Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne (novel #166)

illustrated by Ernest H. Shepard

Winnie the Pooh is a children’s book about an anthropomorphized stuffed toy bear and his friends. It is probably incorrect to call it a children’s novel or novella, but for the purpose of my blog, I shall nonetheless.
I was an early reader. In first or second grade I won an award at school for checking out the most library books. But somewhere after second grade, my reading fell off. Hence I read most of the early grade level books:  Cat in the Hat, Curious George, Where the Wild Things Are, and the like, but very few of the mid-grade books like Wind in the Willows, Charlotte’s Web, or Winnie the Pooh.


This blog is dedicated to my sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Banks, who revived my love of reading. At that point however, I moved on to serious literature, and the mid-level children’s books remained a gap in my reading experience.


I missed some delightful stories, such as Winnie the Pooh, which is a collection of short stories about the denizens of the 100 Acre Wood and Christopher Robin, the young boy who plays there. Each chapter is a perfect bed-time story length adventure. 


Although I've not read Winnie the Pooh previously, I was familiar with the characters from Disney’s adaptation – which is significantly, though not wildly different from the book. I never before realized that Owl and Rabbit are real, living creatures, though anthropomorphized by Christopher Robin’s imagination, whereas Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, Kanga, and Roo are all stuffed toys (Tigger, also a toy, is not introduced until the second book, The House at Pooh Corner).


My digital version included original black and white illustrations by E. H. Sheppard, which again are slightly different but not unrecognizable from the familiar Disney portrayals.


As I’ve said, it is a delightful read. The characters are innocent, kind, and gentle, though not without some childish naughtiness. They employ silly logic, which is absurd or incomprehensible to an adult reader, but which perfectly satisfies their understanding of things. The illustrations are fun and perfectly capture the personality of all the characters.


“When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,” said Piglet at last, “what’s the first thing you say to yourself?”


“What’s for breakfast,” said Pooh. “What do you say, Piglet?”


“I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” said Piglet.


Pooh nodded thoughtfully. “It’s the same thing,” he said.


I give it 4 of 5 stars


Modern vernacular: The term woozle effect: frequent citation of weakly or unsupported publications causing a widely held, but mistaken public belief; is derived from “Chapter Three in which Pooh and Piglet Go Hunting and Nearly Catch a Woozle”.


Monday, October 26, 2020

Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Jonathan Bach (novel #165)

"For this gull, though, it was not eating that mattered, but flight. More than anything else, Jonathan Livingston Seagull loved to fly."

Jonathan Livingston Seagull is a fable about the eponymous hero of the tale, who unlike the other members of his flock, desires more out of life than mere existence and the search for food. As the quotation reveals, Jonathan loved to fly – and at great personal cost, pursued new techniques for higher and faster flight.


I first read this when I was 11, when it was on the best-seller list. I thought it was just about the dumbest thing I’d ever read, but of course I was 11, not well read, and pretty dumb myself. I’ve experienced other reads I thought were dumb in my youth that I now think are masterpieces (The Little Prince) so I thought perhaps Jonathan Livingston Seagull would appeal more now that I am older, wiser, and better read.


Not so much.


I wouldn’t call it the dumbest thing I’ve ever read, but neither would I call it a masterpiece. There is charm to the writing and Jonathan is sincere and likeable. He flies in the face of convention (pun intended) to achieve greatness, and for that, serves as a heroic and admirable example, But I believe the intended moral goes well beyond that to a level of philosophic absurdity that I don’t accept.


I read “the complete edition” with the “fourth part” that Bach added in 2014. The fourth part did not improve my opinion.


I give it 2 ½ of 5 stars






I am a seagull. I am limited by my nature.


Yet he felt guiltless, breaking the promises he had made himself. Such promises are only for the gulls that accept the ordinary. One who has touched excellence in his learning has no need of that kind of promise.


His one sorrow was not solitude, it was that other gulls refused to believe the glory of flight that awaited them; they refused to open their eyes and see.


…the most important thing in living was to reach out and touch perfection in that which they most loved to do, and that was to fly.


Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Greenmantle by Charles de Lint (novel #164)

"It was something between wizardry and poetry..."

I've had Charles de Lint on my TBR for quite a while now, and after reading James Buchan’s classic Greenmantle, I thought it would be fun to read  Greenmantle by Charles de Lint. The title is the only thing they have in common…well, not truly the only thing. I described Buchan’s Greenmantle as a guilty pleasure, and I felt much the same about de Lint’s novel. Again – that’s not a bad thing.


de Lint’s is described as a writer of urban fantasy, magical realism, and mythic fantasy; Greenmantle could be categorized as all three. It is about a mob hit-man trying to go straight, a single mom and daughter trying to make it in the wide world without depending on men, and about a Pan-like deity living in the backwoods of Canada, who weaves their lives intricately together. 


For the most part it is a fun read. I was invested in the characters, and intrigued by the mystery. It was fast-paced and held my attention from beginning to end. However, there was one significant downside for me. De Lint uses his story to advocate a worldview that I have no affinity for. It isn’t pervasive, but when it comes up, it is rather in your face. That’s the author’s prerogative, and it’s mine to take exception. I’ll definitely give de Lint another read, but if it’s more of the same, that may be enough for me.


I give it 3 of 5 stars



The music that Tommy played was only a memory of what this creature was. It was something between wizardry and poetry, between enchantment and music. Its antlers were the branches of the tree of life and in its eyes was the beauty of the world, always seen as though for the first time.


