Monday, December 31, 2018

2018 Reading Year in Review

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I read 46 individual works, including 20 novels/novellas. There were actually more novels, because one was a trilogy, one was a quadril… quadrol… it was four books, and one is described as a trilogy in four parts, but is in actuality five parts (surreal humor). I also read ten short stories, plus one short story collection, three plays, three poetry collections, four graphic novels, three children’s books, one work of non-fiction, and The Bible. Combined these totaled a little over 15,000 pages

I read 8 novels for my 100 Greatest Novels Quest: Novels #93-100

U.S.A. (trilogy)
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (trilogy in four parts, actually five)

***FANFARE*** Thus completing the Quest that was the original purpose of this blog. Read my Quest Wrap-up HERE.

I continue to read novels, mostly classics. Other novels this year:

Of all novels, favorite in 2018, and now all-time #1 favorite: A Tale of Two Cities. Honorable mention: The Stand. Least favored in 2018: The Idiot.

Short Stories: 

Sherlock Holmes Adventures

Other short stories

A Fine and Pleasant Misery (short story collection) by outdoorsman, humorist Patrick McManus who passed away this year; may he rest in peace.

Plays: All Shakespeare


Graphic Novels:

Children’s Books: Introducing my youngest Grandchild Lydia, and her first Guest Book Review (three-in-one review).


The Bible

Shameless self-promotion – Blog Post Classic Lit in Song, part II. You’ll want to read this post – trust me. Ever heard of bands Iron Maiden or Blind Guardian? I tip my hat to them, for their numerous songs based on classic literature.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Christmas Tales - 2018

The Magi honored the Christ child with three gifts.

and in honor of the magi, I read three Christmas tales each December. My Christmas reads are also part of A Literary Christmas – sponsored by In The Bookcase.

First, a tale by Russian Author Dostoevsky. The Beggar Boy at Christ’s Christmas Tree – also sometimes titled The Heavenly Christmas Tree.

In the opening lines, Dostoevsky relates…
I am a novelist, and I suppose I have made up this story. I write “I suppose,” though I know for a fact that I have made it up, but yet I keep fancying that it must have happened somewhere at some time, that it must have happened on Christmas Eve in some great town in a time of terrible frost.

What follows is a bittersweet tale of an orphaned boy – though he does not know he is an orphan. His mother died only some few hours before the story opens. The boy, about six, is cold, and hungry, and lost, and alone on Christmas Eve in a large city where he finds no compassion. His misery is compounded by the glorious visions of warmth and plenty that he views through windows of shops and homes of the great city – but there is no room for the unwanted beggar. Cruel mercy – cold and hunger – usher the boy into the presence of one who understands what it is to find no welcome on a winter night.

Next, a short story by British author Charles Dickens. You are expecting maybe A Christmas Carol? – nope. Certainly then, The Cricket on the Hearth or The Chimes? – nope, and nope. Ever heard of The Signal Man? Me neither. Well, it isn’t truly a Christmas story. Christmas, the Holidays, nor winter are ever mentioned in the story. The only connection to Christmas is the story was first published in the Christmas Edition of Dickens’ weekly magazine All the Year Round. It is the story of a content and humble railroad signalman, who recently received visitations by a specter – an omen of doom. On two occasions the specter, a signalman himself, appears to give warning, and shortly thereafter tragedy strikes. The mortal signalman is at a loss as to what to do. He cannot telegraph WARNING down the line without details or explanation. He is further unsettled when the specter appears a third time.
His pain of mind was most pitiable to see. It was the mental torture of a conscientious man, oppressed beyond endurance by an unintelligible responsibility involving life.

As you can imagine, the third visitation is not without purpose – but I’ll spare the spoiler and let you enjoy The Signalman when you are in the mood for what Andy Williams called scary ghost stories of Christmases long long ago.

And finally, A Christmas Memory by American author Truman Capote. Surprisingly, this was my favorite of the three. It is a sweet and tender tale of friendship. The narrator recalls his best friend, his only friend, from childhood – a distant cousin more than half-a-century his senior. The two are somehow, second class residents in the home where they live.
Other people inhabit the house, relatives; and though they have power over us, and frequently make us cry, we are not, on the whole, too much aware of them.

The two make fruitcake every Christmas, scrimping all year to save for the ingredients. They send the fruitcakes to near strangers who have been kind to them, like the giant Indian bootlegger from whom they buy whiskey – a key ingredient.
“Tell you what,” he proposes, pouring the money back into our bead purse, “just send me one of them fruitcakes instead.”

