Showing posts from December, 2013

Goodbye, 2013!

These are the last few hours of 2013, it's unbelievable! I'm very much looking forward to 2014, but 2013 has given some beautiful things, beautiful places, birds, books, people, and yes there's been some suffering, illness, sadness, but how could 365 days all be perfect? As I said in the last post I'm grateful for it all. 
And so it's time to look forward, enjoy these last few hours reflecting and anticipating. I know that 2014 isn't going to be a perfect start - I'm full of cold and have spent most of the afternoon lying on the sofa watching Harry Potter with a box of tissues, but such is life! There's a whole year to look forward to, not just a day. So, I'm thinking, planning, and yes, building some castles in the air (though some of my plans do have some more solid foundations). I was going to write about what I wanted to do, what my new year's resolutions were, and all the various challenges I was joining in with were, but I'm going to sa…

Looking Back.

This has been the fastest year I've ever known. We all say, "How time flies!", but I think judging from what other people have been saying, we all mean it more than we ever did. A month began, and in a flash it was over. The seasons stormed by. Was it really nine months ago I was impatiently waiting for snowdrops and daffodils? What a year!
This year, I read at a break-neck speed: too fast, far too fast. This is why I started my new blog, and yes, it does seem like yesterday! I'm pleased, though, that I made the decision to break with the old one, and this one is going very well. For one thing, as I have a post planned tomorrow, I will have managed 31 posts in 31 days. On the old blog, it took between the 12th July and 1st December to get to 31. And I've written six reviews:
Little Womenby Louisa May AlcottA Christmas Carolby Charles Dickens The Fortune of the Rougonsby Émile ZolaThe Killby Émile Zola The Turn of the Screwby Henry James Middlemarchby George Eliot I don…

Middlemarch, by George Eliot.

Middlemarch: the seventh novel by George Eliot, published in serial form between 1871 and 1872, and then as a novel in 1874 (which means it is approaching its 140th birthday next year). And you have no idea how glad I re-read it. When I started this blog on 1st December I had decided to participate in Beth's readalong because Middlemarch has been a book of regret for me: I read it too quickly, I didn't pay any attention (I really do mean that literally) and the little time I spent with it was pointless. So many people seem to have an opinion on Middlemarch: Virginia Woolf, in her chapter on 'George Eliot' in The Common Reader described it as "the magnificent book which with all its imperfections is one of the few English novels written for grown-up people.", and Emily Dickinson wrote, "What do I think of Middlemarch? What do I think of glory?" Martin Amis and Julian Barnes both believe it is the greatest novel in the English language, whereas Floren…

General, and Thoughts on Middlemarch Books VII & VIII.

The wind here last night was incredible, one of the rare occasions when I've been frightened of it. And the hens were terrified: as it was getting dark I happened to look up as a great gust blew into the aviary and lifted up a bag of sawdust, and all three hens sprinted into the utility room (rather, the 'hen room'). It took about an hour to settle them, and Charlotte stood on my knee, leant against me, and cried more or less non stop for twenty minutes. This, the weather, any weather really, is still new to them. They left the battery farm during the height of summer, and our summer lasted for quite some time. I suppose it wasn't until around October that they began to feel the cold, and this past week with all the wind, rain, and hail must have been rather dramatic for them. But, they're good little things and they're doing their best. Poor little ones.
Meanwhile, as you can see, Myshkin has been having adventures. When I went to say good night to the budgies …

Winter: A Dirge, by Robert Burns.

The wintry west extends his blast,
And hail and rain does blaw;
Or the stormy north sends driving forth
The blinding sleet and snaw:
While, tumbling brown, the burn comes down,
And roars frae bank to brae;
And bird and beast in covert rest,
And pass the heartless day.  The sweeping blast, the sky o'ercast,
The joyless winter day
Let others fear, to me more dear
Than all the pride of May:
The tempest's howl, it soothes my soul,
My griefs it seems to join;
The leafless trees my fancy please,
Their fate resembles mine!  Thou Power Supreme, whose mighty scheme
These woes of mine fulfil,
Here firm I rest; they must be best,
Because they are Thy will!
Then all I want - O do Thou grant
This one request of mine!
Since to enjoy Thou dost deny,
Assist me to resign. (1781)

Boxing Day.

It was such a lovely Boxing Day morning here this morning - a definite chill in the air, everything edged with silver, an almost cloudless sky, and bright sunshine. Outside smelled cold and slightly smoky and there was thick ice on all the paths. The little fountain, the bird bath, and the huge puddle that looked as though it would flood the house on Christmas Eve had frozen solid, and the hens quickly retired to what was once the utility room (I suppose I should call it the "hen's room" now), and they slept in their baskets. The budgies sang in full force, and George watched a Disney film. It was a very peaceful morning, much the same as Christmas Day. It was indeed a good day and everything went smoothly. I had no disasters with Christmas dinner, I remembered sellotape this time for the presents, and there were no power cuts (I was so sure there would be). And not only did I have time to finish Middlemarch (I'll post about this properly in the next few days), but I…

Christmas Eve!

