel. So I read Barchester Towers for naught, in a way, but that can never really be the whole story when it comes to Trollope. Would have been so much worse if the situation had been reversed. Have finished first “novel” in Trust. Characters rather contrived but I see that the author has clever structural plans. A fast read, in any event.

Jul 7, 2023, 8:02 pm

>92 booksaplenty1949: I will try to read Trust next month especially as it became the first ever shared Pulitzer winner.

Have a great weekend.

Jul 11, 2023, 9:01 am

>93 PaulCranswick: Finished Trust and found it very clever in ways large and small, if not exactly great lit. Like a well-written mystery story.

Jul 17, 2023, 9:34 am

Finished Arrow of God. Most of the book had little in the way of plot, focussing on character development which leads to a crisis in the last thirty pages. The writing was a refreshing change from the didactic narratives of A Grain of Wheat and especially the sprawling A Girl is a Body of Water. Looking forward to reading more Achebe. Have just started The Beautiful Mystery as a little break from Africa and of course Ulysses and the commentaries—-have added James Joyce’s Ulysses: A Study which apparently was written with the assistance of Joyce himself.

Editado: Jul 20, 2023, 8:37 am

Set The Beautiful Mystery aside as the two Tout Maigret vols I requested from the library arrived at my branch. Although I own La Nuit du carrefour I have no recollection of reading it so I am reading that before Un crime en Hollande, the last story in Tome 1, which I know for sure has eluded me. I own 61 of the 75 Maigret novels; not sure how many I have read (will look now) but given their brevity it is not beyond the realms of possibility to read them all.

Jul 18, 2023, 7:54 am

Hmmm. Have only read 25 of the 75. Twenty-five books by one author would normally sound impressive, but Simenon is not your average author. One a month for the next 4+ years? Maybe a challenge?

Editado: Jul 20, 2023, 8:36 am

Am finding La Nuit du carrefour more absorbing and less depressing than the last two Maigret novels I have read. Large omnibus volume stays open by itself, which encourages me to occasionally lay it down and look up a word. Discovered that a “clef anglaise” is a monkey wrench, and discovered that a monkey wrench is so called because it was invented by a man named Moncky. What a world. Also read chapter 11 of Ulysses “The Sirens.” Words imitating music; apparently took Joyce five months to write, and caused him to lose a lot of his interest in music, at least according to my transcript of Prof James Heffernan’s lecture on the chapter in Joyce’s Ulysses : “I see through all the tricks and can’t enjoy it anymore,” he quotes Joyce as writing once the chapter was finished.

Editado: Jul 20, 2023, 8:36 am

Monkey wrench etymology is a myth, according to scholars of Wikipedia. Finished La Nuit du carrefour. On to A Man of the People.

Jul 23, 2023, 8:32 am

Finished “Nausicaa” chapter in Ulysses. Even before I have consulted my three wise commentaries the “deal” on this chapter seems relatively clear to me: the opening in popular women’s novel style, Gerty MacDowell’s inner monologue, then Leopold Bloom’s. Clear parallels to the Nausicaa episode in the Odyssey. A high point in the novel so far.

Jul 24, 2023, 10:21 pm

Having finished A Man of the People, which I found quite a tour de force, I have moved on to something completely different: A History of the Crusades by Steven Runciman. Have read 16 pages and already feel a lot smarter.

Editado: Jul 27, 2023, 8:10 am

The First Crusade is a blizzard of names, most of which remain meaningless, I have to say. But Runciman’s style and the confidence of his assertions about why what happened to whom carry me along. Trying to grasp that this is going on simultaneous with William the Conquerer’s invasion of England. Not one of the better Folio productions, btw. Cover is paper, including the spine, and the footnote print is microscopic. However, the typographer’s name, Bernard Roberts, was noted on the copyright page and I did some research on him and punched up his author page with more works and a link to a lovely article about him in a local British paper.

Jul 28, 2023, 9:20 pm

Finished Un crime en Hollande. Not flattering to the Dutch.

Ago 1, 2023, 7:16 am

Circe/Nighttown in Ulysses a tour de force. Only 160 pages to go as novel winds down. Have also read two of my three commentaries on this chapter. Blamires (The Bloomsday Book) particularly good.

