A Latter-day Bluestocking

For the love of reading

Category: General Reading

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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The Regal Rules for Girls by Jerramy Fine

regal rulesI picked up The Regal Rules for Girls:  How to Find Love, a Life – and maybe even a Lord – in London by Jerramy Fine because I figured it would be a fun book, especially since as a young girl I had fantasies of being whisked off to Balmoral by the Prince of my dreams and even kept pictures of eligible royal bachelors scotch-taped to my bedroom wall:  Prince Andrew and Prince Edward of the UK and Crown Prince Felipe of Spain.  Yes, I always wanted to be a Princess and truth be told I still do despite the fact that I now know that the fairytale is an illusion and more bother (perhaps) than it’s worth.  There’s more to being a Royal than fabulous hats, tiaras, and riding horses.

The cover is cheesy to say the least but includes some amusing tips.  Ms. Fine explains how to begin making your dream of meeting the royals and the aristocracy come true.  Rule number 1 you need to go to the UK, specifically London, to hang where you are most likely to rub elbows with the Castle Crew.  Rule number 2 one must learn their manners and the rules of etiquette.  Manners is something which unfortunately gets short-shrift in the US but is absolutely essential in the UK.  It goes on about what to do if one is introduced to the Queen, how to dress, how to RSVP to a wedding invitation (hand-written please), where it is appropriate to wear hats, to avoid anything other than the Royal Enclosure at Ascot, and the ins and outs of the British Season.  Most importantly:  Do not fake a British accent!

She advises American girls who want to nab an Englishman, royal or not, that it is good to brush up on one’s history.  It’s probably a good idea to know that Queen Victoria is Prince Harry’s great-great-great-grandmother if you plan on walking down the aisle at Westminster Abbey.  I think that if you don’t even know this commonplace detail you are not worth your Wellies.  I found myself giggling over this book and how it brought back memories of all my lovely fantasies of becoming royal.  I was amused right up until she answers the question, “Why are Roman Catholics excluded from the line of succession?” I nearly lost it!  This book states that this exclusion dates to the time of Henry VIII’s failed attempts to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon and his eventual establishment of the Church of England when the Pope would not grant what he wanted.  This is not true; not by a long-shot.  Henry VIII’s daughter Mary Tudor  reigned after the death of her brother Edward VI and was a Catholic.  She was nicknamed “Bloody Mary” for her penchant of persecuting Protestants.  Catholics were not formally excluded from the succession until the passing of the Act of Settlement in 1701.  Thanks, James II (look it up, it’s riveting history).  Up until that time it was preferred that no Catholic ascend the throne but they were not officially excluded.  She adds further insult to injury by suggesting that one read The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory to gain more insight into Henry’s break from Rome.  Really, she actually suggests that an American girl read an historical fiction that takes severe liberties with “actual” events to learn about royal history?  This is ghastly advice!  We, Americans already have a bad rap when it comes to historical knowledge and this recommendation of the well-meaning author is too much to be borne.

Listen, young ladies, I am not professing that one stop dreaming of becoming a royal, it is fun to fantasize (I, myself, still have delusions of grandeur) but if you want to become knowledgeable about British and royal history pick up a history book.  The real stuff is so much more interesting than the fiction.  And even if you don’t bag a Prince you’ll be amazed at how impressed Englishmen can be when a cute American girl is informed about English history.  I recommend reading a biography of Henry VIII while practicing your curtsy.  Ms. Fine insists that you keep your heels, head, and standards high.  I agree but those high standards should also be directed to the books you use to gain knowledge.  Trust me, even if Prince Harry is not impressed by your knowledge of his family history you can bet your future father-in-law and Harry’s grandmother will be.standards high

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!!

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!!!

