A Latter-day Bluestocking

For the love of reading

Category: Books

My Bookish Year in Review: 2013

Marilyn Monroe, 1954, by Eve Arnold (reading series)I keep track of my reading on Goodreads, a social-cataloging website for readers. I can scan my books; the books I am reading, want to read, and have read. I can keep track of my reading progress [currently I am at page 74 of 199 (37%) of The Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith]. I rate and review the books. I share with my friends, via social media, what I am reading because there is nothing better to make feel super-smart.  At the end of the year one can appraise the year’s reading.  I admit this makes feel somewhat smug.

This year, so far, I have finished 89 books, a total of 29,566 pages. Back in January I set the goal of reading 90 books in 2013. I will most likely surpass that number by midnight on December 31. The longest book I read this year was the tome-like The Bröntes: Wild Genius on the Moors: The Story of Three Sisters by Juliet Barker at a whopping 1,159 pages. Only 12 books were rated with 5 stars. I highly recommend these books. They are:

1776 by David McCullough
Any Human Heart by William Boyd
Shakespeare by Michael Wood
Agincourt: Henry V and the Battle That Made England by Juliet Barker
Crispin’s Day: The Glory of Agincourt by Rosemary Hawley Jarman
John Adams by David McCullough
The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (illustrated by Dave McKean)
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
11/22/63 by Stephen King
The Dog Stars by Peter Heller
The Chronicles of Downton Abbey: A New Era by Jessica Fellowes and Matthew Sturgis

In 2012 I read 84 books (a total of 31,456 pages). I hope to read 100 books in 2014. If Santa brings me the books on my list I could make a very good start.

I wonder if I could start a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for my reading. Hmmm?  If only I wasn’t so busy reading.

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My Christmas Wish List 2013

fezziwig-all-night-raveDear Santa,

I’ve been very good this year. Especially when it comes to reading, I’ve been reading voraciously all year. And I’ve been especially good because I have tried very hard to save my pennies by borrowing from the library as well as from family and friends rather than buying the books.

So all I want for Christmas this year are the following titles:

Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China by Jung Chang

The Heir Apparent: A Life of Edward VII, the Playboy Prince by Jane Ridley

Queen Anne: The Politics of Passion by Anne Somerset

Servants: A Downstairs History of Britain from the Nineteenth-Century to Modern Times by Lucy Lethbridge

A History of Britain in Thirty-six Postage Stamps by Chris West

Reprobates: The Cavaliers of the English Civil War by John Stubbs

Thanks for considering my list.

Love,

A Latter-day Bluestocking

PS. Cookies and milk will be left on the table as always. As well as carrots for the reindeer.

 

Wherein I ponder Saint Crispin’s Day, the Battle of Agincourt, Henry V, and Tom Hiddleston

Agincourt

Upon Saint Crispin’s Day
Fought was this noble fray
Which fame did not relay
To England to carry.
O when shall English men
With such acts fill a pen?
Or England breed again
Such a King Harry?

hollowcrownSometimes my passions for history and literature feed one another and ultimately leads to obsession.  This is the predicament I find myself in now.  It all started with the PBS airing of The Hollow Crown, the three Shakespearian history plays of Richard II; Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2; and Henry V.  These BBC produced productions have all that one has come to expect from British history/costume drama:  spectacular scenery, lavish costumes, and superb acting.  This production has the latter in spades with a cast that includes Jeremy Irons, Ben Whishaw, Simon Russell Beale, Julie Walters, Patrick Stewart, and Tom Hiddleston to name a few.  But Tom Hiddleston who plays Prince Hal/Henry V is the one responsible for my current fascination with the Lancasters and their usurpation of the Plantagenet throne, the re-launching of the Hundreds Years’ War with France, and the eventual overthrow of this dynasty by the House of York which would lead to the War of the Roses, a tumultuous period that would only come to an end with the accession of the Tudors in 1485.

