Stationary Travellers #poetry #Longfellow #books

Source: Pexels

We travel–to explore the world, experience new places, sounds, smells, cultures, to see the wonders this world has to offer. We travel for adventure, for excitement, for fun, even relaxation. Travel means all this and more. It means to get up and get going, but for us as readers, we can ‘travel’ even without that. Through the books on our shelves, we can have almost all the same experiences, see new sights through the authors’ eyes (and in our minds), learn about new cultures (perhaps even more closely and in more detail than in person), visit magical and fantastical places (Narnia or the lands up in the Faraway Tree) that we never can in real life, and have exciting adventures with the characters we are travelling with!

Travelling!
Image source: Pexels

So each time we open a book, we too travel, enter new worlds, real or imaginary. And this we can do from our comfortable reading nooks. This is just the kind of travel that H.W. Longfellow writes about in ‘Travels by the Fireside’.

Image source: Pexels

In it, he writes of rainy days, of ‘ceaseless rain…falling fast‘ which ‘drives [him] in upon himself’–away from the grey, dreary, and wet atmosphere outside to the cosy comfort of ‘fireside gleams‘, and more importantly, to the ‘pleasant books that crowd [his] shelf; And still more pleasant dreams.’

Image source: Pexels

That is certainly where a cold rainy day or dreary winter evening drives us readers, with a favourite book, sipping some hot coffee/tea, losing ourselves in the worlds that they open up for us! Longfellow reads too of tales sung by bards, ‘of lands beyond the sea‘, and these songs, as he is writing in his later years, bring back to him memories of his youth, when perhaps he went on adventures of his own, the tales he reads of making him relive his own memories. [The songs of the bards and journeys on ‘sea and land’ that he refers to incidentally made me think very much of Odysseus’ adventures, though Longfellow wasn’t really speaking of any specific stories.]

Roman Mossaic depicting Odysseus
Source: Giorcesderivative work: Habib M’henni [Public domain]

His travels through ‘others eyes’ are far more comfortable than real-life adventures for he no longer fears ‘the dust and the heat‘, or ‘feel[s] fatigue‘, nor does he need to ‘toil through various climes‘. He ‘journey[s] with another’s feet‘, and ‘turn[s] the world around in [his] hand‘, through these songs of the bards as he travels over ‘many a lengthening league‘ and ‘learn[s] whatever lies; Beneath each changing zone‘. In fact, he sees ‘when looking with their eyes; better than with [his] own.’

Do you like travelling? Actual travels or do you prefer to like Longfellow (and me 😛 ) travel comfortably in your armchairs? Have you read this poem before? How did you like it?

Find the full poem here.

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#MarieKondo #30BooksChallenge

Photo by Mikes Photos on Pexels.com

Last year, Paula at Bookjotter put up a challenge of putting together a list of 100 books that you would choose to own, if you ousted every other book you owned. (Find her post here). I had planned to try this out as well but still hadn’t gotten down to it, and initially at least kept wondering whether I’d be able to to it at all–cut down to so few that is. But anyway, lately amidst all the talk about Marie Kondo’s comment about her having only thirty books or recommending that one have only thirty books (Still don’t know which is the correct statement), a smaller number popped up. Booktuber Hailey (Hailey in Bookland) made a video about the thirty books she would keep (hypothetical of course, no actual chucking of books involved) if she took the Marie Kondo challenge (find that video here). Sparked off by that into thinking on that track again, I have come up with a list of thirty books from where I will work up to the hundred (separate post in the next few weeks).

So here are my thirty. I have to say though that in making this list, I didn’t actually go and look at or through my bookshelves but compiled it off the top of my head (giving it some thought, of course), so there may be things I missed which I will correct in the 100 list. Also, while I’ve included both fiction and non-fiction, I haven’t included the other books (like my birdwatchers books which I’d never give up or Utterly Loveable Dogs (dog pictures and quotes) which I wouldn’t either–and such others). Also, this list is in no particular order.

