Thursday, November 29, 2018

A Literary Christmas 2018

A Literary Christmas 2018
brought to you by In the Bookcase

The Rules are simple – pick your Christmas reads for 2018, write a blog post about them, and link back to In the Bookcase.

I honor of the Magi, who brought the Christ child three gifts, I have read three Christmas tales each of the past three years. In continuing that tradition, this year I will be reading:

A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote 

The Beggar Boy at Christ’s Christmas Tree by Dostoevsky

The Signal Man by Charles Dickens

2015, 2016, and 2017 selections

Have a Blessed Christmas

The Wanderer

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein (novel #116)

That we were slaves I had known all my life – and nothing could be done about it. ~ Mannie

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is set on the Moon, 2076. The Moon was originally a penal colony, but by this point is a bit more than that. Some residents like the main character, Manuel “Mannie” Garcia O’Kelly-Davis are native and free residents of Luna. Mannie is a farmer, but he is also a computer whiz who does free-lance work for the Lunar Authority when their super computer acts up. 

Life on Luna, also sometimes called The Rock: There are no cells for the convicts, as there is no escape. If escape were possible, it isn’t practical, because after about six months on Luna a human’s body cannot reassimilate to Earth’s gravity. There are few rules, as those who don’t get along, don’t live long. There is water on Luna, far below the surface and Luna’s primary commercial enterprise is the growing of wheat which is exported to earth. There are about 3 million Loonies (vs 11 billion Earthworms), with men outnumbering women 2 to 1, so many women have more than one husband. Loonies live in airtight underground cities which are connected by tubes (subway trains).

The one supercomputer that runs nearly everything on Luna is a High-Optional, Logical, Multi-Evaluating Supervisor, Mark IV or Holmes IV. And guess what? Holmes is sentient. Mannie nicknames it Mike, short for Mycroft, as in Mycroft Holmes, and Mike calls Mannie – Man his one friend.

Well the Loonies get fed up with Earth’s tyranny, and rise up in rebellion. They can’t possibly win, and yet…

Best part – know who their leader is? – Mike the computer, but only Mannie, and two others, The Professor “Prof” and Wyoming “Wyoh” Knott, know they are being led by a machine. Wyoh is Mannie’s love interest, though Mike also kind of likes her.

Have you ever considered the difference between Sci-Fi and fantasy? It can be a fuzzy distinction, but my understanding is this: Sci-Fi is at least theoretically plausible given current understanding of the physical laws of the universe. Fantasy is not thus encumbered. There is often a little fudging on the rules, but that’s the main distinction. (Star Wars is fantasy; Star Trek is Sci-Fi). 

And The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is Sci-Fi. In ways beyond just the technology/science, Heinlein really spins a plausible tale.

Robert Heinlein is one of the “Big Three” authors of English Sci-Fi along with Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke and now I know why. I read mostly classics – and there are many classics that I admire, that I concede their greatness, but that weren’t precisely fun to read. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress was just a ton of fun (though a ton would only feel like 333 lbs. on Luna). It was pure escape – thoroughly enjoyable, but also admirable. 

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


That we were slaves I had known all my life – and nothing could be done about it. ~ Mannie

Prof had emphasized that stickiest problems in conspiracy are communications and security, and had pointed out that they conflict – easier are communications, greater is risk to security; if security is tight, organization can be paralyzed by safety precautions. ~ Mannie

Mike had no degrees. Simply knew more engineering than any man alive. Or about Shakespeare’s plays, or riddles, or history, name it. ~ Mannie

Mike didn’t miss a word; his most human quality was his conceit. ~ Mannie

But one thing must be made clear. Earth’s major satellite, the Moon, is by nature’s law forever the joint property of all the peoples of Earth. It does not belong to that handful who by accident of history happen to live there. The sacred trust laid upon the Lunar Authority is and forever must be supreme law of Earth’s moon. ~ representative of Luna Authority

Besides the Mycroft Holmes nod to the writings of Arthur Conan Doyle, there are many other literary references: 

Mannie once recites: "Curiouser and curiouser" from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland  

And later says "I seem to have wandered into Looking Glass Land."

Prof once says: "not my original idea but remembrance of things past" – using the title of Proust’s great work

Mannie says about Mike "You’re our Scarlet Pimpernel, our John Galt, our Swamp fox, our man of mystery." Citing from Baroness Orczy and Ayn Rand

Mannie refers to hiding something by "Purloined Letter". Reference to Edgar Alan Poe

A group of child spies for the revolution are called "Baker Street Irregulars", in reference to Sherlock Holmes’ young assistants.