The poor souls, they barely knew they were poor.

May you be blessed with
the spirit of the season, which is Peace,
the gladness of the season, which is Hope, 
and the heart of the season, which is Love

                                 ~ The Wanderer

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd

V for Vendetta by Alan Moore                                                                        illustrated by David Lloyd 

V for Vendetta is a graphic novel, of a dystopian, post-apocalyptic world, set in near-future England.

As you know, this blog is mostly about classic novels. But, a while ago I decided to branch out a little and sample other genres, including the graphic novel. I did some searches for the greatest among the lot and came up with what I believe is a fair sample, and that is how this particular title ended up on my list.

To be honest, I was underwhelmed. I think it was largely due to my lack of sympathy for the anti-hero, a masked anarchist calling himself V. I wanted to cheer for him since I disliked the fascist state he was battling, that had once performed medical experimentation on him, but I just didn’t buy V’s anarchist world view.

As for the graphic novel as a genre, I’m not done yet. Thus far, it’s been a pretty good experience, though it won’t replace classic novels for me.


Saturday, December 15, 2018

The Arrival by Shaun Tan

The Arrival by Shaun Tan

I am unsure if it is more precise to call Shaun Tan the illustrator or the author – because the remarkable book has no words. Yet Shaun Tan tells an elaborate, cohesive, and poignant story.

It is the story of man leaving his home, his wife and daughter – presumably for a better life. Their current home is a bleak place with an ominous and pervasive danger. The man feels sorrow, and guilt for leaving – but they will never escape if he does not go first and forge the way. It is a desperate and courageous endeavor.

Yes, it is that explicit – without words.

I am not given to hyperbole – but I think this is a masterpiece.

You might infer from the cover, that the book is magical realism, or even fantasy, but that is not the purpose of the fantastic creature you see. I shouldn’t really speak for the author, but I am confident that is not the intent. The creature, like everything in the new land is strange and fantastic – almost magical. The buildings, the machines, the foods, the language, all strange and intimidating, but also in an indistinct way promising.

Shaun Tan captures in pictures, what it must feel like for every pilgrim who has left their native land in search of something better. 

The traveler encounters many people – some helpful, some indifferent. He also meets other immigrants who help him assimilate and share their own stories – some who escaped worse conditions than his own.

It is truly remarkable how much Tan conveys with just pictures. I highly recommend this marvelous graphic novel.


Monday, December 10, 2018

The Early Poems of Alfred Lord Tennyson

The Early Poems of Alfred Lord Tennyson 

I’ll begin with an excerpt…taken from To The Queen, shortly after Queen Victoria made Tennyson Poet Laureate of Great Britain and Ireland.
     To the Queen (excerpt)
     Her court was pure; her life serene;
     God gave her peace; her land reposed;
     A thousand claims to reverence closed
     In her as Mother, Wife and Queen
The Early Poems is a collection of 137 of Tennyson’s poems. And even though I write a little poetry, I’m not much of a fan of reading it. But, I intended to stretch myself with this read, and in that at least I was successful. Much of Tennyson’s poetry is quite honestly over my head. The language is so esoteric, I grasped little of what the poet was attempting to express. Take this title for example: The lintwhite and the throstlecock

Does that speak to you? Me either. In many of these poems, if I strained too hard to understand the meaning, I missed the beauty of the meter and rhyme. If I listened to the beauty, I missed the meaning. However, I am inclined to believe that reading poetry is a skill like any other – one that must be developed and exercised. I do think, that by the end, I was comprehending a bit more, and so – my poetry education is only beginning.

Tennyson treats a wide range of topics poetically. Two poems that came back-to-back: The Grasshopper, and Love Pride and Forgetfulness. At other times, he writes in series. For instance, he wrote Nothing Will Die, and then followed with All Things Will Die in an identical meter. I thought those were clever. He also put to poetry other works of literature or legend, such as the plays of Shakespeare, Mort d’Arthur, or the legend of Lady Godiva.

And though much was over my head, there was a good deal, that I did comprehend, and a good deal that I appreciated. Some excerpts from some of those I did admire.

The Palace of Art (in which Tennyson gives a nod to some other pretty decent poets)
     For there was Milton like a seraph strong,
     Beside him Shakespeare bland and mild;
     And there the world-worn Dante grasp’d his song,
     And somewhat grimly smiled.

