December 31, 2011

2011-A Reading Year in Review:

Happy New Year, everyone! May your 2012 be filled with wonderful reads! A few thoughts on my reading this year as 2011 draws to a close:

Total number of books read: 58

Favorite new-to-me contemporary authors: toss up between Mario Vargas Llosa (The Storyteller) & Jasper Fforde (The Eyre Affair).

Favorite new-to-me historic authors: Wilkie Collins (whose The Woman in White left me page turning into the wee hours of the morning), Emily Brontë (how sad that Wuthering Heights was her only novel--I enjoy her sisters' writing very much as well, but Emily's work is the strongest and most interesting conceptually) and Horace Walpole (The Castle of Otranto may date back to the 18th century, but this Gothic novel is as fresh and entertaining as ever).

New genre of reading explored: graphic novels. At my husband's urging, I picked up a few graphic novels this year. At first, I was dead-set against it and I couldn't imagine that it would be an enjoyable experience. I grew up in the US where comics are not exactly respected for their intellectual content, but since my husband was raised in France, he views comic books, like the rest of the nation, as a serious art form whose text and drawings may cover a range of subjects, be them philosophical or on the lighter side. Although graphic novels are still not my favorite genre, I have learned to appreciate the diversity of the authors and artists, particularly Belgian and French, but even a few Americans! In short, I may not be the world's greatest comic collector, but I have come to respect the potential this form holds and may search out a few new titles in 2012, much to my husband's glee. 

New way of reading: My husband gave me a Kindle for my birthday in August and it has completely revolutionized my reading. I absolutely love it! For one thing, I'm not restricted by budget, as classics, a large number of the books I read, are available for free. In addition, when I travel (which I do frequently), I can have an entire library with me in one light easy-to-transport device. In the past, I used to agonize over which books I'd pack, not to mention how heavy those guidebooks get when you're visiting more than one country. This backpacker thinks the Kindle is worthwhile just to have for traveling, if not for everyday life. But oh how I love it in everyday life too! Once again, having so many books in one light place is amazing! The multiple dictionary function is wonderful, as well--makes reading in multiple languages a breeze (FYI, if you've never used a Kindle, the dictionary function allows you to click on a word to view its definition at the bottom or top of the page you're reading. When you're done, it disappears and you never have to leave the page you're on). I also enjoy the possibility to make notes on my Kindle, bookmark pages and highlight passages. 

Worst read of the year: Ick. Just thinking about it makes me groan. I read La Sorcière de Portobello (The Witch of Portobello) by Paulo Coelho. A number of people had urged me to read it because the book deals with several locations that I've travelled to (Romania and Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer in France) and that are special to me. Indeed, I'm interested in Roma (Gypsy) culture, but this new-age know-it-all novel is not for me. Not by a long shot. It felt like reading one long cardboard cliché after another (you know the sort: "Love is the answer. Love makes the world go round. Love is bright."--okay, you get the picture). Blehhhhh. 

Current reads that will overlap into 2012: The Iliad (Fagles' translation)--rereading for the first time since high school in preparation for a trip to Greece, The Blue Fairy Book compiled by Andrew Lang (I'm having fun reading a story at a time in conjunction with the Sisters Grimm books I've been reading and the television shows Grimm and Once Upon a Time).

Ongoing projects that will overlap into 2012: The Arabian Nights (begun while in Morocco in February 2011, halfway completed--will reference in conjunction with folklore/mythology research), The Bible (King James version, referencing the JDP version from time to time as well)  in conjunction with a DVD course analyzing the Bible as literature, and completing War and Peace, initially begun as a chapter-a-day read along. 

Reading Goals in 2012: In addition to my above projects that will overlap into 2012, I'd also like to take the opportunity to read sequels or additional works by authors whom I've read only once. I'm really looking forward to Carlos Ruiz Zafon's prequel to The Shadow of the Wind, a book I loved, but whose prequel has been sitting on my TBR shelf for an entire year. I also want to read in preparation for my trip to Greece and Turkey. I plan to reread a lot of historical and mythological texts that I haven't covered in quite some time, moving on to contemporary literature from each respective country. Other than that, I'm going to try not to get too bogged down with reading goals like I did last year. I'll only set myself up for some silly disappointment if I promise to read 100 books. Obviously, I didn't and that's okay. Here's a list of what I did read in 2011:

