You'd have to be living under a rock buried somewhere halfway down to the center of the earth in order not to be aware that in recent years our beautiful world has been shaken up by a number of crises the likes of which I, at least, have not experienced in my entire lifetime -- I can't remember any other time when I have so consistently felt the urge to put on blinders and wrap myself in a giant comfort blanket approximately 10 seconds after opening a newspaper (or its online edition), or 10 seconds into listening to the news. Obviously playing ostrich has never done anybody any good, but God knows, it's getting hard not to succumb to the temptation.
So what does a book lover do in order to keep her sanity, equip herself to separate fact from fiction (in news reporting, politics, and plenty of other places) and deal with rat catchers and fire mongers? She turns to books, of course.
I've decided to build a "Freedom and Future" personal library, which will contain books which (1) have either deeply impacted my personal thinking or that I expect will come to do so in the futures, or which (2) provide valuable food for thought in today's social and political debate, both nationally and internationally; be it based on a profound analysis of the issues at stake (as a matter of principle or long term), or because even though they may not be of lasting significance, they contain a thought-provoking contribution to the current debate (even if they were not written with that express purpose in mind -- e.g., books about historic persons or events or books by long-dead authors). I'm not expecting to binge-read the books added to this library, but I'm looking to add them to the mix with a bit more focus than I've been doing of late.
In the past couple of days, I've trawled my own bookshelves for books to add to the library, but this is one area where, even more than anywhere else, I'm looking for suggestions -- I can already see that I'm at risk of falling back on my old standbys, and that's the last thing I want to do here.
So, tell me: What books have recently made you sit up -- or which are the books that you've come to turn to and trust for guidance and inspiration?
These can be fiction or nonfiction, and books from any or all types of genres (I only draw the line at splatter punk). As the first part of my new library's title indicates, liberty and freedom rights are a focus, but I'm really looking for food for thought on all the issues that I think are going to determine the path human society will be taking (hence the "future" part); including, in no particular order:
* Liberty and freedom(s) (of opinion and press, movement, association, worship, the arts, etc.),
* Equal access to justice and judicial independence and impartiality,
* Equality and empowerment (gender / sexuality, race, etc.), and the plurality of society;
* Poverty / the increasing gap in the distribution of wealth,
* Education (general, political, etc.);
* Funding and freedom of research and science,
* Protection of the environment,
* Democratic institutions and processes and how to safeguard them,
* Xenophobia, war(mongering) and the preservation / restoration of peace,
* Persecution, migration, and internal displacement,
* Free trade and globalization,
* Technological advances,
* Ethics -- in all of the above areas.
I'm adding a few books to this post to give you a rough idea of what sort of things I've so far added to this library -- please take them as very approximate guidance only, though. It can be something totally different ... really anything that's jogged your brain or made you reevaluate your perspective on any of the above issues.
Thanks in advance!
They're here and looking phantastic -- thank you so much, Tigus!!
Let the games begin ...
Facially, the story is your basic Austen setup with the sole difference apparent at first sight that the narrator is a male observer of the events (which incidentally is unusual for Gaskell, too) and(show spoiler)
However, this wouldn't be Gaskell if she were content with just copying another author's formula and giving it a little spin. Here, that spin is women's education: Anybody who has read North and South and My Lady Ludlow knows that Gaskell was a proponent of general education, including and in particular the education of those left by the wayside; the urban and rural poor and women of all classes. Compared to these two books, as well as other Gaskell stories addressing the social ills of her time (e.g. Ruth -- ostracization of single motherhood and Mary Barton -- social and judicial prejudice against the working poor), Cousin Phillis at first blush comes across as somewhat more of a cautionary tale, and might be taken to suggest that there can be too much of a good thing:
The heroine is exceptionally well-educated for her time, which, in 19th century rural England, was apt to work against her prospects in marriage: No matter how beautiful the young lady is (and Phillis is, plenty) and no matter how much her future husband would have prospered financially from the union (and he would), most men -- including educated men like the novella's narrator, who is an engineer -- would have expected their wives to look up to them, not be their superior. Thus, Phillis is vulnerable to the attentions of a charming colleague of the narrator's, who easily matches her in education and knowledge and seems to thoroughly welcome their exchange ... until, that is, he accepts a new position in Canada(show spoiler)
The novella reads very much like a straight, nonjudgmental rendition of a tale of first love disappointed and innocence lost; this(show spoiler)
might suggest that this was all that Gaskell wanted to say ("sad but true, well-educated women don't have an easy time finding a husband"). But there is no criticism of Phillis's father for "burdening" her with a "too much" of education; indeed, the young narrator is gently scolded by his own father for shying away from Phillis himself on those grounds, and throughout, her education is shown as a perhaps unusual but decidedly admirable thing. So what remains is the impression of a delicately-woven tale ... which ultimately might perhaps have resolved a bit more than it actually does, but that, apparently, simply was not Elizabeth Gaskell's intention.