The May Queen – tells of a vain and selfish young woman. And then in a sequel…

Conclusion (the same girl is dying, but has learned virtue and humility)
     Nor would I now be well, mother, again, if that could be,
     For my desire is but to pass to Him that died for me.

To J.S. (to console a friend whose brother had died)
     I have not look’d upon you nigh,
     Since that dear soul hath fall’n asleep
     Great Nature is more wise than I:
     I will not tell you not to weep.

You ask me, why, tho’ ill at ease (speaking of his revered England)
     It is the land that freemen till,
     That sober-suited Freedom chose,
     The land, where girt with friends or foes
     A man may speak the thing he will;

Mort d’Arthur
     Pray for my soul. More things are wrought by prayer
     Than this world dreams of…

The Talking Oak (I think perhaps, Tolkien borrowed this to contrive his Ents)
     For ah! My friend, the days were brief
     Whereof the poets talk,
     When that, which breathes within the leaf,
     Could slip its bark and walk.

The Golden Year
     But we grow old! Ah! When shall all men’s good
     Be each man’s rule, and universal Peace
     Lie like a shaft of light across the land,
     And like a lane of beams athwart the sea,

     I am a part of all that I have met

Will Waterproof’s Lyrical Monologue
     For I had hope, by something rare,
     To prove myself a poet;
     But, while I plan and plan, my hair
     Is gray before I know it.

And my favorite of all was a poem called Two Voices – which is autobiographical. The two voices, tell of the inner conflict and thoughts of suicide Tennyson had after the death of a dear friend.

     Then to the still small voice I said;
     “Let me not cast in endless shade
     What is so wonderfully made”.

And later refuting the suicidal voice

     “These words,” I said, “are like the rest,
     No certain clearness, but at best
     A vague suspicion of the breast:

And still later, when he hears the Sunday bells tolling, and watches a young family on their way to worship..

     I blest them, and they wander’d on:
     I spoke, but answer came there none:
     The dull and bitter voice was gone.

And near the end…
     A second voice was at mine ear,
     A little whisper silver-clear,
     A murmer, “Be of better cheer”.


Saturday, December 8, 2018

An Antarctic Mystery (The Sphinx of the Ice Fields) by Jules Verne (novel #118)

Pym, poor Pym! he must not be foresaken ~ Dirk Peters

An Antarctic Mystery is Jules Verne’s sequel to Edgar Allan Poe’s novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. Although it is not unheard of for one author to sequel another, it is rare that both are such renowned authors, each in their own right. What’s more, I think such sequels are often disappointing, but in this instance, I think it was rather brilliant.

I was excited to learn of Verne’s sequel (thanks Mudpuddle), because although I found Poe’s novel riveting – it ended quite abruptly, and left me wanting more.

Jules Verne obligingly provided more.

The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym is a bit of complicated metafiction. In the beginning, Poe has the fictional Pym relate his tale to Poe, asserting that no one would believe the tale if recounted as a true narrative, so he employs Poe to record it as a “pretended fiction”.

In other words, it’s a fiction, pretending to be fact, pretending to be fiction. I said it was complicated.

And then Verne picks it up and complicates it more. An Antarctic Adventure begins in the Kerguelen Islands, 11 years later with Mr. Jeorling, who does not appear in Pym’s narrative, but who is familiar with Poe’s novel. Jeorling encounters a ship’s captain, Mr. Len Guy, who believes the entire account to be true.
I thought I must be dreaming when I heard Captain Len Guy’s words. Edgar Poe’s romance was nothing but a fiction, a work of imagination by the most brilliant of our American writers. And here was a sane man treating that fiction as reality.

Jeorling concludes Captain Guy is not entirely sane, though an able seaman. Jeorling recalls another Captain Guy – Captain William Guy of the doomed ship Jane, from Pym’s narrative. 

Of course, events prove Captain Len Guy correct and it is evident he is obsessed with discovering the fate of his brother Captain William Guy who was lost with the Jane and her crew.

The original title: Le Sphinx des glaces should be rendered The Sphinx of the Ice Fields in English, but for some reason English versions of the novel are not given this title, but rather An Antarctic Mystery. This was my first time reading Jules Verne. I will definitely read more. I thought this tale quite clever in its treatment of the backstory, an exciting story on its own, and a perfect complement to Poe’s tale creating one complete, fantastic tale.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An Antarctic Mystery was published in 1897, nearly 60 years after The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, and nearly 50 years after Poe’s death. So of course, we cannot know what Poe would have thought of it, but I thought it a magnificent tribute by one of the greatest authors of the fantastic to another.