Beach Reading 2012

When the temperature begins to rise the last book I want to read is a serious tome.  With the onset of the care-free days of summer my brain does not want to be taxed.   I want a good story, something I can bring to the beach and enjoy with the ocean breezes and nap if I am so inclined.  In other words, I don’t want a committment, I want a summer romance.  For example the ubiquitous Fifty Shades of Grey is included on this summer’s list.  This doesn’t mean I will only read poorly written crap.   In fact, I have some classics on my list but what all these books have in common is a good story where I do not need to analyze plotlines, hidden agendas, characterization, etc.  Some may be well-written and book club worthy others are included just for the pure joy of reading a story even if poorly written.  So here’s the Beach List for 2012:

1.Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson  (so much fun, pure joy)

2.Miss Timmin’s School for Girls by Nayan Currimbhoy (could not put it down, a good mystery)

3. Summer by Edith Wharton  (the title says it all)

4. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway (again, seems summer-appropriate)

5. Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James (mostly to see what all the hoopla is about)

6. The Portrait of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (a good story and wonderfully written)

7. A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin (because I need to finish the 4th book before I can borrow mys sister’s 5th book)

8. A Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After by Elizabeth Kantor (because you can always use a little Jane Austen)

Five-Fold Happiness

恭喜发财!  Gong Xi Fa Cai! Wishing You Prosperity in the New Year!

It is the Chinese Lunar New Year and I would like to share with you two books that have proved very helpful to me in understanding the Chinese part of my culture and will help celebrate this most auspicious of holidays.

Five-Fold Happiness: Chinese Concepts of Luck, Prosperity, Longevity, Happiness, and Wealth by Vivien Sung and Moonbeams, Dumplings & Dragon Boats: A Treasury of Chinese Holiday Tales, Activities & Recipes by Nina Simonds, Leslie Swartz, & The Children’s Museum, Boston

The celebration of the Chinese New year is marked by parades, firecrackers, and dragon and lion dances but the underlying traditions and rituals have a far more profound meaning. The holiday takes place in the first lunar month, generally falling between January 19 and February 23. It begins on the new moon and ends 15 days later with the full moon. Traditionally known as the Spring Festival, it is celebrated annually by billions of Chinese.

It is a time of throwing out the old and welcoming the new and the days leading up to the holiday are busy.

Wishing you Luck, Prosperity, Longevity, Happiness, and Wealth!

HELP! Should I read or watch, first, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy?

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (film)

I have just watched an HBO First Look about the film Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John Le Carre and am immensely intrigued.  The story seems so fascinating and the acting so superb that not only do I want to see the film but I also want to read the book.  I vaguely remember the television mini-series in 1979 that starred Alec Guinness and an even vaguer memory that perhaps one or both of my parents read the book.  I do remember that at the time I had absolutely no interest in the mini-series or the book.  Spy thrillers are not my favorite genre; they are too modern, too slick for my “stuck in the 19th century” sensibility and besides, Alec Guinness was Obi-Wan Kenobi and my child’s mind despaired of seeing him portray anyone else.

So here’s my dilemma, do I read the book first or see the film while it’s still in theaters?  Normally, I am a stickler for reading the book.  Mostly because the book is always better but also because I do not want to be influenced by another’s vision of the story.  This was not always the case.  As a child, I was mostly introduced to books after watching the film or Masterpiece Theater adaptation.  Films such as The Lord of the Rings (1978), Brideshead Revisited (1981),  A Room With a View (1985), The Razor’s Edge (1984), Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1981), and Out of Africa (1985) were all seen before I read the book and were my introduction to authors I had never heard of.  Looking back,it is apparent that the film adaptations of the late 70s and early 80s shaped my literary interests.  I devoured the books that had been adapted and influenced my interest in other books by the same authors (Maugham, Tolkien, Forster, Dinesen, Lawrence) which further led me to other writers, mostly English.  Masterpiece Theater was literally very English-oriented and my Anglophilia may have developed at this time or been enhanced by it.  I rarely deigned to read American books or contemporary literature and instead dived into the worlds of Dickens, the Brontes, Greene, and Doyle.

As I developed my literary interests I became fastidious about reading the book first.  If I knew a film based on a book (I was interested in) was to be released I would rush to the library to check out the book and race to finish it.  I was always very disappointed in the films.  No screen re-working of a novel can perceive the nuances of the written work.  Although as I have matured I realize that choices are necessary when making a book into a movie and that sometimes a film can be very successful despite not being accurate to the book but capture the mood, atmosphere, or character of the book.  I appreciate this now and enjoy contemplating the screenwriter’s choices.

