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Christie Completists: Agatha's Plays

The Mousetrap and Other Plays - Agatha Christie Black Coffee - Agatha Christie The Unexpected Guest: A Play In Two Acts - Agatha Christie Spider's Web: A Stage Play - Agatha Christie Rule of Three - Agatha Christie Murder on the Nile - Agatha Christie Akhnaton: A Play in Three Acts - Agatha Christie The Lost Plays: Butter in a Lordly Dish / Murder in the Mews / Personal Call - Full Cast, Richard Williams, Ivan S. Brandt, Agatha Christie

In my quest for Christie-related reading material, I've decided to work yet another series of reads into this year's program; namely, Dame Agatha's plays -- NOT The Mousetrap, Witness for the Prosecution and other blockbusters, however, but her lesser-known and forgotten ones; both stand-alones and adaptations of her own novels.  Most of the latter are collected, together with her aforementioned blockbuster successes, in The Mousetrap and Other Plays; the others are published individually by Samuel French.

 

The Mousetrap and Other Plays includes:

 

* Ten Little Indians

* Appointment With Death

* The Hollow

* Towards Zero and

* Go Back for Murder,

 

as well as a stand-alone play named Verdict.

(Go Back for Murder is the dramatization of Five Little Pigs, aka Murder in Retrospect).

 

Three of Dame Agatha's other plays were novelized by Charles Osborne: I've seen enough of those novels NOT to ever want to go near any of them ... but I am very much interested in Christie's original works:

 

* Black Coffee

* The Unexpected Guest and

* Spider's Web.

 

Then, there is a collection of three one-act plays collectively published under the title Rule of Three:

 

* Afternoon at the Seaside

* The Rats and

* The Patient,

 

as well as two plays set in Egypt: the dramatization of Death on the Nile and one of her final works, a history play set in Ancient Egypt published in 1973 but never produced in her remaining lifetime,

 

* Murder on the Nile and

* Akhnaton.

 

Finally, there is a set of radio dramas rereleased by the BBC a few years ago:

 

* Butter in a Lordly Dish

* Murder in the Mews and

* Personal Call.

 

I'm not planning to binge on these, but I'll be sprinkling them into my reading over the course of the year.  If anybody would like to join, please let me know -- I'm always up for a buddy read.

 


Reading progress update: I've read 15%.

A Question of Proof - Nicholas Blake, Kris Dyer

 

I think I've found a new series to binge on.  And I hope all the audio versions are read by Kris Dyer.  After Lispector, this is just what the doctor ordered!

 

And hooray, this is mentioned in Chapter 24 of "The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books", so I get to check off another square of the Detection Club bingo, too!

 

 

 

 

Probably full of literary merit -- but decidedly not my jam.

The Hour of the Star - Benjamin Moser, Clarice Lispector, Colm Tóibín The Hour of the Star - Clarice Lispector, Benjamin Moser, Colm Tóibín

I wasn't planning to write a review of this book, but since I already voiced off in a PM, I might as well copy my thoughts into a post after all.

 

Long story short, I'm finding, once again, that a combination of art- and purposefully deconstructed speach and a virtually plotless description of drab lives -- or A drab life -- just isn't my kind of thing. Fortunately it's a short book -- picked deliberately because I had a premonition Lispector and I wouldn't get along -- but all the time while I was listening all I could think was, "OMG, and this is what they preferred to Barbara Pym in the 1970s ..."

 

There were moments when I thought, if only my Portuguese were sufficiently up to snuff for me to be able to read this in the original; maybe I'd be able to pick up on some note or subtext that just got lost in translation.  But if the translator's afterword is to be believed, the reverse seems to be true -- according to him, while people with only a limited understanding of Portuguese may actually be able to make some rudimentary sense of the book, it's a seven-times-sealed box to the average Portuguese mother tongue speaker.  This has to be the first time I'm hearing it's actually harmful rather than helpful to be fluent in a given language in order to be able to understand a book written in it. 

 

(The translator, who also wrote a biography of Lispector, goes on to describe that the original passages from her works that he quoted in his biography did not pass the muster of several copy editors in the Portuguese edition of that biography ... they all insisted on "amending" what they believed to be his own (flawed) sentence structure and punctuation.  So, he tells us, much to Lispector's fury also did the French translator of Lispector's very first book, in an attempt to make the book more palatable to French readers.)

 

And if Lispector's prose is, though no doubt highly artistic, also so construed and littered with sentences devoid of any meaning as to make it impossible to follow (especially in the first roughly 1/3 of this book), the audio narration made it even worse. Note to self: If encountering Melissa Broder ever again, run, don't walk away. Obnoxiously squaky, reading as if by rote, and with no sense of intonation -- and also clearly zero feeling for the text she was reading (which is partly down to Lispector herself ... but not entirely).  I was seriously tempted to DNF and quite honestly only finished listening to it in order to be able to check off Brazil on my world reading map chart -- though I do hope I'll find a better representative of Brazilian literature after all.  (Hopefully even a woman writer: I'm currently looking at Dora Doralina by Rachel de Queiroz, which MR reviewed a while ago IIRC, as well as Lygia Fagundes Telles, and, on BT's recommendation, Patrícia Rehder Galvão.  Further recs most definitely welcome.)

