Showing posts from 2013


If there is one poet whose name has come to be associated with cliches of the genre, that would be Henry Wadsworth Longfellow"You're a poet / and you didn't know it / but your feet show it / they're long fellows!"  A sad pun which sums up most critics' opinion.  I am biased the other way - after reading a substantial selection of Longfellow's poetry, I was left overall impressed, even in a comparison with Wordsworth.  That is more or less how I decided to read Hyperion (1839), one of his more obscure, prose works.

The book follows a young American, Paul Flemming, on his travels through the scenery of Germany and Switzerland.  Recently in mourning for his childhood friend (girlfriend?), Flemming finds comfort in studying the lives of the people he meets, as well as in conversing upon philosophy and religion with his various travelling companions.  His life changes upon meeting the beautiful Mary Ashburton, an intellectual Englishwoman with a talent for d…

2013 Reads Recap

As I mentioned before, this was an unambitious year for reading.  My reading goals, such as they were:
The Prairie, J. F. Cooper - This was for school, so I read it and wrote a paper on it. One biography - Instead of reading a biog, I randomly decided to read my sister's library book, From the Ashes of Sobibor by Thomas Toivi Blatt.  I have read Holocaust memoirs before, and they were all worth it, but this one felt additionally unique.  It describes the author's childhood in Poland, the takeover by the Nazis, and his enslavement in, and eventual escape from, the death camp Sobibor.  A depressing but eye-opening book that I highly recommend.One political science book - For this I read America and the World by Brzezinski, Scowcroft, and Ignatius.  Again, this is not one I formally reviewed here, but it was interesting (though cursory regarding details).One philosophy book - I read three: Meditations by Aurelius, Notes from Underground by Dostoyevsky, and The Power of the Powerle…

Back to the Classics 2014 challenge

Updated 1/2/14
Back to the Classics, hosted by Karen
This is challenge is themed on books published during or prior to 1964.  For some of the categories, I will be overlapping with other challenges (because I'm not terribly ambitious!), but there are new to-read books on this list that I'm also looking forward to.


✓  A 20th Century ClassicThe Castle (1926, Kafka).  Alternative: 1984 (1949, Orwell) or The Great Gatsby (1925)The Old Man and the Sea (1952, Hemingway)✓  A 19th Century ClassicThe Masterpiece (1886), ZolaLord Jim (1899–1900, Conrad)A Classic by a Woman AuthorA Vindication of the Rights of Woman (Wollstonecraft)✓  A Classic in TranslationThe Brothers Karamazov (Dostoyevsky)A Wartime ClassicFor Whom the Bell Tolls (Hemingway) - Spanish Civil WarA Classic by an Author Who Is New To You:  Beneath the Wheel (Hesse) - subject to change, though I've been wanting to read Hesse for a while nowOptional Categories: An American ClassicThe Scarlet Le…

2014 Russian Lit Challenge

An addition to my previous post - the Russian Literature 2014 challenge hosted by o.  I will be reading Eugene Onegin plus 2-3 other books (probably The Brothers Karamazov, Memories of the Future, and/or In the First Circle).  Russian lit is a significant chunk of my reading list, so this is a very exciting challenge!

2014 Books & Challenges

Getting next year's reading mapped out has been fun in itself - mainly because I've read so few books this year.  It hasn't been a matter of less time or different priorities, just neglect.   That really has to change.  Approaching graduation, I want to keep the studying momentum that has been my frenemy for the past four years and transfer it to my own reading/studying in the future.


Books Lord Jim - by all accounts, Joseph Conrad's best long novel. High time to read it!The Magician's Nephew (Spanish trans.) - for a beginner's attempt at multilingual reading.  I know most of this book practically by heart, so this shouldn't be too hard.Lesser priority:
Empty my "to-finish" list - include Bleak House.  Decide whether to finish or not finish each book.Steampunk/Sci-Fi Reading List - any book(s)The Great GatsbyComplete Hornblower series - Hotspur and everything chronologically afterwardsThe Little White HorseOut of the Silent Planet (C. S. …

Eugene Onegin Read-Along buttons

For your blog or website:

Eugene Onegin Read-Along: Schedule

**1/7/13 - Edit:Depending on how quickly we read, I may adjust the schedule to two chapters per week, instead of 1 1/2 weeks.  For example, if we have about 9 links by the 13th, I might decide to post the next link-up on the 14th.  We'll see how it goes!