It was beauty that needed preserving, whether it lay in a forest, a field, or a city street. Whether it was the workings of a plant, from seed to new growth to mulch, or the workings of some complex machine. There was room for everything in the world, so long as men remembered the beauty.


Sunday, October 11, 2020

Greenmantle by John Buchan (novel #163)

"Suddenly I had a feeling that the whole affair was stark lunacy." ~ Major Hannay

Greenmantle is an adventure novel featuring Richard (Dick) Hannay. It is the second in five-novel series with Hannay as the hero. In this, as a Major in the British army during the First World War, he is sent on a clandestine mission into the enemy’s stronghold to discover the details of a mysterious scheme.


Major Hannay would rather be beside his men in the trenches fighting the Germans head on, but duty calls him to a more dangerous mission. British intelligence has learned – though with few details – of a German plot to ally with the Muslim world. Hannay’s mission of course is to learn the details and foil the plot. 


He enlists a small team to assist, consisting of diverse and colorful characters: fellow soldier Sandy Arbuthnot who has extensive cultural and linguistic experience in the Arab World, and John Blenkiron an American agent, though the U.S. was not yet officially “in”.


Suddenly I had a feeling that the whole affair was stark lunacy. Here we were three simpletons sitting in a London flat and projecting a mission into the enemy’s citadel without an idea what we were to do or how we were to do it. ~ Major Hannay


The three take separate routes to get behind enemy lines and plan to rendezvous in Turkey – which ends up during the Battle of Erzurum.


There are some fairly typical caricatures: a hulking, arrogant German officer, a sinister and alluring female mastermind, and numerous close calls, but of course we know – it all comes right in the end. 


It was a lot of fun, but to be completely honest, it felt like a guilty pleasure. There’s nothing wrong with that – and nothing really to feel guilty about. I’ll definitely read more Buchan, and more in the Richard Hannay series. 


I give it 3 ½ of 5 stars



This novel satisfies Square O4, Classic Adventure in the in the 2020 Classic Bingo Challenge and completes my full card BINGO!



Disambiguation: not to be confused with the novel Greenmantle by Charles De Lint


Monday, October 5, 2020

Under the net by Iris Murdoch (novel #162)

Starting a novel is opening a door on a misty landscape; you can still see very little but you can smell the earth and feel the wind blowing. ~ Jake Donaghue


There are several ways to characterize this: comic novel, picaresque novel, philosophic novel, all accurate, and beautifully written.


It is the first-person narrative of a few weeks in the life of Jake Donaghue. By his own admission, Jake is lazy and unambitious. 

I live by literary hack-work, and a little original writing, as little as possible.


He and his faithful companion, Peter O’Finney (Finn), spend more time looking for shortcuts in life, than they would probably spend earning an honest living.

I find it hard to explain to people about Finn. He isn’t exactly my servant. He seems often more like my manager. Sometimes I support him, sometimes he supports me; it depends. It’s somehow clear that we aren’t equals.


The novel could easily have been titled A Tale of Two Cities, but that, of course, was already taken. It opens with Finn meeting Jake at the station as Jakes returns to London from Paris. Jake learns that he and Finn have been turned out of their flat, where they have been living rent-free for over a year. This starts what I would call a non-stop, madcap adventure. Jake, often accompanied by Finn, finds himself – more correctly embroils himself – in one preposterous situation after another: swimming naked in the Thames after drunken pub crawl; a political riot at a movie theater set portraying Rome – resulting in the complete collapse of Rome; breaking and entering to retrieve a stolen transcript, not finding it, and opting to kidnap a movie-star canine to hold for ransom, and more.


This was my favorite aspect of this zany story. Jake repeatedly finds himself in situations that most people will never encounter, and he approaches these all quite casually, as just a day in the life. He is a loveable knucklehead.


There is a ridiculous love quadrangle, and a hodgepodge of marvelous characters, whose names alone signal their peculiarities: Hugo, Lefty, Sammie, Sadie, Magdalen, Jean-Pierre, and Mr. Mars (the dog).


This was not my first read of Iris Murdoch, though I’d forgotten she also wrote The Sea, the Sea. Both stories she writes from a first-person male narrator, and her writing, both dialogue and narration, is simple, relatable, and beautiful. (see excerpts)


I was a little disappointed in the ending – at first. But after I slept on it, my opinion definitely improved. The entire escapade serves as a sort of epiphany for Jake and I can’t help but feel hopeful for him. I’m certain, the entire plot is a treatise on Murdoch’s philosophy – but it’s not so in-your-face off-putting as to interfere with a good story.


I give it 3 ½ of 5 stars

I’ll definitely read more by Murdoch. Have you read Under the Net? Iris Murdoch? What are your thoughts? 


This novel satisfies Classic by a woman author for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2020




Finn was sitting near him on the floor with his back to the wall and his legs stretched out like the victim of an accident.


My heart sprang within me and fell like a bird striking a window pane.


Dave once said to me that to find a person inexhaustible is simply the definition of love, so perhaps I loved Anna.


After an all-night pub crawl as the group goes swimming in the Thames 

“Watch out for police,” said Lefty. “They’ll think we’re going to rob a warehouse. If you see one, pretend to be drunk.”

This was rather superfluous advice.


Out of this undulating pile of punching, kicking, and wrestling humanity there arose a steady roar in which cries of pain and anger were inextricably merged.


Even when I don’t know which side I am on I hate to watch a fight without joining in.