With this read, I finally get to check off the letter "G" in the Women Writers bingo.
The Guardian is one of my go-to sources for international news; refreshingly, they've so far refrained from putting up a paywall. I'd like their content to be able to continue being freely available on the web, but more importantly, I think these days it's more important than ever to support journalists and media organizations that are committed to reliable, in-depth reporting and aren't afraid to call out abuse and corruption.
And in (sort of) the same spirit ...
This T-shirt is a treasured gift from a Canadian penfriend, on the occasion of my first visit to Canada 30+ years ago. In light of recent events, I decided it was time to bring it out again ... (miraculously, I can even wear it still, which has a lot to do with my friend's wise decision to opt for "too large" rather than "too small").
We now return you to your regularly scheduled reading.
"The Books" should be featured larger of course, and personally I can do without video games -- but other than that, seeing as it's raining outside ...
Memorial Day Weekend -- Labor Day 2018
Emmuska Orczy: The Scarlet Pimpernel (revisited on audio, narrated by Stephen Crossly) ****1/2
Agatha Christie: N or M? (revisited on audio, narrated by Samantha Bond) ***
Ian Fleming: Quantum of Solace (short story only; new / audio, narrated by David Rintoul) *1/2
Kate Westbrook: Guardian Angel (new / audio, narrated by Eleanor Bron) ***1/2
Stella Rimington: Secret Asset (new / audio, narrated by Rosalyn Landor) ****
Francine Mathews: The Cutout (new / audio, narrated by Trini Alvarado) **1/2
John le Carré: The Tailor of Panama (revisited on audio, narrated by the author) ****1/2
John Le Carré: George Smiley Cycle
The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (revisited on audio, narrated by the author) *****
The Looking Glass War (new / audio, narrated by Michael Jayston) ***1/2
Smiley's People (revisited on audio, narrated by Michael Jayston) *****
Stella Rimington: Open Secret: The Autobiography of the Former Director-General of MI5 (new / print edition)
Jane Thynne: Black Roses (new / audio, narrated by Julie Teal)
Need to review a literary novel? Just use my handy-dandy Literary Novel Review Generator! pic.twitter.com/DoY7EYo3Fa— Lona Manning (@LonaManning) June 1, 2018
You'd think that I get to read more than enough files (though not typically crime files) in my day job -- but gluttons for punishment that some of us mystery lovers are, there's nothing we like better than tracking down the murderer ourselves, instead of just reading about some super sleuth doing it for us ... or so the makers of the 1930s' Crime Dossiers / Crime Files series figured, and of course they were dead on target.
The idea was first conceived by English authors Dennis Wheatley and J.G. Links, whose Murder off Miami (aka File on Bolitho Blane) was such a raging success on both sides of the Atlantic that it inspired follow-ups in both the U.S. and in the UK: in the latter case, three more "Crime Dossiers" by Messrs. Wheatley and Links; in the U.S., Helen Reilly's File on Rufus Ray (Crime File No. 2), as well as File on Fenton and Far, and File on Claudia Cragge by Q. Patrick (aka Richard Wilson Webb and Hugh Wheeler) (Crime Files Nos. 3 and 4).
While the American "Crime Files" Nos. 2 and 4 (Rufus Ray and Claudia Cragge) are true collectors' items that continue to elude me for the moment, I've now read all four "Crime Dossiers" created by Dennis Wheatley and J.G. Links, as well as Q. Patrick's File on Fenton and Farr, and I'm in awe at the amount of ingenuity that has gone into creating these books. They really are extremely close to the real thing -- you get correspondence (including cablegrams) and file entries by the investigators as well as witness statements, handwritten documents, crime scene and witness photographs, entire newspapers containing reports on the crime (not merely individual reports but actually entire broadsheets!), and even honest-to-God tactile evidence such as blood-stained pieces of cloth, strands of hair, tubes of lipstick, and other items found at the crime scene or in a witness's possession. One can only guess at the amount of time and effort that must have gone into the creation of each and everyone of these books -- and they must have been tremendously expensive to produce, too; so no wonder that many of them (and all the originals from the 1930s) are rare collectors' items these days. Crimes scenes range from a yacht off the Florida coast to an English village not far from London, a castle on a remote Scottish island, small-town New Jersey, and a London night club; and the cast of characters -- in each book as well as in all of them taken together -- is as diverse as any that you might expect to find in the best of crime fiction.