Ago 6, 2023, 4:49 pm

Finished Ulysses! Who da man?!

Ago 9, 2023, 5:48 pm

After a slight hiatus I have finished two of the three commentaries on Ulysses.

Ago 11, 2023, 7:21 am

Finished Joyce’s Ulysses, the commentary by James Heffernan, which closed with a very interesting analysis of what made Ulysses a breakthrough in the history of the novel. A plot, (though not characters), without “motivation” and without resolution. Now taking a sidebar to read At War with Waugh written by a contemporary of Waugh who was with him during the period covered by Waugh in Abyssinia. Guess I will have to reread Scoop despite my resolution not to reread any more of his novels. Also listening to Bachelor Brothers’ Bed&Breakfast which caught my attention in another talk thread.

Ago 12, 2023, 1:43 pm

Finished Bachelor Brothers’ Bed & Breakfast but failed to succumb to its charm. Consistently elevated diction was pleasing, especially as read by the author, but the brothers’ backstory was not credible and the rest was quite fragmentary. Name of “Mrs Rochester” for the parrot was quite witty. Probably my only takeaway from the book. One star, if I did ratings, which I don’t.

Ago 12, 2023, 8:52 pm

Finished Simenon’s Chez les flamands. Like the previous Maigret mystery I read, set in Holland, this part of the world comes off as cold, rainy, and repressed. Unexpected insight into Maigret as he visits an Ursuline convent and unlike local police officer who couldn’t get in the front door, charms the Mother Superior into granting him an interview with a bedridden young postulant.

Ago 12, 2023, 8:54 pm

Now listening to Malcolm Gladwell’s Talking to Strangers. Confirming many of my beliefs about the value of “instinct,” ie that it’s not much.

Ago 18, 2023, 5:34 am

Finished The First Crusade. Shocked at my virtual total ignorance on the subject. Afraid that most of the names, all but one or two completely unfamiliar, went in one eye and out the other. But think I got something of the general picture. Saving the next two vols for another time as I want to finish Anna Karenina and Les bout de bois de Dieu in a timely fashion.

Ago 22, 2023, 7:48 am

Have finished Book 3 of Anna Karenina. Alternation between Anna’s painful plight and Levin’s apparently abstract and self-inflicted predicament at least provides some relief to the reader, but I have yet to see how Tolstoy connects them.

Ago 25, 2023, 2:58 pm

Finished American Breakdown; competently written but basically an attempt to pad out an account of the author’s experience with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome with tangentially related essays on some toxic elements in contemporary America: chemical pollution, overwork, and the lack of access to publicly funded healthcare. The “Nineteenth-Century Woman Who Brought Me Back to Life” is a rather over-stated reference to Alice James: A Biography, a book which describes in detail James’ lifetime ordeal with the ailment known at the time as neurasthenia. All adding up to a rather incoherent book. The fact that the author seems to have won about a dozen writing awards fuels my sense that these are generally pretty worthless.

Ago 27, 2023, 7:53 pm

Finished Talking to Strangers, which I greatly enjoyed, especially as narrated by Gladwell with tape clips and reenactments of relevant interviews. Articles about the book I found on-line seemed unduly dismissive; I guess that’s life when you’re a kid from Elmira, ON who regularly makes it onto the best-seller list.

Set 4, 2023, 10:49 pm

Have deadlines for Anna Karenina and The Dawn of Everything but nevertheless read a hundred pages of Fathers and Sons today—-a brutal chronicle, so far, of the author's bullying great-great grandfather and his sentimental great-grandfather, shockingly partial to his elder son at the expense of the author’s grandfather, Evelyn Waugh. I have thought somewhat harshly of the last-named, rereading him in my later life, but this account does generate some sympathy for him.

Editado: Set 11, 2023, 10:14 am

>115 booksaplenty1949: I read Fathers and Sons as a student and I can honestly remember nothing about it! But then again I am talking about Turgenev not Waugh!