I was so excited to see readers, both here and at my other blog, interested in a read-along!  The previous post was slightly inaccurate: there are actually eight chapters, and chapter ten is a fragmentary extra.  I have decided to allow 1 1/2 weeks per two chapters, which seems like a decent balance between going at a regular clip and dragging on too long.

Here is the schedule, plus a rough calendar to give the numbers more meaning:
Ch. 1 & 2 - January 7 to 16
Ch. 3 & 4 - January 16 to 25
Ch. 5 & 6 - January 25 to February 3
Ch. 7 & 8 - February 3 to February 12

The schedule is meant to be very flexible.  The link-up posts will be posted exactly on schedule, but they will remain open for at least a week.  I'm lookin…

Eugene Onegin Read-Along?

With the New Year coming up and everybody looking at their reading lists for 2014, I have thought of hosting a read-along/book club for Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin.  Would anyone be interested? There are ten chapters, all poetry, so a month would be just about right for reading and discussion.  Maybe January, February, or March?  If you're interested and would consider it, please let me know when would be the best time for you!

Free online editions: 
Project Gutenberg (trans. Spalding - HTML/Kindle/Epub/Plain text)Poetry in Translation
Hard copies:
AmazonBarnes & Noble
Free audiobooks:
LibrivoxStephen Fry Reads Onegin

Sylvie and Bruno Concluded

Last night I finished Sylvie and Bruno's sequel, which I had long been meaning to read (since two years ago!).  The two parts together make a truly lovely book, one I can easily call a favorite.

While the Alice books feel more linear in plot, as well as claustrophobic (and thereby cosy), Sylvie and Bruno Concluded (1893) continues the story's broad setting - a combination of the real world and the two mythical siblings' world.  It is both fun and surprising the way the plot jumps back and forth, and sometimes combines, the characters in the real world and those in Sylvie and Bruno's world.  On the one hand, you have young Dr. Forester, whose broken heart regains hope when he learns his relationship with Lady Muriel is not altogether over.  At the same time, there are Sylvie and Bruno who must hold onto the love, symbolized by a locket, their father entrusted to them, and do what they can to help the people around them, whether they are visible or not.  The narrator, mea…

Cumberbatch reads Kafka

For a limited time, you can listen online to Benedict Cumberbatch's recording of The Metamorphosis.  This (only slightly abridged) version is divided into four half-hour segments.  There are commercials before each part, so you will have to skip ahead a few minutes on each track.  I just finished the whole thing, and it's super good!

The Moon, a Violent Frontier

Previously there occurred to me an idea for a post (since scrapped), called something like "H.G. Wells, Master of Humor and Pathos."  The gist of it, which I saw again in The First Men in the Moon*, is his unique knack for combining both emotions to pull you into the scientific-adventure plots.  Though having enjoyed his other best-known novels, I had middling hopes for this one (perhaps guided by the bias that it was not included in my hardback anthology, but never mind that).  Turned out to be every bit as good.

If Cavor is the model mad scientist, then Bedford is the archetypical starving writer, whose moment of inspiration is abruptly disturbed by Cavor's customary stroll by his house.  An unexpected collaboration on creating the scientist's Cavorite (a sort of anti-gravity substance) sends them literally to the moon.  The moon, contrary to Cavor's expectations, is not uninhabited.  This sets the two inventors at odds with each other, since Cavor is quite take…

Stark Munro, 13 Days, and Master of the World

The Master of the World Jules Verne 4 out of 5 stars
A sequel to Robur the Conqueror, this 1904 Verne novel is centered on one of his classic themes: a vulnerable public terrorized by unknown and indisputably more powerful technology.  Here, U.S. lawman John Strock is sent to investigate "the Great Eyrie," in what becomes a sort of Americanized version of 20,000 Leagues.  Though it is hardly one of Verne's best, The Master of the World takes you into Verne's world with very little cumbersome prose, and I found it to be a rather fun read (and the Niagara Falls scene was truly exciting!).

