Sep 29, 2018

Robida's Fantastic Drawings of the "Twentieth Century"

On Monday, the podcast returns for Season 3!  I have quite a line-up planned, with plenty of variety, so stay tuned for that.

As a sneak peek - Monday's episode features two French authors: Jules Verne and Albert Robida. Both authors wrote futuristic, coming-of-age novels set in the 20th century.  I'll talk about their predictions in the episode, but for now, check out these illustrations by Robida:

An air-yacht


Robida vingtieme siecle p69 1
A floating casino


Robida vingtieme siecle p68 1
A house in the clouds


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Dueling journalists


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Taking the tube

Sep 26, 2018

"My Kinsman, Major Molineux"

Fields Hawthorne Ticknor ca1863 byJWBlack
Portrait of James Thomas Fields (1817-1881),
Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864),
and William Davis Ticknor (1810-1864).

Over on Instagram, I'd mentioned I've been getting into Hawthorne's short stories again.  He's a favorite author of mine, and when I read the collection Twice Told Tales (already five years ago, wow!), I was blown away by the craft of his shorter works.  I finally broke down and bought the complete Tales and Sketches, and for my first reading chose "My Kinsman, Major Molineux," one of the more famous ones.

The story is set up simply enough: a young man and clergyman's son, Robin, sets out one day to seek his fortune.  More specifically, he leaves the countryside and arrives in Boston in order to get in touch with Major Molineux, a relative who had once offered to help him get started in life.

It's a dark, gloomy night in Boston.  Robin goes from door to door, inquiring for his kinsman.  Everyone laughs at him, while he wanders through the streets looking for at least one towns-person who will listen to him seriously.  Finally, he meets a man who tells him to wait by the church, because Major Molineux will soon arrive.  Shortly after, Robin hears the voices of a crowd in the next street.  When they at last turn the corner, he is unprepared for what he sees.

For such a simple, subtle buildup, this story ends with a punchline I was not expecting.  I've left out the ending to avoid spoilers, but in short, it was disturbing.  At the same time, this twist opens up the story to a larger realm of questions, just as it closes this peek into Robin's life.  This is what makes Hawthorne's style so powerful, even as it seems fairly conventional on the surface.

Have you read any of Hawthorne's short stories, and if so, what are your favorites?

Sep 24, 2018

Ten TBR Classics by My Favorite Authors

This week's Top Ten Tuesday challenges us to come up with to-be-read books by our favorite authors...

1. Nathaniel Hawthorne: The Scarlet Letter
Yes, I probably sound like a broken record, but I still haven't read this one.

2. Joseph Conrad: Nostromo

3. Franz Kafka: Diaries
Diaries...that's a little awkward. 

4. Jules Verne: From the Earth to the Moon

5. Agatha Christie: The rest of the Poirot series
It's been over a decade since I read it, so I might just start over.

6. Charlotte Bronte: The Professor and Emma

7. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: The Firm of Girdlestone
This is getting obscure, but Doyle's lesser-known works rarely disappoint.

8. J. R. R. Tolkien: The Fall of Gondolin

9. Fyodor Dostoyevsky: Crime and Punishment

10. Soren Kierkegaard: The Concept of Anxiety

My biggest takeaway from this list is that, barring Dostoyevsky and Kierkegaard, I've scarcely discovered any new favorite authors in the past 6–8 years.  Pretty sad. 

Sep 3, 2018

Dear Mrs. Bird - A Lovely Read for Fall

I first heard of this book from Cirtnecce at Mockingbirds, Looking Glasses & Prejudices... She wrote so highly of Dear Mrs. Bird that I couldn't wait to get my hands on a library copy.  Three months later, it finally arrived!


It's London in the middle of the Blitz, and twenty-something Miss Emmy Lake wants desperately to leave her dull desk job and become a War Correspondent.  Opportunities are scarce, especially for young women, so when she spies a job opening at The Evening Chronicle, she takes it, no questions asked.

Unfortunately, it turns out Emmy has agreed to become a typist for a ladies' magazine: Woman's Friend.  The eminent yet stringent editor, Mrs. Henrietta Bird, runs an advice column for women.  To her disappointment, Emmy has not been hired to get the scoop on the latest War developments - in fact, her job is merely to type up Mrs. Bird's responses to readers' questions, on topics ranging from the absurd to the tragic.

What seems like a simple task ultimately poses a moral challenge.  Emmy soon finds herself at odds with her supervisor's dour, sometimes unkind, advice, while any topics deemed "Unpleasant" remain shredded and unanswered.  Meanwhile, developments in her personal life lead Emmy to increased empathy for the writers of "Unpleasant" letters and an overpowering eagerness to help them.

Dear Mrs. Bird is a quite a fun novel, definitely geared towards fans of Downton Abbey and other stories centered on family, friends, and communities facing change.  Being a gray-romantic, I actually preferred the plot of Dear Mrs. Bird over your typical Downton Abbey episode, because the author AJ Pearce puts the focus platonic relationships, rather than on romance like Julian Fellowes does.  (Romantics need not fear - there's a healthy amount of it here, but it's proportional to the story.)

For a first-person historical novel, the characters' voices were very well written (although, I could have done without the profanity, even if it is era-accurate).  There is a ton of 40s slang, which really puts you in the time and place and is fun to read.  I felt the characterizations were also excellent - even the scary Mrs. Bird has a soft side for animals, which gives her some dimension.  I loved the friendship between Marigold "Bunty" and Emmy, and their camaraderie had me laughing out loud at times!

I had to deduct a star because the main conflict of the story (Emmy's secret) was resolved so very predictably, and it was kinda cringy that everything turned out "fine" in spite of the fact that it really shouldn't have.  I really dislike stories where the heroine can do whatever she wants and gets away with it...to me, your character loses integrity when that happens.  That said, I feel it's more of a stereotype than a fatal flaw in this book, so I still leave it with 4 stars.

Would consider reading more by this author in the future!