Monday, January 26, 2009

A bit of Miss Austen

The Jane Austen class I'm taking starts next week, so I am plowing through the last of the author's Big Six, Mansfield Park. It's a funny idea that I first read Pride and Prejudice at the end of my freshman year, and now in my senior year I will have read them all. I have absolutely no ability to decide which is my favourite. I like Persuasion for its story, Northanger Abbey for its whimsy (and Mr. Tilney), Emma for the character development, and P&P for rather sentimental reasons (I think I need to read this one again). So far, I like Mansfield Park simply because it is Jane Austen and she's such a good writer, but also because I think I could have been very like Fanny Price had I grown up in a different situation.

It always takes me a while to get into a Jane Austen novel. At some point, usually about halfway through, it grabs me completely and I galumph through the rest. Mansfield Park has really just grabbed me today, but as there's no school I am at my leisure to read as much of it as I like. I find all the characters very pleasingly well-rounded (with the possible exceptions of Fanny's aunts), and am especially surprised by Mr. Crawford, who I had expected to be a complete cad. He's not really, I think he's mostly kind of young and stupid, and I was sufficiently surprised by his being more than a black and white cad that I find him very pleasing.

As the second three day weekend in a row, this one vastly trumps the last one. I was sick last weekend with some combination of a fever and the general blahs, and didn't go anywhere, but this weekend I have had a birthday party with some old friends, a march and rally to protest school closures (we marched down the middle of Union, and 23rd Ave, and I was on the news!), and today a pleasantly productive but still quite relaxing day in my pajamas. It's been the perfect combination of things. And now it's sunny! Though I have not been out in it.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Do you know what empleomania is?

I suddenly find myself with another book in my to-read pile, quite by accident. A friend of mine was about to leave and had run out of room in her backpack for the book, so I borrowed it. There were, of course, other reasons for this--the book is Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages, by Ammon Shea. The basic premise is that he decided one day that he was going to spend a year reading the entirety of the Oxford English Dictionary. Cover to cover. And cover to cover of the next volume.

I am a huge devotee of the OED, so you can see how the acquisition of this book was a fortunate occurrence. I do not own it, and have never even looked at it, but the thing fascinates me. I read normal dictionaries just for fun, so imagine my glee on reading the OED, which contains oodles words I will never be able to use in conversation.

Simon Winchester has written a couple of books related to the OED, which I have read. The Meaning of Everything and The Professor and the Madman (I think this one has a different title across the pond, but I don't know if this is the British one or the American). The Meaning of Everything is the whole story of the dictionary's creation, with its various eccentric editors over something like sixty years. J.R.R. Tolkien has a walk on part, which has always pleased me (that's one of the things I've always loved about Tolkien--he loves words). The Professor and the Madman is the story of Dr. W.C. Minor, who made enormous contributions to the creation of the dictionary, entirely from the confines of an insane asylum. He also happens to have a connection to my own city--his half brother, T.T. Minor, was the mayor of Seattle somewhere down the line, then took a boat trip to Whidbey Island and died along the way, and had an elementary school not far from my school named after him. Sadly, the school is now being closed.

This is the kind of nonfiction that barely counts for me--most nonfiction takes me ages to get through, but this is the kind of thing I devour. You can never exhaust words, there are always more to learn, more being created, further back in history to go to find them, other countries to borrow from. Words never lose their charm. Dictionaries are a goldmine.

The OED and its creation are particularly charming. Until its creation, no dictionary had sought to catalogue the entire language--most dictionaries were collections of common words, or uncommon words, or specialist words. It had its birth somewhere in the 19th century (it's been a while since I read these books, I must admit), and was published in short fascicles until it was finally published in full in the early-middle 20th century. It had a series of very strange and rather genius editors, like Frederick Furnivall and James Murray, it had its stops and starts, books sent off to readers all over the world to be combed for new words and never returned. The Oxford English Dictionary has a personality, its definitions have style. Someday, I will own it. I have to admit that's one of my goals in life.

As for empleomania? It is the "manic compulsion to hold public office." I can't say whether Barack Obama is an empleomaniac, but it really is nice to not feel apologetic for being American any more. I'm young enough that this is the first inauguration in my memory worth being excited about.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Adventures with Richard III

I can now add Richard III to my short but slowly growing list of Shakespeare plays that I am familiar with. (The list is Hamlet, Twelfth Night, The Tempest, A Midsummer Night's Dream, King Lear, and Richard. It is a sad list, but it was much smaller before last summer so there is hope yet.) I can also add Richard III and his contemporaries to the list of bits of history that I am familiar with.

In the last week or so, I have read Shakespeare's play, watched the film with Sir Ian McKellen, watched the (really odd) film with Al Pacino, and read The Daughter of Time, which is Josephine Tey's mystery novel disproving of Richard's villainy.

There is probably nothing I can say about Shakespeare that has not already been said, so I shall talk about The Daughter of Time. I enjoyed it greatly. It is very short, at 208 pages, and once I got into it I positively raced through. It is not your usual mystery novel, since the detective is bedridden though the whole thing and is solving a mystery 400 years old. Alan Grant, our detective, is very bored lying in bed in the hospital, and his actress friend Marta brings him copies of a bunch of portraits of historical personages with mysteries connected to them. Richard III's portrait is added half by accident, since he doesn't have a famous mystery associated. Alan Grant, who is a student of faces, looks at Richard's and cannot imagine how this man can have murdered his nephews to get the throne. He then goes on to solve the mystery of who could have murdered the nephews instead.