The Stark Munro Letters Sir Arthur Conan Doyle 4 out of 5 stars
This interesting, often humorous series of letters can be best read as a fictional Doyle memoir, based on some real events in his early medical career.  For the medical side, read Round the Red Lamp - for the personal side, read this book.  Doyle fans will like it, as will anybody researching late Victorian life.  I wouldn't…

Steampunk/Sci-Fi Reading List

✓ The Master of the World (Verne)
- On Basilisk Station (Honor Harrington #1, Weber)
✓ The First Men in the Moon (Wells)
- The Sea Wolf (London)
- Frankenstein (Shelley)
- Dracula's Guest (Stoker)
- The Jewel of Seven Stars (Stoker)
- The Night Land (Hodgson)
- The Purple Cloud (M. P. Shiel)
- Arthur Mervyn (Ch. Brockden Brown)
- The Doings of Raffles Haw (Doyle)
✓ The Stark Munro Letters (Doyle)
- The Maracot Deep (Doyle)
- The Tragedy of the Korosko (Doyle)
- The Man Who Was Thursday (Chesterton, re-read)

Two short reviews

In the past, I have written these in groups of four, but today I only have two books to review.  They each get 4 out of 5 stars, so perhaps there is still uniformity to this, after all? 

To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee
It would seem I should have more to say about this book, but what can I say?  You probably know the entire synopsis with or without having read it before.  I enjoyed it, more than I expected.  The writing was more vivid than the plot, painting a complex examination of prejudice and tension that even the (excellent) movie could not evoke.  Atticus and Scout were deep characters.  The ending felt somehow disappointing after the intricate buildup, hence four stars.  But the journey, rather than the end, certainly makes it a worthy classic, so if you have procrastinated as I did, procrastinate no longer.

Notes on Life and Letters Joseph Conrad
I was reading this book for the longest time, I don't remember when I started it.  Goodreads says February.  Well, it isn…

Werther: Sorrows, Joys, and Other Sturm und Drang

Wilhelm deserves the reader's pity.  Not only is his name easily confused with the village of Wahlheim - a central location in Werther's tale - but his sole role is to play the long-suffering audience to Werther's letters of ecstasies, angst, and other sorrows.  Wilhelm listens attentively, offers his best advice to his friend, and ends his part in the story with a sense of utter helplessness and futility.  At least the audience is not alone.

Perhaps I was biased by having already known the plot of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's most famous novella, The Sorrows of Young Werther.  Even its German Romanticism, however, cannot save this book from 1 out of 5 stars.  The story centers around the title character, Werther, who is a head-in-the-clouds, rather obstinately unemployed young man, with the added misfortune of having fallen in love with a woman already engaged.  This would be Charlotte, whose fiance Albert even Werther cannot dislike, but simply envy.  Werther's fr…

Reading Tag

Saw this at Rosamund's blog Shoes of Paper ♥ Stockings of Buttermilk.  It looked fun, and I don't believe I've done it before - so here goes!

Do you snack while you read?  If so, favourite reading snack: 
I don't snack, but I drink tea!

What is your favourite drink while reading?
A nice large cup of tea. 

Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you? 
I still have my childhood horror of writing in books or bending pages (library books, you see).  What I do is use sticky notes to mark all the passages I want to remember - after I finish the book, I type up the parts worth remembering.

How do you keep your place while reading a book?  Bookmark?  Dog-ears?  Laying the book flat open?
Bookmarks!  Though when I was a child, I never used bookmarks; I would just set the book flat open, face down.  It was one of the few family rules I broke. 

Fiction, non-fiction, or both? 
Increasingly now, I enjoy both.  There was a phase in my early-…

Weekend Quote: Prison

At such times I felt something was drawing me away, and I kept thinking that if I walked straight on, far, far away and reached that line where sky and earth meet, there I should find the key to the mystery, there I should see a new life a thousand times richer and more turbulent than ours … But afterwards I thought one might find a wealth of life even in prison.