It's Christmas Eve! I've been so looking forward to this day! As I type, there's very light snow (very light snow), the fire is on, the birds are singing, the hens are pottering about, and I've just finished icing the cake.

So, I'd like to wish you all a Merry Christmas, I hope everyone has a lovely day, and I leave you with my favourite Christmas quote from 'A Christmas Dinner', found in Sketches by Boz, by Charles Dickens (1846).
Christmas time! The man must be a misanthrope indeed, in whose breast something like a jovial feeling is not roused - in whose mind some pleasant associations are not awakened - by the recurrence of Christmas. There are people who will tell you that Christmas is not to them what it used to be: that each succeeding Christmas has found some cherished hope, or happy prospect, of the year before, dimmed or passed away, and that the present only serves to remind them of reduced circumstances and straightened incomes - of the feasts they…

A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens.

'Business!' cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. 'Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!'A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens followed 'The Goblins Who Stole a Sexton' (published in The Pickwick Papers), a tale about a sexton very much the same as our Mr. Scrooge. They are the ultimate Christmas tales but more so A Christmas Carol because Christmas could not be complete without a reading, or at least a viewing, of it. It was published on the 17th December 1843: one hundred and seventy years ago last week, to be precise. It is a part of Christmas now: a Christmas tradition. A tale of the redemption of Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge through the four spirits who haunted him: first his former business partner Jacob Marley, then the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future. But what is …

End of Year Book Stats.

The year is drawing to a close, and I cannot believe it's Christmas on Wednesday! As I promised on Twitter, I've been hugely productive today with the Christmas tidy, and I've also managed to put together this post - my 2013 reading stats! Let it be known: maths is not my strong point. Furthermore, I never imagined that this would take so long, so there may be some inaccuracies, however, below the jump, this is roughly how my reading stats for 2013 look.

Some of the Authors Read in 2013 Fiction: 135 | Non Fiction: 25
Novels: 111 | Novellas: 9  Short Story Collections: 6 Plays: 2 | Poetry: 7
Longest BookA Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth Shortest BookThe Lonesome Traveller by Jack Kerouac

New Authors: 63 Including Stendhal, Kipling, Bellow, Gogol, London, Maugham, Maupassant, Brown, Wilson, Chopin, Bunyan, Le Carré, Deborah Duchess of Devonshire, Butler, Collodi, Scott, Hall, Nesbit, Dundy, Wordsworth (Dorothy), Sterne, Smollett, Lewis, Clark, Burney, de Cervantes, Camus, Ellis, Seth…

Winter Solstice, and thoughts on Middlemarch Books V & VI.

The first day of winter! And what a wintry day it was. I woke up early (not by choice, admittedly) and there was a thick mist hanging over the forest. Since about 9 o' clock this morning it's rained almost solidly, and there hasn't been a moment where I didn't need a lamp on. It's cold, too, very cold but not the brutal cold of last winter. And there's been snow, but the rain has washed it all away. Even so, I'm feeling rather festive - I've finished my Christmas shopping, just a few bits and bobs to get now (it would appear my Christmas tradition is to forget to buy sellotape. Last year both me and my boyfriend had to wrap presents with electrical tape). And I have my cake to ice, which I'll do tomorrow after (or perhaps during) my great Christmas tidy (I'm sort of looking forward to that!). I am very much looking forward to Christmas Eve. 
Meanwhile, I've not been reading Ulysses but I have been continuing Middlemarch. Before I get into tha…

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, by Robert Frost.

When I first started blogging in around 2005, every Friday a lot of bloggers used to post a poem they liked or was appropriate for their day or week. Usually, if I remember rightly, no explanation was given, just the poem. I used to like doing it, so I thought I'd try and revive the tradition, at least on this blog! So here's my first 'Friday Poetry Blogging'.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, by Robert Frost. 
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.  My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.  He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.  The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

This could have been a ghost story.

As I was finishing my post on Émile Zola's The Kill, I heard my parrot George shouting, "Oi!" He's been very vocal this afternoon, as he usually is, and earlier had been shouting, "It's cold!" and whistling the various theme tunes of the various programmes I watch. Even though the "Oi!" became more persistent, I thought nothing of it.
Once my post was up, I went downstairs to check on him and make my dinner. I noticed a Christmas card was on the floor, but when George is out of his cage, as he flies around cards get knocked down. George was in his cage, but he could have knocked it down last night and I hadn't noticed, though probably, I thought, it had fallen down because of the draft I felt by the fireplace. 
When I squeeze George's beak, he makes a odd kind of "meep" sound; it's his favourite game. But he wouldn't do it this time. In fact, he was silent. I thought he was in a bad mood, so I gave him one of his treats…

The Kill, by Émile Zola.