Josephine Tey is a very good writer, though she has an interesting style--there are very large sections that are very nearly all dialogue, with no he said she saids at all. She's excellent at realistic dialogue, though, so this is almost never jarring. I only started to get confused as to who was speaking later in the book, but I think that was because I was so into the story that I stopped paying close attention.

I think I may have to read more mystery novels. This is the last book to be read for Senior Lit, and then the only other book I know I have to read for school is Mansfield Park, and after that I can read anything I want. I may have to make a foray into Agatha Christie, and also Dorothy Sayers.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Great Hulking To Be Read Pile

I have just read Richard III, I am deep into Beowulf (it's much more comprehensible the second time around, now that I'm older), and I have an enormous stack of books to read. I thought I'd take you on a tour through some of them.

Next up for school books after Beowulf is The Daughter of Time, by Josephine Tey, which I'm definitely looking forward to since I hear it's a mystery novel and it's been ages (like, years) since I read a mystery. Then I must get back to Mansfield Park and finish that, because I have to have all the Jane Austen read for the Jane Austen class I'm taking next semester, and I need that done by February. I am infinitely looking forward to this class, especially after reading Emma and loving it such a lot. It's a situation where it's a class that I completely don't need to take but that I will put before classes I kind of do need to take.

After these are done (they don't even look like too much written down like that), I have quite a lot of books I've acquired recently that I desperately want to read. Someone at a Distance and Villette are near the top, since I got them for Christmas and that was a while ago now; I've already started Someone at a Distance and I'd like to get more into it. Ducky (as my father is mysteriously called) loves buying me books, and has lately brought home The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy and The Slaves of Solitude by Patrick Hamilton. I know nothing about either of them, but both look interesting if we may judge by the back covers. The Dud Avocado purports to be a sort of romantic comedy about a young American girl who goes to Paris in the 1950s. All elements I am fond of. The Slaves of Solitude is set in England during World War II (which I was wanting to read more about), and stars a middle-aged spinster who escapes the Blitz by moving to a dull sort of suburb, and I guess various hijinks ensue. I'm looking forward to them.

Today I got in the mail the book I won in one of the book draws over at dovegreyreader scribbles before Christmas. It's called The Story of a Marriage, and it's by Andrew Sean Greer. Also set in the '50s, this time in San Francisco. I'm looking forward to this one too.

And now, I am going to bed.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Another foray into children's literature.

My first book of the year--Nurk: The Strange, Surprising Adventures of a (Somewhat) Brave Shrew by Ursula Vernon. The author is someone whose art I've followed for years. I've even got a tshirt with one of her paintings on it. She specializes in weird animals, or not so weird animals in weird landscapes. You can find her website here, I definitely suggest you look at it.

As for the book, I really quite loved it. Nurk was entirely adorable, the dragonflies were quite nifty, and all the obstacles to his efforts were wonderfully bizarre, like the living salmon tree, the wall of enormous mushrooms, and the Grizzlemole. I loved the fact that Nurk had to rescue a prince rather than a princess, and the writing was always humorous and pleasing.

Books Read in 2008

Here is my rounded up and organized list of books I read in 2008 for reference, so I can take them off the sidebar and put my 2009 books on instead.

66. Five Children and It by E. Nesbit
65. The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling
63. The Beans of Egypt, Maine by Carolyn Chute
62. Emma by Jane Austen
61. Grendel by John Gardner
59. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson
58. Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison
57. Pure Dead Batty by Debi Gliori
55. Storming Heaven by Denise Giardina
54. The Things they Carried by Tim O'Brien
51. The Gate of Angels by Penelope Fitzgerald
50. Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo
49. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
48. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
47. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer
46. Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome
45. Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh
44. Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford
43. The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford
42. Le Ballon Rouge by Albert Lamorisse
41. The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim
40. The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
37. Havemercy by Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett
36. Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
35. Versailles by Kathryn Davis
34. The House With the Clock in Its Walls by John Bellairs
33. Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis
32. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
31. The Summer Book by Tove Jansson
30. Tam Lin by Pamela Dean
27. The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice
26. To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
25. Once Upon a Time in the North by Phillip Pullman
24. Beloved by Toni Morrison
23. March by Geraldine Brooks
19. 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
17. Little Women by Lousia May Alcott
16. The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly
15. The Deviant Strain by Justin Richards
14. Only Human by Gareth Roberts
13. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
12. Jacob’s Room by Virginia Wolf
11. The Stone Rose by Jacqueline Rayner
10. The Clockwise Man by Justin Richards
9. Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede
8. Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
6. Startled by His Furry Shorts by Louise Rennison
5. The Light-Bearer’s Daughter by O.R. Melling
4. The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx
1. Endymion Spring by Matthew Skelton

64. King Lear by William Shakespeare
60. Mr. Pim Passes By by A.A. Milne
52. All My Sons by Arthur Miller
29. Lysistrata by Aristophanes
22. Equus by Peter Shaffer
20. The Bacchae by Euripides
3. ‘night Mother by Marsha Norman

56. Old Books, Rare Friends by Leona Rostenberg and Madeleine Stern
21. So Many Books by Gabriel Zaid
18. Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer
7. American Orientalism by Douglas Little
2. The Island of Lost Maps by Miles Harvey

53. Poems by Oscar Wilde
39. Narrative Poems by C.S. Lewis
38. A Shropshire Lad by A.E. Housman
28. Phantasmagoria and Other Poems by Lewis Carroll

I'm rather pleased with it, really, especially with how many plays and books of poetry I read. I'd like to read more nonfiction, but that's a better showing of it than usual, so that's all right.


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