Life on board was very regular, very simple, and its monotony was not without a certain charm. Sailing is repose in movement, a rocking in a dream, and I did not dislike my isolation. ~ Jeorling

Pym, poor Pym! he must not be forsaken. ~ Dirk Peters


Monday, December 3, 2018

The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket by Edgar Allan Poe (novel #117)

…the probability being that the public at large would regard what I should put forth as merely an impudent and ingenious fiction. ~ Arthur Gordon Pym in the preface to his narrative

This is a very difficult work to categorize – for numerous reasons.

I usually think of Poe as a writer of short stories; this is his only complete novel. I also think of him as a writer of supernatural, macabre, or mystery, but this is a simple seafaring adventure. Yet the line from the preface that I quoted above had me hoping for some fantastical element – but no, a very exciting but entirely plausible adventure.

Well…until the very end.

It is the tale of Arthur Gordon Pym and his great adventure of going to sea. He is at first stow away and nearly perishes. Later, and to avoid his own certain murder he and two others must overthrow mutineers. Still later he is ship wrecked and turns to cannibalism to survive, and still later rescued by another ship, and becoming part of her crew he enters the most astonishing part of the story, an exploration of Antarctica.

Quite riveting, but completely believable. But then, Poe very slowly strays into descriptions inconsistent with Antarctica. I thought perhaps this was just result of ignorance both on his part, and 19thCentury sources. I’ve never heard of a race of dark-skinned peoples near the South Pole, nor the flora and fauna he describes, and most certainly not the temperate and warming climate as necessity drives the main character farther south.

Again, I thought this was just poor research or information until…

The very end, Arthur and two others in a canoe are swept along farther south on a warm ocean current when they most suddenly encounter…

Something? Someone? Decidedly NOT plausible, NOT natural.

I realized then, this WAS a tale of the supernatural, and Poe quite cleverly slipped into it very subtly, to make the force of the revelation all the more powerful.

But then, it ends quite abruptly.

There is a bit of metafiction, a fictional note by the fictional publishers of Pym’s narrative, that the final chapters have been lost, but that every effort was being made to locate them.

And the reader is left to wonder. And I am still wondering. I wonder if I liked it – or maybe I hated it. I wonder what happened after the abrupt astonishing ending. I wonder what happened to Tiger (inside comment – if you’ve read it, you get it). I wonder was this brilliant, or was it a poor attempt to write something that paid (Poe was not commercially successful at this point as a short story writer or poet). I wonder if it was somewhat autobiographical (pretty sure it was). I wonder if the name Arthur Gordon Pym was intended to have a sound and meter similar to Edgar Allan Poe.

Well, anything that makes me wonder (think) that much is worthy of

4 of 5 stars

This novel was what came up for me in The Classics Club Spin #19

I wonder, have you read The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket? I wonder what you thought of it? 

Coming soon...a sequel to The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket by Jules Verne


Saturday, December 1, 2018

A Case of Identity – a Sherlock Holmes short story

A Case of Identity by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle                                                        a Sherlock Holmes short story

A Case of Identity is part of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes collection and Holmes’ 12thcase.

This is a pretty short story, and eh…not terribly exciting. There is no crime even, just a missing groom who left the bride at the altar.

It’s a little creepy too because the groom – SPOILER ALERT – is the bride’s step-father incognito. Mom is still living by the way. I KNOW! Creepy, right? It’s all a rather absurd plot, to keep his step-daughter, from marrying.

Why? One spoiler is enough. But step-dad knows the young lady is by all worldly standards a nice catch, and is bound to be caught soon. So, he woos her, leaves her, and hopes she will spend the rest of her days pining for her lost love.

Holmes of course solves it all quite easily, and when he confronts the scoundrel – the scoundrel chides Holmes asserting that he has done nothing actionable by the law. Holmes shows a bit of his gallantry though…
“The law cannot, as you say, touch you,” said Holmes, unlocking and throwing open the door, “yet there never was a man who deserved punishment more. If the young lady has a brother or a friend he ought to lay a whip across your shoulder. By Jove!” he continued, flushing up at the sight of the bitter sneer upon the man’s face, “it is not part of my duties to my client, but here’s a hunting crop handy, and I think I shall just treat myself to…”

Bet you want to read it now huh?