1.) In Arabian Nights- Tahir Shah
2.) Grave Sight- Charlaine Harris
3.) Napoleon's Pyramids- William Dietrich
4.) Real Murders- Charlaine Harris
5.) A Bone to Pick- Charlaine Harris
6.) Persuasion - Jane Austen
7.) Pages from Cold Point & Other Short Stories - Paul Bowles
8.) The Julius House - Charlaine Harris
9.) Destination Unknown - Agatha Christie
10.) Hideous Kinky - Esther Freud
11.) Les Voix de Marrakech - Elias Canetti
12.)The Right Attitude to Rain - Alexander McCall Smith
13.)The Prince of Mist - Carlos Ruiz Zafón
14.) The Careful Use of Compliments - Alexander McCall Smith
15.) Letter to a Christian Nation - Sam Harris
16.) Dead in the Family - Charlaine Harris
17.) The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency - Alexander McCall Smith
18.) Sophie's World (second time) - Jostein Gaarder
19.) Eternal Chalice: The Grail in Literature and Legend - Monica Potkay
20.) The Storyteller - Marios Vargas Llosa
21.) The House Without a Key - Earl Derr Biggers
22.) Sur les Chemins de Glace (Of Walking on Ice) - Werner Herzog
23.) The Woman in White- Wilkie Collins
24.) A History of Insects - Yvonne Roberts
25.) Wuthering Heights - Emily Brontë
26.) The Railway Children - Edith Nesbit
27.) To the Lighthouse - Virginia Woolf
28.) The Lacuna - Barbara Kingsolver
29.) La Sorcière de Portobello - Paulo Coelho
30.) Dead Reckoning - Charlaine Harris
31.) The Eyre Affair - Jasper Fforde
32.) Peggy Sue et les Fantômes:Le Jour du Chien Bleu - Serge Brussolo
33.) Bard of the Middle Ages: The Works of Geoffery Chaucer 
- Michael Drout
34.) Myths and Mysteries in Archaeology - Susan A. Johnston
35.) The Castle of Otranto - Horace Walpole
36.) Jane Eyre - Charlotte Brontë
37.) Bleak House- Charles Dickens
38.) Hanoi Stories - Pamela Scott
39.) Portuguese Irregular Verbs - Alexander McCall Smith
40.) Lady Audley's Secret - Mary Elizabeth Braddon
41.) The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins
42.) Catching Fire - Suzanne Collins
43.) Mockingjay - Suzanne Collins
44.) The Murders in the Rue Morgue and other C. Auguste Dupin stories - Edgar Allen Poe
45.) Little Women - Louisa May Alcott
46.) Louisa May Alcott's Christmas Treasury
47.) The Sisters Grimm-Fairy Tale Detectives - Michael Buckley
48.) The Sisters Grimm-The Unusual Suspects - Michael Buckley
49.) Spike-Brian Lynch
50 - 58): Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Season 9, Volumes 1-8 (don't laugh until you've actually examined these books/show for its feminist slant, mythological exploration, etc.--good stuff!)

December 22, 2011

Dickens' "Household Words"

During the past year I've read a good deal of Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens (The Woman in White, A Christmas Carol, Bleak House, etc.) and while doing so, I've often wondered about the magazine Dickens published, Household Words. Many of the author's great novels, as well as those written by his peers (Collins for one!) were first published in serial format within the weekly magazine's pages. I began to look online for modern-day copies of the publication, convinced that issues must exist today in some sort of anthology format. I didn't turn up much via mega booksellers like Amazon, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that readers can (legally) access copies of Household Words electronically and free of charge via the website archive.org. Not only is it possible to consult issues of Household Words in PDF format, e-reader files are also available. With the click of a button, my Kindle is stocked with the publishing universe of Dickens' own creation, and I'm excited to explore this new terrain. The first issue of Household Words was released on December 21, 1850, just in time for Christmas. Download it in a variety of formats (left hand column) HERE and see what others were reading in December, 161 years ago.

December 21, 2011

Happy Holiday Reading!

1913 edition
Last week a few exciting holiday treasures arrived in my mailbox. Among them, and the item I'm most excited about, was a 1913 edition of Christmas with Dickens. This find hails from Loe Books, an online book collector's shop in Cornwall.  Sure, it's not a first edition by any means--it's about fifty years too late for that, but the find was a bargain at €12 ($15), and older books have such character that this little pocket-sized edition (it measures around 7 inches in length) was impossible to pass up. It features a selection of Charles Dickens' holiday-themed stories with charming illustrations, hand-lettered text and a gorgeous embossed cover.

