Shelf Control #68: The Once and Future King by T.H. White #TBR #Classics

Wednesday the 11th of December–Shelf Control time! Shelf Control is a weekly feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and celebrates the books waiting to be read on your TBR piles/mountains. To participate, simply pick a book from your TBR pile and write a post about it–what its all about, what makes you want to read it, and such. Link back to Lisa’s page, and do also leave your links in the comments below as I’d love to check out your picks!

This week my pick is a fantasy classic, T.H. White’s The Once and Future King. First published in 1958, the book is a revised collected edition of four of his works written between 1938 and 1958, telling the legends of King Arthur.

The book comprises The Sword in the Stone, The Queen of Air and Darkness, The Ill-Made Knight, and The Candle in the Wind. They cover the youth and education of Arthur, his reign including his son Mordred’s revolt, and the romance between Guinevere and Lancelot. A fifth book, The Book of Merlyn, published much later in 1977, chronicles Arthur’s last night on earth, and addresses profound issues of war and peace. Combining humour and fantasy, White’s version of Arthur’s tale is loosely based on Le Mort d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory. But the telling is essentially White’s own interpretation and includes aspects like Arthur’s youth, not covered in the work by Malory. The setting of the book in the 14th century is much later than the period when Arthur would actually have ruled.

Tapestry of King Arthur
circa 1385, via Wikimedia Commons

Born in Bombay in 1906, Terence Hanbury White graduated with a first class degree in English in 1928 from Queen’s College, Cambridge, where he also wrote a thesis on Le Mort d’Arthur. Besides the Arthur books for which White is best known, he wrote a memoir of a year spent in England, England Have my Bones (1936), some science fiction (Earth Stopped (1934) and Gone to Ground (1935)), the children’s fantasy book Mistress Masham’s Repose (1946), where a young girl discovers a group of Lilliputians living near her house, and various other works.

The Once and Future King is a book that I’ve heard a lot about, especially how it combines humour and fantasy, and yet one I haven’t gotten down to reading yet. I haven’t actually read much on King Arthur either except The Story of King Arthur and his Knights by Howard Pyle, which was a young person’s or children’s version of the legends (covering pretty much all these parts, but also Merlin’s demise) and Mary Stewart’s The Wicked Day which explored Mordred’s tale, and paints a different version of him (not an entirely dark character) than popular versions. So I am looking forward to picking this one up soon, and reading this classic of Arthur and his Knights.

Have you read this book? How did you like it? Any other Arthur tellings/retellings that you’d recommend? Looking forward to your thoughts and recommendations!

The info on the book is as always from wikipedia (here) and goodreads (here) and on White, from goodreads (here)

Book Review: #Zarathustra: The Lion that Carried the Flame by Richard Marazano and Amad Mir #NetGalley #GraphicNovel

My thanks to NetGalley and Europe Comics for a review copy of this one.

This is the first volume of a graphic novel which tells the story of the prophet, Zarathustra or Zoroaster, the founder of Zoroastrianism or Mazdaism, or the religion of the Parsis as we in India might identify it more commonly. I know next to nothing about Zoroaster, and felt a graphic novel would be a great place to get an introduction to at least the legends surrounding him. The Lion that Carried the Flame is of course only the first part of the story. The story opens in the Karakum dessert, the land of the Bactrians and the Margians, where a young boy begs his father to tell him the story of the gods, including the one he ‘killed’. The father of course has to give in to the request and tells of the time when he, Amru, was a traveller who decided to set up as a trader in the merchant city of Gonur-Depe where he has bought a little shop—though he was not quite made (or destined) to be a merchant. But he finds things are not so easy in that city where merchant guilds are led by powerful women. Despite warnings from various quarters, Amru continues to try and do business, but is soon driven to debt, also attracting the enmity of a powerful woman merchant, Vivana. Amru however, also has a secret from his past, for among his belongings are a sword and a skull and we of course, don’t know what they signify, and who he really was before he came to Gonur-Depe.