But let’s get back to Tom Hiddleston for a moment.  This man who has acting talent to match his wonderful aristocratic good looks was able to move me to laughter and then to tears in this version of the plays.  He lifted my spirit and made me feel I would do my all for King and country.  He truly encapsulated the character of Prince Hal/Henry V.  the-hollow-crown-bbc-henry-vHis portrayal of the rapscallion Prince of Wales who hangs out with miscreants and purposefully antagonizes his father is nonetheless charming and fun and sexy but upon the death of his father, Henry IV, leaves his wayward conduct behind him to become one of English history’s greatest warrior kings and the one who, had he not died at the age of 32, would have returned most of France to English dominion.  His Henry V is a man with the common touch and an excellent commander and tactician who can rally his men, high and low, to his cause.  But, of course, the history plays are not true history and Shakespeare takes artistic license where it suits him in his need to honor the Tudor monarchs who were his patrons.

So even as I sat fantasizing about Tom/Henry going once more unto the breach at Harfleur and rousing his men with the “band of brothers/St. Crispin’s Day” speech at the Battle of Agincourt I began to consider the real history.  And so, I began to read about this fascinating man and king.  I work in a place that has a terrific library at my disposal so I began with Rosemary Hawley Jarman’s short and straightforward Crispin’s Day:  The Glory of AgincourtCrispinsDayI finished it in two days and it left me thirsty for more.  I had read years ago The Hollow Crown: A History of Britain in the Late Middle Ages by Miri Rubin which chronicles the undeniably extraordinary thehollowcrownbookand brutal period in British history.  Set amongst the backdrop of the Black Death, The Peasants Revolt, the Battle of Agincourt, and the Wars of the Roses were the reigns of exceptional kings, from Edward I to Richard III.  It was a time of great turmoil, brutality, as well as great artistic achievements.  During this latest obsession I found myself going back to this book again and again.

Henry V

Henry V

I knew that Henry V believed his conquest of France was virtuous by divine right but also discovered that he was also opportunistic.  He exploited the divisions of the French and used diplomacy to make sure France’s  usual allies stayed away.  The French believed they would win.  They can be excused for such presumptuous feelings for on the morning of October 25, 1415 they outnumbered the English by 4 to 1 (although some historians say 6 to 1), they were healthy, well-fed, and positioned upon their own turf were a majority of France’s great military commanders and royal nobility.  In extreme contrast the English army were far from home, exhausted, malnourished, and sick, many still feeling the effects of the dysentery that had killed more men than any actual battle had.  Some of the men were barely clothed.  A mere four hours later after the battle’s start the field was strewn with the dead, the majority being French with almost all of their nobility wiped out.

Agincourt bookIt is fascinating stuff and I have several other titles in my reading queue because once the preoccupation grabs me it has to be sustained to the end.  So I have borrowed from my public library, Agincourt:  Henry V and the Battle that Made England by Juliet Barker (she of the tome-licious The Brontes), History of the Battle of Agincourt, and the expedition of Henry the Fifth into France, to which is added the roll of men at arms, in the English army published in 1832 by Sir Nicholas Harris and An historical account of the reign of Henry the  Fifth, intended as a companion to the great historical picture of the memorable battle of Agincourt painted by Robert Ker Porter, Esq. now exhibiting at the Lyceum, Strand published in 1805.

And because I like to share my passions I have suggested to my book club the historical novel, Good King Harry by Denise Giardina.  It is a story told as an autobiography with the great man himself describing his tumultuous youth, difficult relationship with his father, his victory at Agincourt, hopes for his own son, and eventual death from dysentery on the battle fields of France in 1422.  Hopefully it is a good read but we’ll see.  I suspect that I will have to follow-up with Bernard Cornwell’s treatment of this particular episode in history.  That guy does his research!!

Tom HIddleston as Henry V

Tom Hiddleston as Henry V

On this Saint Crispin’s Day, I would personally like to thank Tom Hiddleston for his brilliant performance which inspired me to read up on the real history and learn about the real man who was Henry V.