Dostoyevsky has been on the brain lately, which means his unhappy character Prince Myshkin is always in the background, too, somewhere.  I can understand his wish for "walking straight on" without stopping, trying to escape reality, his illness and eccentricity which separate him from the world.  It's the last line that makes it, though - finding life and liberty "even in prison."  And I think there is something even stronger than Stoicisim in those words, because he doesn't just say life, but a wealth of life.

Does Myshkin find this wealth in the prison of his life?  I don't know, but his d…

Meditations with Marcus Aurelius

Such as are thy habitual thoughts, such also will be the character of thy mind; for the soul is dyed by the thoughts.

One of my methods of minimizing bias in my readings and reviews is to avoid introductions.  For Meditations (tr. by George Long), I made an exception since the biographical note was at the beginning and only a page long.  Naturally, learning that Marcus Aurelius (r. 161–180) persecuted Christians during his reign over Rome was something that inevitably altered my perspective.  (If anything, it turned out for the best, giving me a better understanding of and context for the book.)

Stoic philosophy has long interested me with its emphasis on mind and attitude vs. emotions and circumstances.  As I understand it, the overwhelming intent of Stoicism is the achievement of spiritual peace in the midst of physical/external turmoil, becoming mentally "uncontaminated by pleasure, unharmed by any pain, untouched by any insult, feeling no wrong . . . accepting with all his soul…

Notes from Underground

© Yanis Chilov [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
My introduction to Fyodor Dostoyevsky was through (surprise!) Crime and Punishment.  Unable to swallow its psychopathic elements, I gave up just when the story was picking up and could not, in fact, bring myself to finish it.  Fast-forward to summer/fall 2011 - I was taking History of Russia and the USSR, picked up The Idiot because it seemed timely, and found it almost as equally disturbing but vastly more fascinating than C&P.  Now, after several people have (independently of each other) inadvertently recommended him to me this year, I've returned to Dostoyevsky via Notes from Underground.

"I am a sick man.... I am a spiteful man. I am an unattractive man. I believe my liver is diseased."  The anonymous narrator's self-deprecatory sense of humor is strangely charming, at least initially.  A retired government official, he lives now in seclusion in the "Underground" (or underworld) of St. Petersburg…

Twice-Told Tales

It is puzzling to me why Twice-Told Tales is passed over for The Scarlet Letter as required/recommended reading in U.S. schools.  I cannot yet compare the contents of the two, having avoided Scarlet Letter this far, but in the context of his other writings such as Blithedale or Seven Gables, Twice-Told Tales strikes me as quintessentially Hawthornesque writing in a more "fun-sized" format.

And Nathaniel Hawthorne, especially in Twice-Told, is more contemporary than he is usually perceived.  Born in Salem, MA, in 1804, he lived the first several years of his post-graduation life in a solitude worthy of a 20th-century existentialist.*  Hawthorne's melancholy outlook, however, is intertwined with his own religious feeling, skepticism of society, the legacy of American history, and the two sides of death: the ugly and the beautiful.  Always in his writing runs this thread of contrast between the Jekyll and Hyde characteristics of the world, in which Hawthorne hesitates to tak…

The blog is not dead

Posts have been infrequent enough this year; I didn't expect to be 'absent' two months!  Real life has found ways of distracting me from books, but I am anxious to leave my post-Amerika reading rut and morph into summer "heavy" reading.

A review for Twice-Told Tales is forthcoming.  I am going through and reading the stories I skipped before, as well as re-reading a few.  While it hasn't got me out of the rut, completionism has been very worthwhile.  "The Gentle Boy" and "The Prophetic Pictures" are probably my favorites so far - the plots are novel-worthy.

Summer "heavy" reading is a tradition of mine where I read one large book over the summer.  This year, I may just go for number of books, instead of pages of one book.  I'm taking suggestions for my summer read(s), preferably something from the uber long list - please comment with any ideas of what you'd like to see!


If it is difficult to review a book that is nonfiction and follows a less-than-linear outline, then it is doubly difficult to review such a book from the Christian apologetics genre.  And, naturally, one must explain a rating of 5 out of 5 stars.