Cover of "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy"

Cover of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

But all this does not answer my initial question, should I read Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy or watch it?  I am leaning towards reading it first, old habits die very hard and I am somewhat inflexible on this.  But I also think that in this instance, it being a genre that I am not overly fond of, that seeing the movie first may pique my interest and enhance my reading experience.  I can’t make up my mind!  So I will ask you, reader, what should I do??  Read or watch??

Winter Is Coming

Cover of "A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ic...

I recently finished reading the first book in the A Song of Fire and Ice series,  A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin.  I enjoyed it immensely and have just started the second book, A Clash of Kings.

I felt it appropriate, in honor  of George R.R. Martin’s epic to offer, for your perusal, my winter reading list.  Winter is coming.

  1. The Cranford Chronicles  Elizabeth Gaskell
  2. The Children’s Book   A.S. Byatt
  3. The Queen of Fashion:  What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution  Caroline Weber
  4. You Can’t Go Home Again  Thomas Wolfe
  5. Jane Eyre  Charlotte Bronte
  6. Jane Austen’s Christmas  Maria Hubert
  7. Elizabeth’s Women  Tracy Borman
  8. Divergent  Veronica Roth
  9. Birthright:  The True Story That Inspired “Kidnapped”  A. Roger Ekirch
  10. Napoleon and the Empire of Fashion:  1795–1815  Christina Beneto and Martin Lancaster

Questions for the Latter-day Bluestocking

  1. What author do you own the most books by?   Jane Austen
  2. What book do you own the most copies of?  Pride and Prejudice
  3. Did it bother you that both those questions ended with prepositions?  Yes!
  4. What fictional character are you secretly in love with?  Stephen Maturin
  5. What book have you read the most times in your life?  probably Pride and Prejudice
  6. What was your favorite book when you were ten years old?  Fellowship of the Ring J.R.R.Tolkien
  7. What is the worst book you’ve read in the past year?  Good Behaviour by Molly Keane
  8. What is the best book you’ve read in the past year?  Room by Emma Donoghue
  9. Brits or Americans?  Brits
  10. Who deserves to win the next Nobel Prize for literature?  Me
  11. What book would you most like to see made into a movie?  None, they would just fuck it up!!
  12. What book would you least like to see made into a movie?  Go the Fuck to Sleep
  13. Describe your weirdest dream involving a writer, book, or literary character.  I dreamt of Winston Churchill and he told me that I should not be afraid.
  14. What is the most lowbrow book you’ve read as an adult?  The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Middle East Conflict.
  15. What is the most difficult book you’ve ever read?  The Rape of Nanking.  Actually, anything about Chinese history
  16. What is the most obscure Shakespeare play you’ve seen?  “Titus Corialanus.”
  17. Do you prefer the French or the Russians?  Unfortunately, the French.
  18. Roth or Updike?  I don’t know who they are.
  19. David Sedaris or Dave Eggers?  Sedaris
  20. Shakespeare, Milton, or Chaucer?  Milton
  21. Austen or Eliot?  Really!!!!!  See questions 1, 2, 5, 21, 23, 29, 31, 32.
  22. What is the biggest or most embarrassing gap in your reading?  I would have to be on life support for there to be a gap in my reading.
  23. What is your favorite novel?  Persuasion.
  24. Play?  School for Scandal  Richard Brinsley Sheridan
  25. Poem/Poets?  John Keats
  26. Essay?  Do not know
  27. Short story?  Young Goodman Brown by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  28. Work of non-fiction?  The Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang
  29. Who is your favorite writer?  Hmm, that’s a tough one.  I’m going to go with Jane Austen
  30. Who is the most overrated writer alive today?  Anyone after 1951
  31. What is your desert island book?  Pride and Prejudice

And … what are you reading right now? Mary Wollstonecraft:  A Revolutionary Life by Jane Todd and A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft

Quote of the Day: Louisa May Alcott

Headshot of Louisa May Alcott (November 29, 18...

Image via Wikipedia

“She is too fond of books, and it has turned her brain.” 
Louisa May Alcott, 1832-1888 (from Work: A Story of Experience)
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