Set 11, 2023, 8:47 pm

>116 PaulCranswick: Yes, a bold choice of title on Waugh’s part, but perhaps it was unfair of Turgenev to try to corner such a universal theme. Finished my 75th book of 2023 today: Oh! To Be in England. Read it to see if it might be suitable for my book club when we get through reading the first section of The Iliad out loud to one another, but think Bates’ series is losing steam. This was the first one I bought—-for the cover—-and while it was a letdown when actually read it indirectly led me to The Darling Buds of May, the first in the series, which was quite charming and was subsequently well-received by the OutLoud book club as a break from a weightier tome.

Set 11, 2023, 8:54 pm

Think I could have gotten everything I needed from a thoughtful review of The Dawn of Everything. The thesis was very interesting but the many descriptions of archaeological discoveries which supported it were alternately too detailed and too fragmentary and allusive to hold my attention.

Set 11, 2023, 9:23 pm

Congratulations on passing 75!

Set 12, 2023, 7:11 am

>119 PaulCranswick: Thank you. Feels good to take up a challenge and succeed. “Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul.”

Editado: Set 15, 2023, 6:54 pm

Finished and reviewed Fathers and Sons. A highlight of my recent reading. Read Oleanna—a matter of half an hour—-apropos of a friend’s viewing of the movie version. Saw it on stage with a helpful “talkback.” so interpretation of text built on that. Fewer than a hundred pages to go in Anna Karenina. Then—hey—obligations to friend, book clubs, library due dates fulfilled, can read—-anything!

Set 22, 2023, 11:26 pm

Finished and reviewed No Easy Task. Not a highlight of the Africa Novel Challenge, I have to say. Before I get on to last hundred or so pages of Anna Karenina I have started Death at La Fenice—-easier to carry on public transit. Off to a very good start.

Set 24, 2023, 2:00 pm

Finished Anna Karenina. Can’t believe I waited so long to read this masterpiece. Must admit the “sermon” at the end came as something of a surprise. Not that I was in fundamental disagreement with it, but as a structural device it was a bit “ in your face.” But a truly great book.

Editado: Set 27, 2023, 9:09 pm

Finished Death at La Fenice. First mystery in series recommended to me by friends. A promising beginning. Minor plot point concerned figure in the arts’ prejudice against gays—-also a plot point in recently read Louise Penny mystery. Find it hard to credit that anyone in that line of work had a problem in this area, even back in the 90s.

Set 28, 2023, 10:18 pm

Reading second vol of Stephen Runciman’s History of the Crusades. More names. Have also started The Beautiful Mystery.

Editado: Out 7, 2023, 8:54 am

Close to finishing Rue des Boutiques Obscures. Author suggested by a friend who is very interested in the issues around the Occupation in WW II France. Despite the fact that this author won the Nobel Prize, I find the book very impressive. Apparently the (French) title refers to a street in Rome on which the author lived for some time. Perhaps it inspired his masterly use of street names throughout the novel. People and their identities are enigmatic and elusive, but addresses endure. Much use of the phone book, that once-vital source of information.

Out 11, 2023, 5:12 pm

Finished The Beautiful Mystery. Murder plot, such as it was, seemed secondary to ongoing Sureté soap opera. Penny’s research let her down in a few ways conspicuous to me; she seems to think that “last rites” is a prayer that anyone can say, and I am sure that the main chapel of a monastery is never called the “Blessed Chapel.” Perhaps she got this from a reference to a “Blessed Sacrament Chapel” somewhere. If I can spot these errors no doubt there are many more evident to those more familiar with monastic life, Gregorian chant, etc.

Out 21, 2023, 1:48 am

>123 booksaplenty1949: I find it hard to believe that it was 37 years since I read that book! I am sure that I would get more out of it with a re-read.

Have a great weekend.

Out 21, 2023, 2:58 pm

Finished Notre Dame du Nil for the Africa Novel Challenge. Background to the Tutsi massacre in Rwanda, set as a classic “school story.” Not an entirely successful novel, IMHO, but a change from the rather ploddingly naturalist novels charting the transition to post-colonial rule which I have been reading recently as part of this challenge. Noted a review calling it an “African Mean Girls” which was amusing. Now into The Oppermanns, on another light-hearted topic, the rise of National Socialism. Also listening to an audiobook of The Underground Railroad. Probably time to pick up another mystery story, preferably by someone other than Louise Penny.