  1. The Complete Short Stories of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  2. Emma by Jane Austen
  3. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
  4. Gone Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright
  5. The Folk of the Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton
  6. The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie
  7. The Secret of Chimneys by Agatha Christie
  8. 4:50 from Paddington by Agatha Christie
  9. The Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes
  10. Daughters-in-Law by Henry Cecil
  11. The Story Girl by L.M. Montgomery
  12. Alex in Numberland by Alex Bellos
  13. The Luck of the Bodkins by P.G. Wodehouse
  14. Spring Fever by P.G. Wodehouse
  15. A Pelican at Blandings by P.G. Wodehouse
  16. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
  17. All-of-A-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor
  18. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling (Jim Kay, illus)
  19. William the Bad by Richmal Crompton
  20. The Mystery of Holly Lane by Enid Blyton
  21. Emil and the Detectives by Eric Kastner
  22. A Twist in the Tale by Jeffrey Archer
  23. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
  24. Picture Imperfect and Other Byomkesh Bakshi Mysteries by Sardindu Bandyopadhyay
  25. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  26. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
  27. Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
  28. Bleak House by Charles Dickens
  29. Nicholas Nickelby by Charles Dickens
  30. A Traveller in Time by Alison Uttley

So those are my thirty–a start at least to the 100-book list! If you’re doing a list too, thirty or a hundred, do share your links in the comments.

Bookquotes: Quotes from Books (28)

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“There is no surer foundation for a beautiful friendship than a mutual taste in literature.”

–P.G. Wodehouse

 

(p.s.: I don’t think this one is from any book, but it is by Wodehouse after all. I found it on a bookmark that I was sent when I did some book shopping earlier in the month)

Image source: Pexels

#Wodehouse #Books

Re-post: Frankenstein and the Meanings of “Monster”

2018 being the 200th Anniversary of Frankenstein, I decided to re-post this one (one of my earliest posts on this blog) from 2015. I haven’t changed anything in the text, but have added pictures!

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Frontispiece to the 1831 ed.

Source: By Theodore Von Holst (1810-1844) (Tate Britain. Private collection, Bath.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Last year, I took this course on ‘Fantasy and Science Fiction’ on Coursera. And one of the books we discussed was Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein—a book that I’d read before and which turned out to be very different from what I’d expected. One of the things discussed (in the course) was the meaning of the word monster, which, it appears, comes from the Latin “monere” meaning to warn or “monstrum” meaning omen or portent—not what one thinks it means more commonly. But Frankenstein can be said to be a story of a “monster” in one more commonly understood sense, that of a “malformed animal or human, creature with a birth defect”—something that people find “ugly” or “repulsive”, and that they fear. And then, there is the “monster” in terms of “actions”—someone “inhumanly cruel or wicked”, which one also sees reflected in the book. When I first read the book, I expected a story of a “monster” in the second sense, even the third, but it turned out to be one, that perhaps was more a “warning” to readers, and in more senses than one.

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Boris Karloff in Frankenstein (probably the most popular image of Frankenstein’s creature)

Source: By Universal Studios (Dr. Macro) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In one sense, the book comes across as a warning to scientists, and to people seeking power through knowledge, to remember that power comes with responsibility, and that one must not be so absorbed in acquiring power through knowledge, that one becomes entirely unmindful of its consequences (a theme that seems to stand out in a lot of science fiction, including Wells’ The Invisible Man).

Frankenstein, initially, wants to acquire knowledge (“more deeply smitten with the thirst for knowledge”), and possibly the power that comes with it (“A new species would bless me as its creator and source, many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me”). In this process he becomes so absorbed in “bestowing animation upon lifeless matter” that he does not stop to consider the consequences for himself or his creation. In fact, for much of the book, he regrets creating the “monster”, but only later realises “what the duties of a creator to his creature were…”, but by then the horrific consequences have already begun.

The book can also be seen as a warning, more generally, in another sense—in the context of human nature itself. For while Frankenstein did create the “monster” literally by bringing him to life, and more so by forsaking his creation, others, like De Lacey and his family or the father of the girl the creature rescues, also contribute to making him a “fiend” for they too judge on appearance alone, not attempting to look beyond his grotesque features, allowing their fears to get the better of them.  No one cares to look at his intentions, or at how much he wants to fit in and find friends. His attempts at getting Frankenstein to “make” him a friend also fail, for Frankenstein has now realised what he has done. Alone and friendless in the world, the “monster” resorts to revenge—and turns into a “monster” in the third sense, violent and cruel. But one finds oneself pitying rather than blaming him, wondering all the time who the “monster” in this story really is—certainly not the creature—Frankenstein himself most importantly, and also the other “human beings” who couldn’t look beyond his appearance and see him for who he was. The most striking aspect that Shelley  conveys through her book is that “monsters” may perhaps be a creation of human nature and prejudice and may not necessarily be “evil” of themselves.

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Mary Shelley

Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mary_Wollstonecraft_Shelley_Rothwell.tif#/media/File:Mary_Wollstonecraft_Shelley_Rothwell.tif

(The meanings are taken from the discussion in “Science Fiction and Fantasy”, http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=monster , and the Little Oxford Dictionary; the quotes are of course from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.)