Hello, my name is Marilynn… and I am a Bookaholic.

bookaholicsbannernew2012I have come to the realization that I have a problem.  It’s one I’ve lived with my entire reading life. From the moment I could read those silly Dick and Jane and Spot books I was addicted. The Oxford English Dictionary defines addiction as follows: The state or condition of being dedicated or devoted to a thing, esp. an activity or occupation; adherence or attachment, esp. of an immoderate or compulsive kind. I cannot stop reading. I cannot stop myself from buying or borrowing books.  I cannot stop thinking of books.  I have two shelves full of books that I have not yet read and yet the compulsion to acquire more is constant.  Like an alcoholic at a bar I cannot safely enter a bookstore or library; I do not leave empty-handed.  The urge is a strong one and I always convince myself that it’s just one book and I can stop at any time.  The Urban Dictionary defines a bookaholic as someone who keeps buying books to add to a stack of unread books or someone who has a strong passion for and desire to read all the time, or someone who has a strange fetish for books.  The diagnosis?  I am a bookaholic.

If there is any possibility of gaining a book I will jump at the chance.  I live in Brooklyn and occasionally people put out books they have eradicated from their shelves, deposited in a box with a note saying “Free.  Please Take”.  I cannot pass these up and have gained many books this way.  One time I actually saw the person put the box out on their front step and I practically ran, dragging my young son half a block, to make sure I had first dibs.  In this instance, I hit the jackpot:  about ten almost new hardback copies of Terry Pratchett Discworld books! I stuffed as many as I could in my bag and carried the rest under my arms. Those books are still under my desk at work! [I’ve read some of them but I insist on reading them in order of publication.]

I constantly buy books, borrow books, sniff books (yeah, I know, it’s weird), I like to feel the texture of the paper, I always have a book and a spare in my bag (because you never know). If I do not have reading material I suffer from excruciating withdrawal, call it biblio-DTs. I take a book with me when I am on a date or out with friends, to lunch, to coffee break, to meetings, to a bar, and to the movies. People who know me well know that this is not a reflection upon them. They are my enablers. Anyone who isn’t just doesn’t understand me.

My sister says, “At least it’s a harmless addiction” but is it really? I would rather go without food than not buy yet another edition of Pride and Prejudice!  Earlier today I stepped into a bookstore (I know I shouldn’t have but I had a gift card [see enabled; thanks Eva]) and purchased six new books.  Six!!  The cashier (hi Eric!) told me I always buy interesting books so you know I buy A LOT.  And you know what?  I’m not in the least remorseful.  Nope, not at all.  After all, it’s an innate biological need and I don’t really want a cure.

My name is Marilynn and I am a totally un-penitent bookaholic.  It’s nice to meet you.

Happiness is

The Public Library: A Sanctuary since ca. 1974

Library_ShelvesI just read Five Times A Library Changed Me by Rachael Berkey about the mental, emotional, and spiritual growth libraries provide her.  I silently chuckled reading about the pride she had in getting her first library card, riding her bicycle to the library and attempting to bring home a shelf-load of books, the competitiveness of school reading challenges, and the complexities of navigating her college library mostly because I have many parallels in my own life.  It was a bit uncanny.  We love, crave even, the company of books and we live with the idea that the library is a home away from home.

I was inspired to write of my most potent memories and reflect on how a library was an important entity in my formative years.  Thanks Rachael for the idea:  imitation is, afterall, the sincerest form of flattery.

First Memory of a Public Librarylibrary-pockets

My first memory of a library is of my mother taking me on a very wet and dreary day, it was after a swim lesson, my belly full of pizza and myself physically exhausted [and probably cranky].  The building was diminutive, the exact size to inspire interest without being overwhelming to a 5 year old. It was divided into two wings, one side held the Juvenile books and the other the Adult books and in the middle overseeing all was the Librarian’s desk with all her pretty cards and stamps.  What a haven of serenity.  I received my first library card here.  What source of power, this simple manila heavy card stock, possessed.  I was left to roam the shelves and pick the books I wanted to check out.  I remember the smell of the books, a scent recollection so stimulating that the remembrance of it brings back floods of happy thoughts.