This all being said, obviously you can't like all books equally well, however lovingly they are put together; and so far my favorites are Wheatley / J.G. Links's sophomore effort, Who Killed Robert Prentice? (which has downright fiendish elements; it is, however, solvable on the basis of the evidence provided) and Q. Patrick's File on Fenton and Farr ... the latter, if only for the fact that the authors even managed to work a funny-sweet romance between one of the detectives and the police chief's precocious secretary into the file. (Obviously it also helped that I managed to solve both of these cases substantially (Robert Prentice) / partly (Fenton & Farr) correctly, even if I reserve the right to quibble with some of the evidence in Fenton & Farr.
The weakest of the lot is, IMHO, The Malinsay Massacre; not so much because it consists very largely of correspondence but because the solution just plain doesn't make sense to me and some of the conclusions allegedly "forcing" themselves on the reader from individual pieces of evidence are implausible beyond belief. (OK, sour grapes, I admit. Still ...) -- Herewith the Clues, the final Wheatley / Links outing, is generally decried as weak as well; however, I actually prefer it to Malinsay -- it does present a genuine puzzle, and even if some of the clues / proposed deductions are maybe a bit far-fetched, a fair amount of them actually do serve a logical purpose in eliminating innocent suspects on the one hand and nailing down the murderer on the other hand. (Besides, the sheer number of fellow writers and society celebrities of their era that the authors managed to rope in for purposes of posing for "suspect" photos for Herewith the Clues is mind-boggling in and of itself -- in fact, this is the only volume where the true identities of the persons portrayed in the photographs are unveiled -- not least as this is a story dealing with IRA terrorism and some of the suspect biographies also point to Nazi Germany ... surely, in 1937, not exactly connections that many well-known Brits would have welcomed to see associated with their names; however much in a fictional context and with a disclaimer reading "the particulars regarding [name of fictional suspect] which are given in the script have, of course, no reference whatever to [real name of person portrayed], who very kindly posed for this photograph.")
Now, if only I could get my hands on at least halfway affordable copies of the File on Rufus Ray and the File on Claudia Cragge ...
In the interim, File on Fenton and Farr gets me another square in the Detection Club bingo -- "Across the Atlantic" (chapter 22), which at the same time completes bingo no. 4 ( all 4 corners + center square).
File on Fenton & Farr - 4 stars
Murder off Miami - 4 stars
Who Killed Robert Prentice? - 4.5 stars
The Malinsay Massacre - 3 stars
Herewith the Clues - 3,5 stars
I recently was cleaning my library shelves and, of course, had to remove the books to do so. Afterwards, as I rearranged and returned the books to their shelves, I thought about the many International Collectors Library volumes and other classics that my late wife and I had purchased many years ago. I don’t recall that either of us ever read one. My minimalist daughter would tell me, “Dad, why do you have these? You never read them.” So, I made a pledge to work one in from time to time in my reading schedule. I invite all of you to do something similar.
Let’s read classic books! Who’s with me? My first will be As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner. My reviews of these works will include a little biography gleaned from Wikipedia. I’m sure most of you use Wikipedia to look things up. Donations to them are appreciated.
I invite you to reblog this with your friends as I don’t have many.
First four bingos (bottom row, second column from right, diagonal top left to bottom right, and 4 corners + central square) -- plus three more in the making (top row, center column, and diagonal top right to bottom left). Not that it greatly matters, but still. :D Progress!
1. A New Era Dawns: Ernest Bramah - The Tales of Max Carrados;
2. The Birth of the Golden Age: A.A. Milne - The Red House Mystery
3. The Great Detectives: Margery Allingham - The Crime at Black Dudley, Mystery Mile, Look to the Lady, Police at the Funeral, Sweet Danger, Death of a Ghost, Flowers for the Judge, The Case of the Late Pig, Dancers in Mourning, The Fashion in Shrouds, Traitor's Purse, and The Tiger in the Smoke;
4. 'Play Up! Play Up! and Play the Game!': Freeman Wills Crofts - The Hog's Back Mystery;
5. Miraculous Murders: Anthony Wynne - Murder of a Lady;
6. Serpents in Eden: Agatha Christie - The Moving Finger (reread);
7. Murder at the Manor: Ethel Lina White - The Spiral Staircase (aka Some Must Watch)
8. Capital Crimes
9. Resorting to Murder
10. Making Fun of Murder: Edmund Crispin - The Moving Toyshop;
11. Education, Education, Education: Mavis Doriel Hay - Death on the Cherwell
12. Playing Politics
13. Scientific Enquiries: Christopher St. John Sprigg - Death of an Airman;
Freeman Wills Crofts - Mystery in the Channel
14. The Long Arm of the Law: Henry Wade - Lonely Magdalen
15. The Justice Game
16. Multiplying Murders
17. The Psychology of Crime
18. Inverted Mysteries: Anne Meredith - Portrait of a Murderer