July Reading Review and Plans for August

This one, if you notice, is simply title ‘July Reading Review’ and not ‘Theme Review’–because I didn’t end up reading or rather finishing even one single book from my theme reads (Doorstoppers) this month. So very very embarrassing. But I did read a total of 9 (8 and 1/2 to be honest, I finished book 9 only in August) books this month, so as a reading month, it wasn’t bad at all. Only the books I read turned out to be group reads and netgalley reads for the most part. So here’s a quick review of how this month went for me reading-wise.

Six wives

I kicked off the month with a non-fiction read which I had started in May but couldn’t pick up in June for one reason or other. The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir takes us into the reign of Henry VIII, but told from the point of view of his six wives and their stories, and the parts of his life that were concerned with the women who became his wives. This is a long read so it did take me some time but it kept my attention throughout and I ended up learning a lot that I didn’t know about some of his wives and also about Henry himself, besides ‘meeting’ all six Tudor monarchs, who appear in the book. My review is on this page here.

Next were three very different titles, all of which I got through NetGalley. The first My Real Name is Hanna by Tara Lynn Masih is the heart-wrenching, and culturally rich story of a Jewish family in Ukraine, which must first put up with the hardships of Russian rule, but then, far worse, with the Nazi invasion. Told in the voice of fourteen-year-old Hanna Slivka, it tells of the family’s struggle living first in the woods and then in a cave for over two years, each day spent in perpetual fear of what if. A book I cannot recommend highly enough. My review is here.

Next up was another book I enjoyed very much, Isabella of Angouleme, part 2 by Erica Lane. This is the story of Isabella of Angoulême, second wife of the cruel King John (of the magna carta and Robin Hood fame), after his death. Her her son Henry III is now on the throne while she herself returns home to France to begin to achieve her own ambitions for power. This leads to a somewhat happier second marriage and the beginning of a career where her relationship with her children is tested, and she must make difficult choices (although she doesn’t have many qualms). An easy read, and about a time in history that I knew very little about so informative as well with plenty of details that I enjoyed. My review is here.

Then also from NetGalley I read my very first Manga comic, Tokyo Tarareba Girls, Vol 1 by Akiko Hagashimura. I had a few minor struggles with reading when I started being unused to manga. Overall, the plot was something I liked the idea of but I couldn’t really connect with the main character so it was over all an ‘ok’ read. My review is here.

midsummer

In July I also wrapped up A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare, which I have been reading act-wise and positing about on this blog as I went. In July I read Acts III (my post is here) and IV and V (my post is here). My review (of sorts) in on goodreads here.

Men at arms

Then there were a couple of books that I read as group reads for different Goodreads groups. One was Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett, the second of his City Watch series and number 17 of the Dicworld books. This one had humour, murder, a mystery, a werewolf and also reflected some issues that we face everyday in our lives–people not being able to along with other communities, those who are different from them, and I thought had a positive message to give about that. I enjoyed this, perhaps even more than Guards Guards (first of the City Watch books). My review is on goodreads here.

Up next was another mystery, but this time a mystery proper–The Mystery at Underwood House by Clara Benson. This is the second of her Angela Marchmont series set in the 1920s. In this one, Angela who has a more prominent role than she did in Book 1 is called by a friend to look into a series of mysterious deaths in her family, each taking place at a dinner/meeting that the patriarch had required his family to have as a condition in his will. An Agatha Christiesque atmosphere (though not as strong), and an interesting enough mystery where I didn’t guess whodunit. My review is here.

underwood.jpg

Finally, two more NetGalley reads. First was Illusion by Stephanie Elmas which tells the story of Tom Winter who’s friend Walter Balanchine has returned to England from the east after three years and involves Tom in performances of magic/illusion that he gives. When a young woman (whom Tom has fallen for) appeals to him for help in one of these performances, as she is to be married to the much older and sinister Cecil Hearst, Walter and Tom must come up with a plan to rescue her. My review is here.

Lastly, the book I finished only at the beginning of August, No Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen is another I recommend very highly. The story of twelve-and-three-quarters-year old Felix Knutsson, who is living with his mother Astrid in a van, circumstances having rendered them homeless,  Felix’s one hope lies in winning the junior edition of his favourite TV show. Cute, humorous, and heart-breaking, this was a wonderful read. My review is here.