There were so many books!!  How was I to choose?  I couldn’t and boy, was my mother shocked by the small tower of books I had decided upon.  She didn’t flinch however as she guided me to the Librarian to have them checked out.  Thanks Mom for understanding the stirrings of what would become my lifelong affair with the written word and even encouraging it.

I Can and Will Read More Than Youreading medals

Yes, that sounds obnoxious but blame the philosophy of a late 70s and early 80s educational system.  It has established in me that reading for mere enjoyment and interest alone is not enough; that it can, and is, a competitive sport.  That practice, begun in grammar school, continues with Goodreads and their annual reading challenge.  I am currently at 29% of my 2013 reading goal having finished 26 books of the 90 I intend to read.  Cool right?

I remember my first official reading challenge.  The local library called it The Reading Olympics and depending on how many books you read you could earn a bronze, silver, or gold medal.  It won’t take too much stretch of the imagination to know what medal I not so secretly coveted.  I remember taking home the log sheet in which we were to write the books we had completed with the start and end dates.  The mostly self-inflicted pressure was intense but like any well-trained athlete I was sure that I had what it takes to win gold.  I paced myself, slow and steady will win the race, gradually picking up the pace until I had filled out that sheet.  I was so proud when I handed in my sheet knowing I had won gold exceeding the 25 book minimum.  A few weeks later I received that medal and reveled in all its shiny plastic dazzle.  [cue Olympics Theme music now]

Mom’s Library at Collegepaper-chase-lecture

When I was about 7 or 8 years old my mother began her collegiate academic career.  This was awesome for many reasons but mainly because on days when we had to accompany her Mom would leave us at the campus library with the strict orders that we were to behave.  We always did.  Nothing was cooler and it was from this moment that I knew I wanted to go to college too.  When you are in 5th grade and a veracious reader there is nothing like it.  I roamed the stacks for hours never getting bored pretending that I was a college student like those in the television show The Paper Chase.

I once had to do research for a class project.  We were studying medieval Europe and I decided I wanted to do my presentation on heraldry.  I looked up books in the card catalogue, pulled the necessary books from the shelf, and spent every dime I had photocopying a small forest worth of pertinent literature.  Mom even checked out books for me.  I don’t remember what grade I received but I sure do remember having lots of fun doing the research.

Libraries are wonderful places, temples of wisdom and bastions of human intellect.  I love to go to my local library and look at the books and I always inadvertently walk out with an armful of books to add the myriad others I have not read.  Oh well, it only helps me with my Reading Challenge goal!

It’s National Libraries Week (April 14-20) so get out there, get your library card, and start reading!!

That Which Interrupts Our Reading Makes Us Grumpy

Recently I watched an episode of The Middle that really spoke to me.  Well, actually the youngest son in the family, Brick, spoke to me.  Brick is my favorite character and the one I find most endearing.  He is advanced beyond his years, easily distracted, somewhat awkward, and a big reader.  In this particular episode, Brick is disquieted by the prospect of having to partake of the public school ritual of watching the required sex-ed film amusingly entitled, “What’s Going on Down There.”  Long story short, his not very helpful big brother Axl decides to explain the facts of life to his brother and analogizes Brick’s love of books to the feelings he will one day come to possess for the opposite sex.  I thought that was a promising correlation to make.  But the moment of sincere and clear enlightenment, the moment when I laughed myself silly because the question Brick asks of the school nurse after viewing the film hit, in a way, too close to home.  His question?  “When chicks want it, do they want it right away, or can I finish my book first?”  Ah, something to really think about.  After all, can’t things just wait till I finish my book?