G. K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy is an account of how he came to hold Christian orthodox beliefs.  By the term "orthodoxy" (the lowercase 'o'), he is not referring to a branch or denomination of the Church, but rather ". . . the Apostles' Creed, as understood by everybody calling himself Christian until a very short time ago and the general historic conduct of those who held such a creed."

I happened to read Orthodoxy during or just after my 20th cent. Brit. History course, which included references to H. G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw, and other people of letters.  There was not one mention of Chesterton, despite his friendship with both Wells and Shaw; he does not fit neatly into the agenda presented in such a h…

Kafka's Copperfield in Amerika

"My intention was . . . to write a Dickens novel, enriched by the sharper lights which I took from our modern times, and by the pallid ones I would have found in my own interior."
- Diaries (1946), qtd. in"Amerika (novel)," Wikipedia.
It is rarely my choice to read Franz Kafka all the way through.  Which is to say, I frequently express the intention of reading Kafka, and I read parts of his writings, but I tend to stumble upon reading any work of his in its entirety.  Amerika: or, The Missing Person (1927) was no exception - choosing it as my third read for the Turn of the Century Salon was a spontaneous decision, especially since I had previously determined not to read it in any case (I had very low expectations for a Kafka novel set in the U.S., rather than in Europe).

For this and many other reasons, irony is a good adjective to describe Amerika and Kafka in general.  To name one example - could anything be more ironic than Kafka writing a novel on a country he…


When I chose Wieland: or, The Transformation for my history class, I was not expecting a masterpiece of plot, philosophy, or characters.  I did expect a good old-fashioned Gothic tale with a dash of melodrama, an eerie edifice, and maybe a ghost or two.  Sadly, this is the third book connected to my class that disappointed me, and while it was vastly more fast-paced, it was also quite a bit worse than The House of the Seven Gables or The Prairie.  Would I read more Charles Brockden Brown?  Maybe, someday.  Not in the near future.

Wieland introduces us to the narrator, Clara Wieland, her brother Theodore and his family, and their mutual friend, Henry Pleyel.  These characters live in a surreal sort of isolated, literati circle, centered around Theodore's home, Mettingen (which would seem to fit better in Victorian England than its actual setting: pre-Revolutionary America).  Their perfect lives become interrupted by seemingly supernatural occurrences and the arrival of a mysterious …

The Prairie

Chronologically last in James Fenimore Cooper's Leatherstocking series, The Prairie follows the wagon train of Ishmael Bush and his family, who are journeying into the recently acquired Louisiana Purchase.  The Bushes make their own laws and shun society, even that of an old, solitary Trapper who stumbles across their campsite.  He does not fail to notice that one of their wagons is closely guarded, carrying something or someone that never sees the light of day.  A chance meeting with a Captain Middleton and a party of hostile Sioux sends events and characters into a crazy chase across the prairies, where friendships and hatreds arise from unpredictable sides.

I had high hopes for this book, assigned reading in my Early American Arts, Music, & Lit class.  Even now, I would still like to read The Last of the Mohicans, which features the protagonist - the Trapper - in his younger years.  Overall, The Prairie was like Seven Gables in that the concept was great and the execution wa…

Paris in the Twentieth Century

This is a remarkable book with an even stranger setting - written in 1863, set in 1960, and not published till 1994.  It's not such a stretch, however, to include it in the Turn of the Century Salon, as Jules Verne was writing novels up through the early 1900s, and he is always associated with the original "steampunk" genre from this time period.  Paris in the Twentieth Century is classic steampunk: a coming-of-age story combining 20th century technology with late Victorian culture.

By Cezary Piwowarski (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons
His reputation sullied by a school prize for Latin verse, young Michel Dufrénoy comes to live with his aunt and uncle, who hope to convert him into at least an adequate banker and a "practical man."  Michel attempts to live up to his uncle's expectations, but it is soon found he is unfit for even the lowliest job in commerce and industry.  Eagerly, he resigns himself to the life of a "st…

The House of the Seven Gables

New England, early 1800s.  Hepzibah Pyncheon, a hermit-like woman with a severe face and a soft heart, lives quietly in the seven-gabled Pyncheon House.  She is rescued from poverty only when her young relative, Phoebe, comes to live with her and help her run a small shop.  Phoebe is interested to meet the other lodger at Pyncheon House, a daguerreotypist by the name of Holgrave, but more mysterious is Hepzibah's desperation to protect her brother Clifford from the influence of Judge Jaffrey, a cousin and seemingly benevolent man.  As Phoebe and Holgrave discover, the key to the Pyncheon siblings' troubles is deeply connected to the house's history, and that of its sinisterly respectable founder, Colonel Pyncheon.