Editado: Out 23, 2023, 9:54 pm

Finished The Sleeping Car Porter which I undertook after reading about it on the “What Canadian Literature Are We Reading in 2023?” Talk post. Entirely in the present tense, which contributed to a sense of the impetus of long-distance train travel. Several sexual encounters between two men; presumably it is not as politically incorrect for a woman author to undertake such descriptions from a first-person narrative perspective as it would be for a man to appropriate a lesbian POV. Not a great book, but worth a detour, as the Michelin Guide would put it.
Finished first of three sections of The Oppermanns. And nearing the halfway point of my audiobook of The Underground Railroad. Started The Origin of Species for a book club early next month. Would really like to throw something a bit lighter into the mix, however.

Editado: Out 26, 2023, 9:58 am

Much Ado about Nothing was not any sort of mood-lightener. Read it apropos of seeing a production of it on Tuesday. Parts of it were excellent; local yokel humour in second half didn’t really land and of course the Hero-Claudio plot is pretty dire. I note that one of my copies of the play was clearly obtained during my undergraduate years but I have no recollection of studying the play, or even of reading it previously.
Read introduction by J. W. Burrow to the Pelican edition of The Origin of Species I forgot I had when I ordered a fancy FS edition ahead of book club discussion. Apparently Burrow’s introduction is still regarded as “an authoritative contribution to the cultural history of Victorian science.” by the scholars of Wikipedia.

Out 28, 2023, 3:42 pm

Halfway through audiobook of The Underground Railroad. Non-realistic plot allows author to showcase, if that’s the appropriate word, many aspects of the African-American experience beyond the antebellum slave era which the book’s title leads us to expect. Escape narrative gives us just about enough plot to maintain interest.

Out 30, 2023, 8:35 am

Finished The Oppermanns. Light on plot, yet managed to be more than just a litany of the atrocities preceding the Final Solution. Feuchtwanger knows how to develop characters with a few telling descriptive touches. Reminded me of the central point of Gladwell’s Talking to Strangers regarding the natural human tendency towards optimism, and how this helps explain the resistance to facing what in retrospect seems inevitable catastrophe for the German Jews. Knowledge is clearly *not* power.

Editado: Nov 4, 2023, 11:46 am

Accidentally picked up my copy of Doctored Evidence, #13 in Donna Leon’s detective series to take on a trip instead of my copy of #2. Was interested to note that plot, like Death at La Fenice had a gay angle although in this case it was a completely false trail and seemed gratuitous. Corruption and inefficiency of all levels of Italian government also a theme in common with first mystery in the series. And the operatic rivalries in the Venice police department. Have to backtrack now to see if these are constants in the series.

Nov 6, 2023, 5:32 pm

OutLoud reading group finished with Eöthen today. It came to a rather abrupt end. A rather formless book but always original in its observations of a part of the world which defies ready analysis. Finished admittedly cursory reading of The Origin of Species in time for Senior Moment book club on Zoom. As usual, interesting observations from a wide variety of points of view/academic disciplines. Now I am almost free to read whatever I want, although I must get hold of a mystery or thriller for the Africa Novel Challenge.

Nov 11, 2023, 1:55 pm

Finished The Underground Railroad. Another book which came to a rather arbitrary end. The opening section was a strong portrait of the fundamental evil of slavery and the subsequent sections set in South and then North Carolina explored, in metaphoric fashion, the post-Civil War attempts to deal with “The Coloured Question,” in an interesting way. I felt the story lost direction after that. But it was thought-provoking, and the characters were generally vividly drawn although the central character making the journey remained enigmatic and unconvincing to me.

Editado: Nov 14, 2023, 9:06 pm

Midway through Colonialism: A Moral Reckoning. I find Biggar’s moral parsing of the issues a congenial approach but I do not have the historical background to know to what extent his “reckoning” cooks the books.
Have also started V. which I am sure caught my attention via some discussion on LT or at least on a list I saw here, but I cannot find the reference now. In any event, am enjoying it greatly so far. Also picked up Le port des brumes again. When I’m finished I will have read the first fifteen Maigret mysteries. Only about forty to go!