Sunday, November 25, 2018

The Sandman volume 1 by Neil Gaiman

The Sandman volume 1: Preludes and Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Sam Keith, Mike Dringenberg, and Malcolm Jones III 

What power would Hell have if those here imprisoned were not able to dream of Heaven? ~ Dream

The Sandman series, a monthly comic book that ran for 75 issues, January 1989 – March 1996, has been arranged in 10 Volumes. Volume 1 – Preludes and Nocturnes contains the first eight stories – all about Morpheus the Lord of Dream, or simply Dream, who is one of the seven Endless: Destiny, Death, Desire, Despair, Delirium, and Destruction.

The story begins when a foolish occultist seeking eternal life, attempts to capture Death (Dream’s sister). Equipped with some mystical artifacts and special incantations, the occultist fails to capture death, but accidentally captures Dream – a powerful demigod nonetheless. Dream is robbed of three “tools”, his pouch of sand, his helm, and a magical jewel, and is himself kept captive for 70 years.

Over the decades, these tools are dispersed to various mortals and one demon, who know not how to wield them. Of course, Dream eventually escapes and sets about to recover his tools and his dominion over the realm of dreams. Preludes and Nocturnes tells of his capture, escape, and quest to recover his tools. 

Gaiman is a versatile writher with a wide-ranging repertoire. I love what he had to say in response to a claim that he doesn’t write comic books, but rather graphic novels. He said the commenter…
meant it as a compliment, I suppose. But all of a sudden I felt like someone who'd been informed that she wasn't actually a hooker; that in fact she was a lady of the evening.

Back to Dream or the Sandman – he is also called the Lord of Story, probably because our dreams are stories. And I think, because of this, Dream often refers, quite subtly to classic stories. For instance, he consorts with three witches and then thanks the “weird sisters” – which is how the witches in Macbeth are referred to, never actually as witches. There are frequent references to Shakespeare and other stories/authors; I'm sure I missed some. My favorite: the insane and creepy villain Doctor Destiny, who has Dream’s magic jewel, refers to it as “your precious”. I could just hear Smeagol saying it.

The Sandman, is part of the DC Comics universe, so there are frequent references to other DC heroes and villains.

The final story of Preludes and Nocturnes: The Sound of Her Wings is after Dream has recovered his tools, and was feeling perhaps a bit anti-climaxed. He gets a cheery little pep talk by sister Death as to what to do next.

I’m mildly curious as to what IS next for Dream. He seems a pretty decent chap, though grim and fearful. However, I’m not curious enough to continue with this series.

I’ve wanted to explore the world of graphic novels, and there are a few more titles I’ll read, but mostly – I’ll stick with dead authors.


Back to the Classics Challenge 2018 - Challenge wrap up

I completed the Back to the Classics Challenge for 2018 – Hosted by Books and Chocolate

The following is my wrap up. I’ve put these in order of most favored to least.



A children’s classic: The Little Prince
***sigh*** I just love this little gem. My full review HERE


A classic by a woman author: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
First time read – loved it! Full review HERE


A classic crime story, fiction or non-fiction: The Man Who was Thursday
I’m still kind of in awe of this profound tale. I will have to reread this several times. Full review HERE


A classic reread: Of Mice and Men
Still love this tale of unconditional love. Full review HERE


A classic with a single-word title: Middlemarch
I was on the fence, until the very end. Full review HERE


A classic by an author that’s new to you: Native Son by Richard Wright
A poignant tale – not what I was expecting, though I didn’t know what to expect. Full review HERE


A 19th Century Classic: The Old Curiosity Shop
Mr. Dickens surprised me with this one. Full review HERE


A 20th century classic: Breakfast at Tiffany’s
First time read, very enjoyable. Full review HERE


A classic travel or journey narrative: Three Men in a Boat
JKJ is always fun, but I enjoy his short stories more. Full review HERE


A classic with a color in the title: Dream of the Red Chamber
One of China’s Four Great Classic Novels. Full review HERE


A classic that scares you: A Dance to the Music of Time
Nearly 3,000 pages. Full review HERE


A classic in translation: The Idiot
I was probably looking forward to this more than any other in my challenge, and it ended up being the most disappointing. The first thing by Dostoevsky I haven’t loved. Full review HERE


Saturday, November 24, 2018

Classics Club Spin #19

Classics Club Spin #19

It is time for another Classics Club Spin – List 20 books from your CC TBR, then on or after November 27, the mods will pick a number at random, and you have until January 31 to read the corresponding book. Full instructions HERE.

We are given extra time for this spin (usually one month), and are therefore encouraged to put some of those dreaded heavy tomes on the list. I have a few that are rather longish, most are middling, and a few rather short ones. I’m hoping for #1 or #16.