In the meantime, alongside, a prince, Zahak, who has gone down the wrong path, praying to the evil forces of Angra Mainu is seeking something (once again, we don’t know what), which leads him to Gonur-Depe which he is bent on destroying, in fact, wiping out even from memory. Amru soon finds he has to contend with not only Vivana and her schemes but also the evil forces unleashed by Zahak who he alone seems to have the strength and resources to withstand. Thus starts his adventure, on which Amru must flee the city with an unexpected travelling companion. And out in the dessert, the terrain is not the only danger they face for other creatures not of this world also roam there!

This was an interesting telling of the story of Zarathustra, rather of the legends surrounding him which take one into the territory of myth, where civilisation flourished but where the gods (sometimes in fantastic forms) too still walked the earth alongside mortals. Of the characters, I didn’t know quite what to make of Amru with all the mystery surrounding him (though of course we know he is our ‘hero’), while Vivana herself is quite a handful—arrogant, but also very spirited. The story set out well the background to Amru’s adventures, preserving the element of mystery that surrounds his past (to which we get some small clues), and also of exactly what befell him when he ‘met’ a god, which intrigued me, and made me really want to read on. But like some (not all) of the graphic novels I’ve read from Europe Comics, being only part of the story, it doesn’t quite feel complete in itself, which leaves one feeling perhaps not entirely satisfied. However, this didn’t prevent me from wanting to read the next instalment to see how the story continues and what secrets are revealed. Three and a half stars.

Shelf Control #67: My Husband and Other Animals by Janaki Lenin #TBR #Animals #Memoirs

Wednesday the 4th of December–time again for Shelf Control, the first one this month. Shelf Control is a weekly feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and celebrates the books waiting to be read on your TBR piles/mountains. To participate, simply pick a book from your TBR pile and write a post about it. Link back to Lisa’s page, and do also leave your links in the comments below as I’d love to check out your picks!

Like last week, this week too I have picked a non-fiction read to feature in this post, but something quite different from last week (which was Modern India, a travelogue of sorts written in 1903-find that post here), My Husband & Other Animals by Janaki Lenin. Published in 2012, this is a collection of stories by the author describing what’s its like being married to Rom Whitaker, herpetologist, wildlife conservationist, and founder of the Madras Snake Park and Madras Crocodile Bank. From battling tree frogs colonising their house, to travelling to the wild in pursuit of snakes and enormous crocodiles, to playing with porcupines, and various other trysts with nature, they’ve certainly had an interesting and entertaining life.

Janaki Lenin

The Author: Janaki Lenin is a former film editor who is now a freelance journalist. She started writing in 2004, beginning with articles in wildlife magazines, and in 2010 starting a series of columns in the newspaper, The Hindu titled My Husband and Other Animals. It is a collection of these columns that forms this book. A sequel, My Husband and Other Animals 2 appeared in 2018. The author has also been working on issues relating to the management of human-wildlife conflict situations, contributing to various action plans and guidelines. (More about her on her page here).

I enjoy reading nature books in general (total tangent but Enid Blyton also wrote some wonderful ones) and this one being nature stories from closer home made me want to pick this up. Also, the title of the book and the fact that it has a foreword by Lee Durrell is making me think this collection is going to be something on the lines of Gerald Durrell’s writings which I really enjoy–both My Family and Other Animals which I loved and some of his other writings as well. I haven’t read anything by the author before but the collection has been described as ‘entertaining, playful, and downright amusing’. So I am certainly looking forward to reading this. The only thing that worries me is that while I love animals, snakes do give me the chills! I picked the book up, by the way, on kindle when it was on sale a while ago.

Do you enjoy reading nature books? Which ones are some of your favourites? have you read this one? How did you find it? Looking forward to your thoughts and recommendations!

Info about the book is as always from goodreads (here), and on the author from goodreads (here) and the author’s page (here)

Image source: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6565101.Janaki_Lenin

Book Review: 82년생 김지영/Kim Ji-Young, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo #NetGalley #KimJiyoungBorn1982

My thanks to Simon and Schuster UK and NetGalley for a review copy of this one.