Editado: Nov 14, 2023, 9:13 pm

Finished Le port des brumes. Richly atmospheric. Insights into the nuances of class and sexual relationships in a corner of France that is far from 36, Quai des Orfèvres. Now well into V., which goes surprisingly quickly.

Nov 19, 2023, 9:50 am

Past the halfway point in V., which I now realise is a novel in the Magic Realism genre for which I habitually express disdain. But yet I am greatly enjoying the book.

Nov 26, 2023, 9:12 am

Had to return V. to the library with fifty pages unread. I intend to finish it when my own copy arrives, but I suspect that the Magic Realist plot will have a typically unresolved ending, like the individual historical vignettes throughout the book. We certainly won’t find out who V. is, nor will we care, I suspect.
Meanwhile I am forging ahead with volume 2 of Runciman’s History of the Crusades. Helpful to be reminded that the politics of the area has been extraordinarily complicated for the last thousand years, at least. Also started Parties by Carl Van Vechten. An entry in the Bright Young Things category, but reminiscent of much of V..

Dez 7, 2023, 12:53 pm

Have finished my 99th book this year! Well, actually one of five novels in Harlem Renaissance: Five Novels of the 1920s: The Blacker the Berry, which I decided to read as a follow-up to Parties. Van Vechten actually mentioned in Thurman’s book, which was more of a sociological study than a novel, the fate of the unhappily dark-skinned heroine remaining completely unresolved in the last chapter. Novel’s very last scene involved a homosexual encounter which seemed to come out of nowhere. I gather Thurman was a gay man; perhaps the theme of someone unable to come to terms with their identity because of society’s irrational condemnation of an unalterable part of that identity appealed to him on that basis, despite the fact that he couldn’t quite come up with any real narrative arc.

Editado: Dez 9, 2023, 1:52 pm

Now about 2/3 of the way through The Long Week-End. Brutal put-down of Auden, Spender, and C. Day-Lewis reminded me that this account is not written by dispassionate historians, despite its usual detached tone. Authors also clearly not fans of mystery novels, which they dismiss as an incomprehensible fad.
Also getting into Auto-da-Fé although I feel that when I finish The Long Week-End I might take up something light to counterbalance Canetti’s Weltanschauung.

Editado: Dez 12, 2023, 5:22 pm

Finished V.. Ended, predictably, not with a bang, but a whimper.

Dez 14, 2023, 5:07 pm

Finished my hundredth book of 2023, The Long Week-End.

Editado: Dez 15, 2023, 1:02 pm

Did take up “something light”: The Deep Blue Good-by. Bought eight Travis McGee books at a second hand book sale some years ago but never gave them a try. Got John D. MacDonald mixed up with Ross Macdonald; Travis McGee is not Harper

Editado: Dez 22, 2023, 10:12 am

Finished The Deep Blue Good-by. Not really a mystery although McGee’s job involves investigative skills. Well-written, but I found the “meat inspector” approach taken to every woman in the story quite disconcerting, despite the fact that the plot’s villain is a man whose abuse of women is clearly condemned. A literary product of the 60s, I guess. I will be interested to see if MacDonald’s views evolve through the series.

Dez 25, 2023, 4:26 am

Thinking about you during the festive season.

Dez 25, 2023, 3:33 pm

>147 PaulCranswick: Thank you! Likewise!

Dez 31, 2023, 8:36 am

A busy week still allowed me to get through Liberty Bar—-a wildly inappropriate choice for the Christmas season, but another interesting glimpse of Maigret away from the routine of the Prefecture. Set in the blazing sun of the Riviera. A completely different setting from the last two I read, which were set in Holland and in an English Channel port, respectively.

Dez 31, 2023, 4:19 pm

Found my copy of A Woman in Her Prime! Missing all week—-turns out I left it at church. Now I will be able to complete a West African novel for the final month of the Africa Novel Challenge. Have already started Carthage Must Be Destroyed for the 2024 War Room Challenge.