The Middle: episode 5 The Hose

The Hobbit, or There And Back Again

“Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory. If a soldier is imprisoned by the enemy, don’t we consider it his duty to escape?. . .If we value the freedom of mind and soul, if we’re partisans of liberty, then it’s our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can!” J.R.R. Tolkien, 1892-1973

I discovered Tolkien when I was 9 years old.  I had seen the Ralph Bakshi directed Lord of the Rings and it made such an impression on me that it was absolutely imperative I read the book.  And read it, I did.  I still have that worn-out copy of The Fellowship of the Ring; I treasure it as a sacred relic, one that opened up a whole new wonderful world to me.  A special place for a 9-year-old, one populated with magic, kings, elves, dwarves, hobbits, good and evil.  I read The Hobbit soon after and received the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy for Christmas.  Tolkien’s profound realm not only served as escapism for me but had wide-ranging influence that Prof. Tolkien never foresaw.  Dungeons and Dragons, Harry Potter, World of Warcraft, Skyrim were all inspired by Tolkien’s Middle-Earth.

My 11-year-old son is enchanted, much to my chagrin, by World of Warcraft, a pale facsimile to the world created by Tolkien.  He does love the LotR films but it always makes me cringe when he says that something was ripped-off from WoW.  My churlish response (complete with eye-roll):  “Listen, kid, if it were not for J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, and “The Lord of the Rings” there would be no World of Warcraft.  This reality baffles him.  I think his introduction to the books is long past due.  The new film, The Hobbit,will be released in December which gives me the perfect excuse and opportunity to re-visit Middle Earth and introduce it to my son.

“There are no safe paths in this part of the world.  Remember you are over the Edge of the Wild now, and in for all sorts of fun wherever you go.”   J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

Beach Reading Reviews 2012 Part 2

Here’s the second half of my beach reading reviews.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

A simply monstrous story, a young man trades his soul for eternal youth and leads a sordid dual life, indulging every impulse and desire maintaining all the while a gentleman’s facade.  As Dorian Gray’s portrait exhibits the sins of his sinful life he moves on to ever more unspeakably and horrifying transgressions.  A page-turner and frightening.

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

A beautiful story of a man’s struggle against nature written in Hemingway’s characteristic style free of superfluous words.  He simply and elegantly the old man’s determination in the face of defeat.  Powerful!

The Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After by Elizabeth Kantor

Absolutely awful.  Nonsensical clap-trap about how to achieve happiness in love by following the example of Austen’s heroines.  Preachy, thus annoying.  Not recommended.

A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin

Despite being over 1000 pages long, an engaging tale.  This is the fourth book in the Song of Ice and Fire series relating the quest for domination of the Seven Kingdoms.  If you are a fan of the fantasy genre definitely a must-read.

Beach Reading Reviews 2012 Part 1

A short time ago I posted my list for beach reading.  I have been plowing right along and thought I would share my opinions.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day  by Winifred Watson

An absolutely joyous read.  So pleasurable and full of verve and good humor; fun from cover to cover.  It depicts a day in Miss Guinevere Pettigrew’s life; she is desperately in need of a job and presents herself for a position as governess to a glamorous young woman, Delysia Lafosse.  And then everything goes awry in the most charming and vibrant way.  1930s London nightclubs and dangerous men abound.  It is a wonderfully charming Cinderella story with hilarity at every turn.

Miss Timmins School for Girls by Nayana Currimbhoy

A suspenseful love story and murder mystery.  It is beautifully told and takes place at a girls school in India founded in the British mode.  But it’s the 70s and there is sex, drugs, and rock and roll.  It is a coming-of-age tale dramatically written and explores adolescent angst and uncertainty, the still prevalent antagonism of colonialism, and the quest for one’s place in the world.  It is moody, the monsoon rains adding to the oppressiveness.  I could not put it down.

Summer by Edith Wharton

A coming-of-age story told in the indomitable Wharton way depicting the sexual awakening of Charity Royall.  The young girl experiences her first romance and quickly learns that love can be sweet, passionate, and heartrendingly painful.  The difference is she is wide-eyed about it.  When published in 1917 it was shocking in its depiction of female sexuality.  A not-to-be-missed classic and as significant today as it was then.

Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James

Terrible!!  Mildly titillating and abhorrently annoying.  The writing is cheap.  Characterization is shallow, plot is deficient. This book reinforces all the most horrible stereotypes of why women fall for bad men. Mindless schlock for the beach or a long plane ride; not to be taken seriously at all. Fan-fiction gone horribly wrong!!!

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