The artist whose illustrations grace the pages of Christmas with Dickens is none other than Chas Pears, a popular early 20th century painter who continued to work through the second World War. There's an excellent entry on his work and life at Bear Alley Books. Having read A Christmas Carol last December, I'm looking forward to revisiting Dickens' holiday universe this year with tales like A Christmas Dinner. I haven't read any of the five stories yet as I'm saving them for Christmas Eve.

In the meantime, I've been reading another new arrival on my shelves, Louisa May Alcott's Christmas Treasury. Having finished Little Women last week, I was excited to dive into this collection because it features  a selection of the author's writing for both adults and younger audiences. Since Alcott was such a versatile author, it's interesting to see what remains coherent in her writing (idealism, modesty--slightly preachy, but not obnoxiously so) and how her stories vary depending on the targeted readers.  Finishing the short story A Hospital Christmas, set during the Civil War, gave me a taste of Alcott's Hospital Sketches, a longer work inspired by her time serving as a war-time nurse. I'll definitely be adding Hospital Sketches to my TBR pile in 2012 and look forward to reading more of Alcott's adult fiction. In the meantime, I'll be hard at work finishing these Christmas tales and moving on to Dickens' holiday universe, all the while trying to finish my gingerbread house, wrap gifts and do other elf-worthy activities.

***Happy Holidays and Happy Reading to you all! ****

December 9, 2011

Edgar Allen Poe's C. Auguste Dupin

Aubrey Beardsley's illustration for
The Murders in the Rue Morgue
Published in 1841, Edgar Allen Poe's short story The Murders in the Rue Morgue is often credited as the first piece of detective fiction. Although Poe never refers to his Parisian hero as a detective, the savy C. Auguste Dupin is just that. In fact, Dupin's investigative methods are strikingly familiar because they provided the model for a far more well known literary detective, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes. Side note: for more information on the origins of the word detective, a term which would have been known in Poe's time, but only within the context of the police, see the excellent article over at Mystery File. 

Auguste Dupin uses his reason, or as Poe call its ratocination, to solve two more mysteries that follow The Murders in the Rue Morgue: The Mystery of Marie Rogêt and The Purloined Letter. In addition to Dupin's analytical approach, other aspects of the stories that helped develop a framework for future mysteries, including those centered on iconic detectives like Holmes and Hercule Poirot, are:

December 5, 2011


Over at Should be Reading, the Musing Mondays meme asks, How many books do you read in a week? Month? Year? 

The question is deceptively simple because the answer not only factors in how much free time we dedicated readers devote to our books, it also leads to more questions regarding our reading materials--their level of difficulty and length, in particular.

Reading in the Christmas Spirit


Here in France the bakeries have begun to roll out their gorgeous bûches de Noël (Christmas log cakes), thus I know it's time to get ready for the holidays and put up our tree. Although we don't celebrate Christmas in the religious sense, I do pine for those cozy childhood holidays of years past when glistening decorations captured my imagination and warm meals surrounded by the camaraderie of family and friends left me feeling warm and festive (how's that for cliché? but all true, I assure you!). Last year I ushered in the holidays by reading Dicken's A Christmas Carol. It's short enough that I might just make an annual tradition of it, but this year I also plan to read the same author's other Christmas tales, A Christmas Dinner, The Chimes, The Cricket on the Hearth, etc. 
Other books I've considered reading this December include:

November 29, 2011

Where in the World...?

Where in the world have I been? My loong blogging hiatus was not intentional, but life and travels (Hong Kong & Vietnam) really haven't left me much time for checking in or writing reviews. I'm looking forward to getting caught up with everyone else's blog posts and writing a few of my own. For the time being, here's a list of books I've finished recently:

Bleak House - Charles Dickens (special marks for this one--and I'm currently geeking out over the 2005 BBC mini-series!).

Hanoi Stories - Pamela Scott (a nice memoir of an Australian expat's eight years spent in Vietnam).

Portuguese Irregular Verbs - Alexander McCall Smith (this one gave me quite a chuckle).

I'm currently devouring Lady Audley's Secret, part of the progression of works I'm reading in relation to the audio course I completed earlier this year, Detective Fiction: From the Victorian Era to the Present. Bleak House is said to be one of the first novels to feature an investigator (Investigator Bucket) and Lady Audley's Secret is a close cousin of early detective fiction, belonging to the genre of the sensationalist novel (like The Woman in White, also read earlier this year). Next on this list is another work by Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone, considered by many to be the first mystery novel.


I hope to be back on track with regular blogging as of now, but we'll see what life throws my way! :-)
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