A part of The Fortune of the Rougons, the love story of Silvère and Miette, was a sort of re-write of Ovid's 'Pyramus and Thisbe' (found in Book IV of Metamorphoses). The Kill also has references to Ovid, this time to the story of 'Echo and Narcissus' (Book III of Metamorphoses), however it not Ovid but Racine, and by extension Euripides, that partly inspired The Kill. Zola wrote in a letter to Louis Ulbach (6th November 1871) that The Kill was to be the "new Phaedra": Phaedra, or Phèdre, a play by Jean Racine (written in 1676 and first performed the following year), was inspired by Euripides's Hippolytus (428BC), with themes of incest, lust, jealousy, betrayal, and revenge.

In the letter, Zola wrote,
I must point out, since I have been misunderstood and prevented from making myself clear, that The Kill is an unwholesome plant that sprouted out of the dungheap of the Empire, an incest that grew on the compost pile of millions. My aim, in this new Phaedr…

2014 Challenges.

I think it's time I finally got my 2014 Challenges in order! That said, this isn't definitive - if anything pops up that is appealing, I shall consider it, but with all the Zola planned and various other projects, I do want to keep challenges to a minimum.
First is Adam's TBR 2014 Challenge. This is traditional. I couldn't not join in. My choices are:
The Master and the Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov.The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins.Sybil by Benjamin Disraeli. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. Ninety-Three by Victor Hugo.Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace.Parade's End by Ford Maddox Ford.Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol. The Wings of a Dove by Henry James.On Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham.Metamorphoses by Ovid.Doctor Thorne by Anthony Trollope.Alternates: Is He Popejoy by Anthony Trollope.The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux. 

Next, The Chunkster Challenge. Details are here. I plan to read at least ten books with over 450 pages. You don't have to list your boo…

Notes on Ulysses by James Joyce, Part I: The Telemachiad.

I've finished the first part of Ulysses, the Telemachiad (meaning 'the song of Telemechus'), which comprises of three episodes: Telemachus, from the Greek Τηλέμαχος meaning 'far from battle'. Refers to Telemachus in Homer's The Odyssey, who searched for his father Odysseus when he fails to return home from the Trojan War.Nestor, referring to Nestor of Gerenia (Νέστωρ Γερήνιο).Proteus, from the Greek 'Πρωτεύς' referring to Homer's 'Old Man of the Sea'.I will, when I've finished the novel, write a review of some kind, but for now here are some thoughts of Ulysses so far.

And, so far, so mixed. Telemachus and Nestor are actually a delight to read, but, hit Proteus and find the real work starts there.
Telemachus has great energy and a beautiful rhythm throughout. One of my friends drew my attention to this by reading the first sentence, which you must read aloud right now:
Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of l…

Ulysses, and Literary Cluedo.

So we go on capping these resemblances, and each time we succeed, dipping now into the novel, now into the letters, a little glow of satisfaction comes over us, as if novel-reading were a game of skill in which the puzzle set us is to find the face of the writer.  - Virginia Woolf, The Common Reader Series II.  James Joyce wrote that in Ulysses, he "put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant". Both long and exceedingly complex, Ulysses is one of the most alarming books in literature. It seems impossible to simply read it: I feel as though I need to be armed with Homer, a history of Ireland, a book on World War I, The Portrait of an Artist, several biographies on Joyce, and as many study guides I can possibly lay my hands on. Owing to time constraints, I've contented myself with reading the introduction to my silver Penguin, written by Declan Kiberd. Kiberd writes so apparently effortlessly, but I'm n…

The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James.

If the child gives the effect another turn of the screw, what do you say to two children - ?I do like a ghost story at Christmas, and having finished Best Ghost Stories by Charles Dickens (review of A Christmas Carol to follow), I decided to pick up the second of my 25 re-reads, The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. The first time I read it was probably about fifteen years ago, and I found it frustrating and tricky to follow. And, indeed, the style is a touch awkward at first, but one soon gets into it. 
As for frustrating? No, I don't think it's frustrating. But, to paraphrase the governess, God help me if I know what it is! Is The Turn of the Screw a ghost story or a psychological thriller? I'm pleased, after a little further reading, to discover that this is indeed a debate - is the second narrator (our first narrator is a man reading a written account of the events at a gathering over the Christmas period) - the governess - insane? Or is she truly haunted? She's not…

Thoughts on Books III & IV of George Eliot's Middlemarch.

The Middlemarch readalong, hosted by Beth, continues: this week I read Books III and IV - Waiting for Death and Three Love Problems. I'm very pleased with how this is going: readers of old may recall the problem I had back in March '12: I read it, but I could not focus on it. As Dorothea says,  When I want to be busy with book, I am often playing truant among my thoughts.This time around, I don't have this problem thankfully. I can only say the last read was at the wrong time. That said, the style of Middlemarch isn't quite as easy as Eliot's other contemporaries. There have been a few times I've tripped up. 
So, last Saturday I wrote about Book I, Miss Brooke, and Book II, Old and Young, and, as with that post, this post is intended for those who are reading along, or who have already read it. This post contains spoilers for Books III and IV, and I and II come to that, so if you've not read it yet, read no further!

In Books III and IV, more characters from Mi…