Kim Ji-Young, Born 1982 is a 2016 Korean novel, now translated into English (besides other languages). This hard-hitting novel has sold over a million copies, and was also adapted into a film that released in October this year. The book traces the story of Kim Ji-Young, the title character, from the year she was born, 1982, to 2016 highlighting the sexism, discrimination and injustice she faces at every stage of her life [The author, a former scriptwriter for television, in fact, said that Ji-Young’s life wasn’t much different from her own]. Ji-Young is the second daughter in the family of a lower-level government servant. Her mother is a housewife who also takes up an assortment of jobs from home to supplement her husband’s income, having had to give up on her own education and work in her youth so that her brothers could get the best educations. Ji-Young of course has a ‘better’ time in that she does get an education, as best as her parents can afford, and even goes to university, and has a chance at a career (though not for long), but at every stage be it as a child growing up, to school, to interviewing for a job, getting one, and having to give it up, she is impacted in some way or other by sexism, having to share where her younger brother doesn’t, having to accept being secondary, being looked over despite being qualified simply because she is a woman, whether for a job or inclusion in a team at work, having to give up her career for her child, and having fingers pointed at her for everything, whether it be her fault or not, mostly the latter. However, there is a little hope too in the story. Ji-Young’s mother, despite and also perhaps because of having faced worse in her life, does stand up for her daughters at times, and tries within her constraints to ensure that they do not have to give up their dreams as she did. Others girls and women who Ji-Young encounters (at school and work) too sometimes take a stand, rather than accepting things quietly, winning for themselves and others small victories. But despite all that, at the end one realises that there is still very long to go before much of this changes, and many will still have to walk the same path, face the same life as Ji-Young. (The final sentences will definitely shake you.)

I found the book to be a very impactful one, and while set in Korean society, some (actually most) of these forms of discrimination and sexist behaviour aren’t restricted to that country, so the truths it brings one face to face with would resonate with many. I was also quite surprised with how fast the book moved—of course, it is a short read (under 170 pages in the edition I had), but still it moves well, and it doesn’t ‘feel’ like a translation at all (The translator is Jamie Chang). Some reviews of the book I read mention how the book uses a rather dry tone. Partly I do agree with this, as it certainly does that, and in addition, the footnotes supporting different facts make it feel somewhat like non-fiction at times, but on the other hand, the tone I felt is explained once one gets to the end of the book and realises who the narrator is, and what it is one is supposed to be reading. Well worth a read, for everyone. Four and a half stars!

Shelf Control #66: Modern India by William Eleroy Curtis #India #History #TBR

Wednesday the 27th of November–time again for Shelf Control. Shelf Control is a weekly feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and celebrates the books waiting to be read on your TBR piles/mountains. To participate, simply pick a book from your TBR pile and write a post about it. Link back to Lisa’s page, and do also leave your links in the comments below as I’d love to check out your picks!

Since I had picked mysteries and that too Golden Age ones to feature in my last two posts, this time I thought I’ll pick something a little different, in fact very different. This is a travelogue cum history Modern India by William Eleroy Curtis. The book essentially compiles the letters the author sent to the Chicago Herald during the winter of 1903-04 during his travels in the country. I found this simply by chance, when browsing on Project Gutenberg.

Containing 30 chapters, the book begins with the author’s journey to India by sea, on which he makes his observations about the differences between British and American travellers, as well on other notable fellow travellers who caught his eye, or perhaps whom he interacted with. He arrives at Bombay (now Mumbai) greeted by the sight of the (then) new Taj Hotel, and travels to various other parts of the country including Jeypore (Jaipur), Ahmedabad, Agra, Delhi, Calcutta, Cawnpore (Kanpur) and Benaras (Varanasi). The chapters are not focused on the cities alone but some of them also make observations on other aspects of life like ‘Two Hindu Weddings’, ‘Snakes and Tigers’, ‘Cotton, Tea and Opium’, besides generally on Education, Mughals and Mughal architecture, and the Army, among others. It also has maps and photographs from the time, of places and people.