My 20 Classics for the Spin:

1.   The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym by Edgar Allan Poe
2.   In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
3.   The Tale of the Genji by Murasaki Shikibu
4.   Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay
5.   Gargantua and Pantagruel by Francois Rabelais
6.   The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
7.   Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor
8.   The Adventures of Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
9.   A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
10. Germinal by Emile Zola
11. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë
12. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
13. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
14. Water Margin by Shi Naian
15. Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens
16. Lost Horizon by James Hilton
17. Journey to the End of Night by Louis-Ferdinand Céline
18. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maude Montgomery
19. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
20. The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett


Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare

Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare 

He who the sword of heaven will bear
Should be as holy as severe… ~ the Duke of Vienna

One of the Bard’s lesser known plays, Measure for Measure, written and first performed early 17th Century,  is one of Shakespeare’s three “problem plays” [also All’s Well that Ends Well and Troilus and Cressida]. The problem being is it a tragedy or a comedy? 

I agree with the general consensus that it is a comedy, as things are set right in the end – but it is certainly a dark comedy. I’m not sure I wanted everything set right; I should have liked a little more justice meted out.

Which is ironic as the play is about the merits of justice vs clemency. The conflict is certainly intentional and speaks to the brilliance of this play – how fitting that it is a “problem play”.

It takes place in Vienna as the wise Duke Vincentio goes abroad and leaves his deputy Angelo in charge. Angelo rules with a fist of iron, enforcing laws, with severe punishment, for crimes that have been tolerated under the Duke. Young Claudio is one of the first to be sacrificed on this altar, for the crime of fornication with a maiden. Claudio is sentenced to death, even though he and the woman had vowed themselves to each other, but had not yet sanctioned their union in the Church. 

Claudio’s sister Isabella, a novice of the Church, pleads for Claudio’s life before Angelo.

In private interview, pious Angelo offers an unholy bargain in exchange for Claudio’s life. 

The play is filled with contrasts: purity vs corruption, constancy vs hypocrisy, sincerity vs duplicity, as well as other themes of love, forgiveness, compassion, justice and mercy.

The play reminds me of a favorite quotation, something someone very wise once said:
I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice. ~ Abraham Lincoln



Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt ~ Lucio (friend of Claudio)

Well, heaven forgive him! and forgive us all!
Some rise by sin and some by virtue fall ~ Escalus (reluctant deputy to Angelo)

The law hath not been dead, though it hath slept… ~ Angelo

Better it were a brother died at once than that a sister, by redeeming him, should die forever. ~ Isabella

He who the sword of heaven will bear
Should be as holy as severe… ~ the Duke


Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday - Top Ten Bookish things I'm thankful for

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl

Topic for November 20, 2018: Thanksgiving Freebie – So I’ll interpret that as Top Ten Bookish things I’m thankful for

10. That some authors resist the urge for the Happily Ever After ending
9. That some authors still do end with Happily Ever After
8. That Artsy Reader Girl for carrying on Top Ten Tuesday
5. For rereads
3. That no one has made a remake of Gone With the Wind
2. That screenwriters for The Lord of the Rings respected the author and rejected the producer who wanted to kill off one of the Hobbits
1. The Number ONE thing I am thankful for, in bookish terms:  my sixth-grade teacher Ms. Tina Banks of Burke School Elementary, who instilled in me the love of reading. 

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao Xueqin (novel #114)

(translation by Franz Kuhn)

Your earthly destiny is fulfilled! Do not delay now, but follow us! ~ Buddhist monk and Taoist priest to Pao Yu

Dream of the Red Chamber (Hong Lou Meng), or The Story of the Stone (Shi Tou Chi), or 

Written mid-18thCentury during the Qing Dynasty by Cao Xueqin (Tsao Hsueh-Chin), Dream of the Red Chamber is the most recent of China’s Four Great Classical Novels: [Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Journey to the West, Water Margin]. If there were an Eastern Canon, this would be part of it.

It has also been described as the Chinese version of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past – but I think that’s unfair since Dream predates Remembrance by more than a Century – bit ethnocentric. We should say, Remembrance of Things Past is the French version of China’s great novel Dream of the Red Chamber.

Which doesn’t bode well for Dream of the Red Chamber, since I nearly hated Remembrance of Things Past

But Happily and surprisingly, I found Dream of the Red Chamber much more enjoyable and accessible. I have to make one confession though – I read an abridged version. I ordinarily refuse to read abridged versions, but the full version is like a billion pages. Additionally, there is great difficulty in translating this work; the full translation just doesn’t – ummm? – translate well. So much so, that my translation isn’t considered abridged, just a liberal translation. It’s still quite long – like a million pages (bit over 600 actually).