In August what I basically plan to do, is clear the table. One read the few books I still need to read for different group reads: The Dancing Bear by Francis Faviell, The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers, and Death at the Bar and A Clutch of Constables, both by Ngaio Marsh. I shall also be reading my NetGalley books–currently The Elf and the Amulet by Chris Africa, and attempting to catch-up with my theme reads for last month, Don Quixote, Poland, and Syren.

What are your reading plans for August? Looking forward to hearing them. Happy reading month!

Light-hearted and Fun: June Theme Review and my Reading Theme for July

June for me was all about Light-hearted reading, and the authors/books I picked off my shelves were those I thought fit this theme–Miss Read, Barbara Pym, and Wodehouse, and new (to me) authors Eva Rice and Julian Fellowes (based on the descriptions of the books). For a change this month, I actually managed to read all the five titles that I’d planned to pick for this month, with a total of eight books completed (one a spillover from last month). All of my theme reads with the exception of my Children’s book, Cairo Jim and the Secret Sepulchre of the Sphinx were set in England (this did however fit my ‘light hearted reads theme and my review is here).

I started off my ‘theme’ reads with The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice, which is set in the 1950’s and follows the story of eighteen-year-old Penelope Wallace who lives in a crumbly house with her mother, society beauty Talitha, and aspiring musician brother (when he is home from school) Inigo. Her meeting and friendship with Charlotte, her aunt Clare, and cousin, Harry, a magician, changes life as she has known it. The book, reminiscent of Nancy Mitford and I Capture the Castle, really immerses one in the 1950s post-war world, Jazz, Teddy boys, and Elvis looming on the horizon, yet to break on to the music scene in England, at least. My first book by the author and a thoroughly enjoyable read. Read my review here.

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Next, I travelled into the English countryside, still in the 1950s with the third of the Fairacre books, Storm in the Village by Miss Read. In this one, a storm certainly brews up in the village with a proposed housing settlement threatening to take over the hundred acre farm, and Miss Read’s junior/assistant, Miss Jackson, falling for a quite unsuitable gamekeeper. I especially loved how the chapters are arranged around the storm theme–straws in the wind, the storm breaking, and then the calm after the storm. My review is on this blog here.

storm

Also in my theme reads was P.G. Wodehouse’s Summer Moonshine, in some ways a fairly typical Wodehouse story with an impoverished earl, a country house (in this case a very ugly stately home), money troubles, and matters of the heart, while in others not very usual for there were no impostors and nothing whatsoever was ‘pinched’. Not my favourite Wodehouse, but it still made me laugh as he always does. My review is here. And a quote from the book was my Bookquote last week (here).

summer moonshine.jpg

Barbara Pym’s No Fond Return of Love takes us into her familiar world of proofreaders and index-makers, and matters of the heart of course, this time with Dulcie Mainwaring who isn’t perhaps looking for love but finds herself interested in Dr Alwyn Forbes who is also the object of her friend Viola’s Dace’s affections while he himself seems interested in Dulcie’s young niece Laurel. She (and the reader) has an interesting time looking into Alwyn’s family and background while navigating through a world peopled by a host of somewhat eccentric characters. My review is here.

no fond ret.jpg

Finally I read Snobs by Julian Fellowes, which is the story of Edith Lavery, a middle class girl who marries into the nobility, to the decent, honest, but dull Charles Broughton, only to find that the life she was trying to break into is perhaps not all that she’d imagined it was. When she seems to find ‘love’ or what she thinks is love elsewhere, she must consider what it is she wants in life and accept that perhaps, one can’t really have everything. My review is here

Snobs cover.

This month I also started my re-visit of Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers series of school stories (review of the first is here), the second of Blyton’s series that I’m reading chronologically for the first time. I also finally began reading Shakespeare, something I’ve been planning to do for ages but didn’t get down to. The first play that I’ve started is A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, and my posts on Act I and Act II are here and here, and on Act III should be up some time later this week.

In July, I plan to tackle some doorstoppers, at least some thick thick tomes that have been sitting on my TBR for a while but I haven’t gotten down to. Since I also have a few other ‘slimmer’ volumes to read for various group reads and challenges on goodreads, I’m only starting with a list of three with a possible fourth that I may pick up, if at all I can manage. The three I plan to read are Poland by James Michener, Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, and Syren by Angie Sage. For the fourth, I might just pick up a Trollope (The Eustace Diamonds) or Wheel of Fortune (Susan Howatch).

So have you read any of my June or July books? What did you think of them?

And what are your reading plans for July? Looking forward to hearing about them! Happy reading month!