The one review I found of this book on Goodreads is critical of it for being colonial in its approach as well as patronising and too judgmental. But like the author of the review says, this is something one can expect from a book written at the time and from the perspective that it is. It also mentions (something I have noticed from glancing through the book) that there are whole sections devoted to statistics on demographics and salaries and various other such things which might be interesting from an academic perspective but not so much to a casual reader, for whom a lesser dose would have sufficed. But I’d still like to pick it up just to get an idea of what the country was like back then, even if the picture is a coloured one. While I will probably skip some of the statistics, I am looking forward to reading his observations on different cities, even religions, and rituals. And yes, also looking at the pictures (which I know I don’t need to actually read the book to do but still :)) There is a rather interesting one of a monk and a young boy, titled ‘Kim the Chela, and the Old Lama who Sought the Way and the Trust and the Light’. Kipling’s work come to life? May be…

Have you heard of or read this one? What did you think of it? Or have you read any other histories or travelogues of India or of your part of the world written long ago? Any you’d recommend? Looking forward to your thoughts!

Some Interesting George Eliot Facts on her 200th!

Born on 22 November 1819, George Eliot, one of the leading Victorian novelists turns 200 today! Though simply calling her a novelist isn’t quite fair. Mary Ann Evans Cross was also a poet, essayist, and translator. Between 1859 and 1876, she published seven novels, and was known for her realistic approach to character, skillful development of plot, and psychological insight. As a child she was intelligent and a voracious reader, which along with her being thought as having little chance at marriage, led her father to give her an education not usually afforded women at that time. In 1850, she moved to London to become a writer. In 1856, she published an essay critiquing works by female writers of the day entitled ‘Silly Novels by Lady Novelists’. Her first work of fiction, ‘The Sad Fortunes of Revd. Amos Barton’ appeared in 1857, and later formed part of Scenes of Clerical Life. Her first complete work of fiction was Adam Bede, published in 1859. Since I haven’t had the time to do a full length post, though I would have liked to, here are ten interesting facts about the author (I’ve compiled these from various sources, all listed below).

  • George Eliot wrote for and later became de facto editor of the journal, The Westminster Review, established by Jeremy Bentham and James Mill.
  • George Eliot is credited with ‘inventing’ the term ‘pop’ used by her in a letter in 1862 (she used it in relation to music).
  • She wrote nearly all of her works using her pseudonym, to ensure her works were taken seriously, as well because of her social position. Her translation of The Essence of Christianity was the only book she published in her own name. Her essays in the Westminster Review also appeared under the name Marian Evans.
  • For her first book, the translation of a work of Biblical scholarship, she received £20, while for her novel Ramola, she received a then-record payment of £10,000.
By Francois D’Albert Durage, 1849, public domain via wikimedia commons
  • George Eliot’s father, Robert Evans, the Warwickshire estate agent for the Earl of Lonsdale was the model for her characters like Adam Bede and Caleb Garth.
  • George Eliot’s first novel Adam Bede (1859) was a resounding success, and went through its eighth printing within the first year. The publisher doubled the royalty and returned the copyright! Her novel, Middlemarch, has been described as ‘the Greatest Novel in the English Language’.
  • As an extra payment for Adam Bede, George Eliot received a pug from her publisher John Blackwood in 1859! [I have this little giftbook with dog pictures and quotes called Utterly Lovable Dogs, which attributes to Eliot the following quote [Not sure if this was about to this particular pug but I’m still putting it down all the same]]:

“Pug is come!–come to fill up the void left by false and narrow-hearted friends. I already see that he is without envy, hatred, or malice–that he will betray no secrets, and feel neither pain at my success nor pleasure at my chagrin”

George Eliot
  • Her novel The Mill on the Floss is the story of her estrangement from her brother Issac.
  • Queen Victoria had read all of George Eliot’s works, and apparently liked Adam Bede so much that in 1861, she commissioned Edward Henry Corbould to paint two scenes from the novel. Charles Dickens too wrote her a letter, praising her work (Amos Barton) even before her identity was revealed.
  • Because of the scandal in her personal life, she was not allowed a memorial stone in Westminster Abbey’s Poet’s Corner, only receiving recognition there in 1980.