I must say I found Nathaniel Hawthorne's The House of the Seven Gables to be overall disappointing, in comparison with The Blithedale Romance or The Marble Faun.  If this were a movie, I'd sum it up by saying that the concept was great and the execution wa…

Weekend Quote: The Law

"The law - 'tis bad to have it, but, I sometimes think, it is worse to be entirely without it."
- James Fenimore Cooper, The Prairie J. F. Cooper's The Prairie (1827) is the last book in the Leatherstocking series, of which his more famous The Last of the Mohicans is also part.  The beauty of this quote is that it succinctly sums up a classic theme of the Western genre - that is, lawman vs. outlaw, and the injustices done by both sides, in a time and place where towns were small and law officers were few. This comes up pretty frequently in my favorite TV series, The Virginian, which portrays both noble and corrupt lawmen, and the moral dilemmas that result.

I am only about 1/3 into The Prairie (and taking a break to focus on other homework), but so far it's been pretty good.  Cooper has a delightful sense of humor - you gotta love Dr. Battius's Facebook-style friending/unfriending: "I rejoice greatly at this meeting; we are lovers of the same pursuits, and…

Turn of the Century Salon - a literary event

Hosted by Katherine at November's Autumn.  My participation may be sporadic, but I'm going to try to fit this challenge into my schedule.  :)

Here's my answers to the questionnaire/prompts for January (Introduction):
What draws you to read the Classics?Classics are works of art, unlike most contemporary fiction.  I love reading, and though I also love the era I live in, I cannot relate to it in the same way that I relate to classic lit and classic authors.  On the other hand, classics have taught me a lot about the modern world (some things never change).  I hope for there to be great authors in the 21st century, but it is looking doubtful - the books of today tend to display "quantity over quality" characteristics.
What era have you mainly read? Georgian? Victorian? Which authors?19th century British lit.  It's great, but right now I'm eager to read more world literature (and non-fic)!
What Classics have you read from the 1880s-1930s? What did you think of t…

2013 Reads

I have never been good at sticking to book challenges - not to mention, my reading list grows at an outrageous pace!  However, there are a few (very simple) reading goals I'd like to accomplish this year.

For sure, I will be reading James Fenimore Cooper's The Prairie, required for my upcoming Early American Art/Music/Lit course.  I love Hawthorne and Melville, and I've heard good things about Cooper.  His style intimidates me, but so did that of those other two authors . . . there seems to be a trend of 19th c. American lit being hard to read (though well worth it!).  If I like Prairie, I might read the whole Leatherstocking series.

From my reading list, I would like to read at least one biography (most likely Eva Perón or Bonhoeffer), one political science book, and one philosophy book.  The sheer length of Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations and Karl Marx's Das Kapital, vol. 1 gave me a hilarious idea - what if I were to read them side-by-side?  A nice thought, if …

2012 End of Year Book Survey

I saw this on Délaissé, and thought it looked fun!  Though I haven't read a ton of books this year, I'm going to give it a try:

1. Best Book You Read In 2012? Hard to say - probably Dracula for a new book, and definitely Heart of Darkness and Eugene Onegin for re-reads. 2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t? The Remains of the Day, The Great Enigma, and The House of the Seven Gables. 3. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2012?  Dracula, definitely!  It was way better than I expected. 4. Book you recommended to people most in 2012? Probably Heart of Darkness. 5. Best series you discovered in 2012? I didn't read any series.

6. Favorite new authors you discovered in 2012? Chesterton was awesome, and I'd read more Turgenev and Zola! 7. Best book that was out of your comfort zone or was a new genre for you?  Chesterton's Orthodoxy, somewhat of a new genre and not a typical choice for me. 8. Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2012?…