Dream of the Red Chamber is about the decline of the Chia clan, an aristocratic family, of two major houses: Ningkuo Palace and Yuongko Palace. It is thought to be semi-autobiographical and is largely a character driven story – and goodness, there are plenty of characters, 40 major characters and over 400 others. The main character is Chia Pao Yu, a young prince, probably around 14 at the beginning of the novel, of the Yuongko Palace who was born with a jade stone in his mouth. In a preface, the translator describes him as:
…a highly gifted but degenerate young aristocrat, a psychopath and a weakling, asocial, effeminate, plagued by inferiority complexes and manic depressions, who though capable of a temporary rallying of energies, founders among the demands of reality and slinks cravenly away from human society.
That’s about right. But somehow, I still liked him. His mother, and grandmother, the Princess Ancestress, spoil him, while his father terrorizes him, nearly beats him to death at one point – so he has some excuse for his foibles.

Between the two Palaces, there are countless cousins, siblings, half-siblings of concubines, and maids who are more familiar with their masters than is typical of Western domestics.

The other two main characters are female cousins, Black Jade and Precious Clasp. They are rivals for Pao Yu’s attention, though genuinely affectionate to one another. Again, the translator’s description:
Black Jade, of a nearly saintly chastity
Precious Clasp, womanly warm, sensible

When Pao Yu first meets Black Jade, the narrative of his impression is more poetic:
She was beautiful, but her beauty was clothed with the cloak of suffering. Her eyes were always glistening as if full of tears. And how faint and soft was her breathing. In repose she was like the dewy reflection of a flower in water. In motion she was like a willow branch trembling in the wind.

Early, I was pulling for Black Jade; with a name like Black Jade I couldn’t help but imagine her a rare beauty, but as time goes on, I found her insecure, simple, and needy. My hopes for Pao Yu turned to Precious Clasp, but no spoilers. Pao Yu was incredibly fickle, flirting with any and every female in the palace including his maids and half-sisters.

Male names were transliterated while female names were translated. The female names were beautiful and/or funny:
Beginning of Spring
Taste of Spring (becomes a secondary wife to the Emperor)
Grief of Spring
Greeting of Spring (the four Spring girls were not sisters, but cousins)
Mandarin Duck
Gold Ring
Pearl Musk
Bright Cloud
Autumn Wave
Painting Maid
And poor Numskull (who lived down to her name)

The title, is derived from a dream Pao Yu has early in the novel that foreshadows his life. It is filled with charming ethereal descriptions:
I am the fairy of the Fearful Awakening. I live not far from here in the Phantom Realm of the Great Void, in the Sphere of Banished Suffering, behind the Drenching Sea of Trouble, on the Heights of Liberated Spring, in the Grottoes of Everlasting Perfumes. I judge the Play of Wind and Clouds between human beings and settle the unbalanced debts of love between unhappy maidens and languishing youths. It is not chance but destiny which leads me to you today.
 This language was fun and proper in the dream, but would have grown pretty tiresome if it pervaded the novel. It doesn’t.

As one might expect from an 18thCentury Chinese writing, there are mystical elements, such as the stone found in Pao Yu’s mouth at birth. There are other omens and occurrences that we would probably call magical realism – but I don’t think it correct to apply that label here. One of the more interesting such elements was a wandering and mysterious pair: a Buddhist monk and a Taoist Priest who showed up at various points, to offer sage advice, or prophetic warning, and who would then usually vanish.

I think they were probably representative of a spiritual message the author was conveying. The translator wrote:
From the Buddhist and Taoist points of view the answer might be: It is a story of the gradual awakening, purification, and final transcendence of a soul originally sunk in the slime of temporal and material strivings.

I enjoyed this read, though I didn’t quite love it, but it’s good to get out of my comfort zone, and it was interesting to learn about Imperial Chinese Aristocratic society. It was a reminder, that although we have very different ways and customs – people everywhere are remarkably similar.

My rating: 3 ½ of 5 stars

This novel satisfies – Back to the Classics Challenge 2018 – Category: a classic with a color in the title. It also completes the 2018 Challenge.

Other excerpts:

From the Pao Yu’s dream, description of wine he is offered:
It is prepared from the pollen of a hundred flowers, the juices of a thousand plants, the marrow of uniciorns, and the milk of the phoenix, and it is called A Thousand Delights in One Goblet

And this I found curios. At one period of studious determination in Pao Yu’s life it says:
Early to bed and early to rise was the watchword now.
Curious, because it is an apparent quotation of Benjamin Franklin, who could have been known to the translator, but probably not the author.

Finally of note, at one point in the novel a play is enacted, portraying one of the earlier Great Chinese novels, Journey to the West.