Which Eliot books have you read so far? Any that you are planning to read or revisit soon? Which one/s do you like and which do you not like so much?

Here are some recent posts on Eliot’s works, and related works by fellow bloggers: On Middlemarch (here and here), Silas Marner (here), The Lifted Veil (here), and a review of In Love with George Eliot by Kathy O’Shaughnessy (here).

Find bios of George Eliot here, here, and here.

All this month, the ‘bookquotes’ I post on this blog have also been from Eliot. Find them here, here, and here.

Image source (image at the top of the post): https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:George_Eliot_7.jpg

Shelf Control #65: The Hog’s Back Mystery by Freeman Wills Crofts #TBR #Mystery #GoldenAge

Wednesday the 20th of November–time again for Shelf Control. Shelf Control is a weekly feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and celebrates the books waiting to be read on your TBR piles/mountains. To participate, simply pick a book from your TBR pile and write a post about it. Link back to Lisa’s page, and do also leave your links in the comments below as I’d love to check out your picks!

This week my pick is another mystery (last week I had Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers (here)), and yet again one from the 1930s, but this one’s a British Library Crime Classic, The Hog’s Back Mystery by Freeman Wills Crofts. [By the way, Rekha from the Book Decoder is hosting a British Crime Classics Challenge for 2020. You need to read at a minimum only a small number of books (6), but you are free to read as many as you like, but published before 1965. So if you like crime classics, I think you’ll enjoy this challenge. Find the details here. I know I will join in, and this mystery might be one of my picks.]

Back to this post now, The Hog’s Back Mystery was first published in 1933 and is the tenth entry (according to the Goodreads listing) in the series by Freeman Wills Crofts to feature Inspector French. Dr. James Earle and his much younger wife are living a peaceful retired life near the Hog’s Back in the North Downs in the Surrey countryside. But one day, Dr Earle suddenly vanishes. Inspector French, called to investigate the case, suspects a simple domestic intrigue, but soon finds that he has a much more complex mystery on his hands. Others including a house guest of the Earles disappear as well. Where have they gone? Who could have taken them and why? Have they been murdered? The reader follows alongside as Inspector French pieces together the case, which has twists right until the end.

The Author: Freeman Wills Crofts (1879-1957), born in Dublin, was apprenticed to, and became a Railway Engineer in 1899. When recovering from a serious illness in 1919, he began his writing career with his first novel The Cask (1920) being accepted by a London publisher, and selling 100,000 copies over two decades. After this, he continued to write, producing a book nearly each year until his death, while also writing 50 short stories and 30 BBC radio plays. As a result of his background, railway themes feature in many of his books. Inspector French is his best-known character, who solves his cases with painstaking work and dogged determination. French appeared in 30 detective novels between 1924 and 1957, the first being Inspector French’s Greatest Case (1924). Crofts became a full-time writer in 1929.

From reviews of this book, it seems that it has quite an interesting puzzle element with a denouement in the last chapter which specifically points the reader to pages at which clues appear. This isn’t something I’ve come across before, so it would be interesting to see how it works in reading terms. Also our detective, Inspector French is apparently no Sherlock Holmes or Poirot even who magically put things together, but works step by step to solve his case. There are only a few mysteries I’ve read earlier where the detective is an ordinary person, rather than a genius. So I’m certainly looking forward to seeing how he works out the puzzle.

Have you read this book or any of the other Inspector French or other mysteries by Crofts? Where did you come across them and how did you find them? Looking forward to your thoughts!

Sources: As always Goodreads (here and here) and Wikipedia (here)

Image source: Goodreads (here).

Reviews of this book by other bloggers: here, here, here.