19. The Ironists: Anthony Rolls - Family Matters
20. Fiction from Fact: Josephine Tey - The Franchise Affair
Free Square / Eric the Skull: Martin Edwards - The Golden Age of Murder
The book that started it all:
The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books: Other Books Mentioned, Chapters 6 & 7
The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books: Other Books Mentioned, Chapters 8-10
The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books: Other Books Mentioned, Chapters 11-15
The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books: Other Books Mentioned, Chapters 16-20
The story of Classic Crime in 100 Books: Other Books Mentioned, Chapters 21-24
A - Margery Allingham: The Crime at Black Dudley, Mystery Mile, Look to the Lady, Police at the Funeral, Sweet Danger, Death of a Ghost, Flowers for the Judge, The Case of the Late Pig, Dancers in Mourning, The Fashion in Shrouds, Traitor's Purse, and The Tiger in the Smoke (all new); The Man With the Sack (revisited on audio);
Margaret Atwood: The Penelopiad (new) and The Blind Assassin (both audio)
B - Anne Brontë: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (revisited on audio)
C - Helen Czerski: Storm in a Teacup (new);
Agatha Christie: The Moving Finger, One, Two, Buckle my Shoe, Murder Is Easy, They Do It With Mirrors, and N or M? (all revisited on audio), Crooked House (revisited on audio and DVD) and Destination Unknown (new)
D - Margaret Drabble: The Red Queen (new)
G - Elizabeth George: For the Sake of Elena, Playing for the Ashes, and Well-Schooled in Murder (all revisited on audio);
Elizabeth Gaskell: Cranford (revisited on audio)
H - Radclyffe Hall: The Well of Loneliness (new);
Patricia Highsmith: The Talented Mr. Ripley (revisited on audio);
J - P.D. James: The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories (new), Original Sin, Death of an Expert Witness, Unnatural Causes, and The Skull Beneath the Skin (all revisited on audio)
M - Val McDermid: The Distant Echo and Trick of the Dark (both new);
Ngaio Marsh: Death in a White Tie, Off With His Head (aka Death of a Fool), Clutch of Constables, Death at the Dolphin (aka Killer Dolphin), Hand in Glove, and Death in a White Tie (all revisited on audio)
P - Anne Perry: A Dangerous Mourning and The Whitechapel Conspiracy (both new);
Ellis Peters: The Sanctuary Sparrow and Dead Man's Ransom (both revisited on audio)
R - J.K. Rowling (writing as Robert Galbraith): The Cuckoo's Calling, The Silkworm, and Career of Evil (all new);
J.K. Rowling: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (all on audio)
Dorothy L. Sayers: Unnatural Death (revisited on audio)
T - Josephine Tey: Brat Farrar and The Franchise Affair (both new);
Amy Tan: The Chinese Siamese Cat (new)
Free / center square:
On the card, I am only tracking new reads, not rereads.
Read, to date in 2018:
Books by female authors: 68
- new: 41
- rereads: 27
Books by male authors: 33
- new: 31
- rereads: 2
Books by F & M mixed teams / anthologies: 1
- new: 1
Oh, what a glorious prelude to the 2018 Summer of Spies.
Maybe not a "spy" novel in a narrower sense, but writing in 1902 and leagues ahead of her time, Orczy created the first book of what would become a series of perfect swashbucklers, starring a power couple in which the heroine is every bit her partner's equal and then some.
Indeed, cleverly Orczy even tells this book's story chiefly from Marguerite's point of view, which not only has the benefit of keeping the first-time reader (though ... is there such a creature, in this day and age, when it comes to this particular novel?) unaware of the Scarlet Pimpernel's identity as long as possible, but also gives Marguerite an added reason to hurtle all the way to France in Sir Percy's pursuit once she has cottoned onto (1) his alias, and (2) the fact that Chauvelin has unmasked him as well and is now hunting for him in turn. After all, the narrative perspective would go to hell in a handbasket if Marguerite were to just stay at home and gnash her teeth, anxiously awaiting her husband's safe return -- whereas this way, Orczy is able to present her as a woman of action ... even if, for the most part, it looks like the much-touted "cleverest woman in Europe" is stumbling blindly after her husband and Chauvelin in their respective tracks and comes darned close to ruining Sir Percy's whole enterprise, not to mention imperiling the life of her beloved brother Armand, to whose assistance Sir Percy had rushed off to begin with (well, that and in order to finish the job of getting the de Tournay family safely across the Channel).
No wonder, in any event, that the reading public soon demanded a sequel -- and Marguerite and Sir Percy would soon also find their way onto the silver screen. The rest, as they've never said more truly than here, is history ...
My "Summer of Spies meets Women Writers Project" reading list:
'Everybody else is working to change, persuade, tempt and control them. The best readers come to fiction to be free of all that noise.'— Waterstones (@Waterstones) May 23, 2018
- Philip Roth 1933-2018 pic.twitter.com/XPmJpegZOY
Not in the least related to books -- but I just came across this on YouTube and absolutely love it. That's my city, everybody ...