Around the World in 80 Books Mostly by Female Authors: Master Update Post

[World map created with Mapchart.net]

 

The aim: To diversify my reading and read as many books as possible (not necessarily 80) set in, and by authors from, countries all over the world.  Female authors preferred.  If a book is set in a location other than that of the author's nationality, it can apply to either (but not both).

 

On the map I'm only tracking new reads, not also rereads.

 

The Books:

Africa

Nigeria

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Purple Hibiscus (new)

 

Egypt

Elizabeth Peters: Crocodile on the Sandbank (new)

 

 

 

 

 

Americas

USA

Michelle Obama: Becoming (new)

 

Canada

Stef Penney: The Tenderness of Wolves (new)

 

Brazil

Clarice Lispector: The Hour of the Star (new)

 

 

 

 

 

Asia

China

Xinran: The Good Women of China (new)

 

Japan

Shizuko Natsuki: Murder at Mt. Fuji (new)

 

North Korea

Hyeonseo Lee: The Girl with Seven Names (new)

 

 

 

 

 

Australia / Oceania

Australia

Joan Lindsay: Picnic at Hanging Rock (new)

 

 

 

 

 

Europe

United Kingdom

Lorna Nicholl Morgan: Another Little Murder (new)

Stephen Fry, John Woolf, Nick Baker: Stephen Fry's Victorian Secrets (new)

P.D. James: A Taste for Death (revisited on audio)

Agatha Christie: The Big Four (revisited on audio)

Elizabeth Ferrars: Murder Among Friends (new)

Barbara Pym: Excellent Women (new)

Terry Pratchett: Equal Rites (revisited on audio)

Georgette Heyer: Why Shoot a Butler? (new)

Nicholas Blake: A Question of Proof (new)

 

Ireland

Tana French: The Witch Elm (new)

 

Greece

Stephen Fry: Mythos (new)

Madeline Miller: Circe (new)

 

Sweden

Astrid Lindgren: Die Menschheit hat den Verstand verloren: Tagebücher 1939-1945 (A World Gone Mad: Diaries, 1939-45) (new)

 

 

 

 

 

The "Gender Wars" Stats:

Read to date, in 2019:

Books by female authors: 18

- new: 16

- rereads: 2

 

Books by male authors: 4

- new: 3

- rereads: 1

 

Books by F & M mixed teams / anthologies:

- new:

- rereads:

Reading progress update: I've read 47 out of 592 pages.

Die Menschheit hat den Verstand verloren: Tagebücher 1939-1945 - Astrid Lindgren, Angelika Kutsch, Gabriele Haefs

Sound familiar?

"1940

9 FEBRUARY. What a world, what an existence! Reading the papers is a depressing pastime. Bombs and machine guns hounding women and children in Finland, the oceans full of mines and submarines, neutral sailors dying, or at best being rescued in the nick of time after days and nights of privation on some wretched raft, the behind-the-scenes tragedy of the Polish population (nobody’s supposed to know what’s happening, but some things get into the papers anyway), special sections on trams for “the German master race,” the Poles not allowed out after 8 in the evening, and so on. The Germans talk about their “harsh but just treatment” of the Poles -- so then we know. What hatred it will generate! In the end the world will be so full of hate that it chokes us."

And that's just for starters -- we haven't even gotten to the concentration camps yet, though there has already been much suffering; chiefly in Finland and Poland.

 

I'm reading the book in German; source of the English excerpt quoted above HERE.  Highly recommended, both the book as a whole and (as a taster) the verbatim excerpts provided on HistoryNet and in the Telegraph review.  Lindgren was an astute observer and analyst; she did not miss a single important event and development, and she uncannily distills them down to their essential importance.  E.g., here's the beginning of her final entry, on New Year's Eve 1945 (which I haven't gotten to yet, of course, but which you'll see if you read the excerpts on HistoryNet or in the Telegraph review, and which is referenced verbatim in the introduction of this book -- at least in the German version):

"Nineteen forty-five brought two remarkable things. Peace after the Second World War and the atom bomb. I wonder what the future will have to say about the atom bomb, and whether it will mark a whole new era in human existence, or not. Peace doesn't offer much hope of sanctuary, overshadowed as it is by the atom bomb."*

Almost 50 years of post-WWII world history, acutely foretold in three concise sentences.  What a remarkable woman.

________________________

 

* Final sentence my own translation; not contained in the excerpts made available online.

Hear ye, hear ye -- there have been two monstrous Discworld occurrences here on BookLikes! Find out all about it!

Equal Rites  - Terry Pratchett

And they're both the fault of your host -- i.e., yours truly.

 

First of all, I totally missed the start date of our present group read -- Equal Rites -- which was on February 1.  I'm not sure how many of us will want to (re)read this one as it's not a general favourite, but anyway ... there we are.  The discussion thread is HERE

 

... which swiftly takes us to snafu no. 2, which is the decidedly bigger one:

 

Somehow, when creating the Discworld group last year, I totally missed the fact that you only get both a book club and a discussion group linked with it (i.e., the combination of both the club and group features) if you create the club first -- which will then have a discussion group auto-attached to it.  If, as I did, you create the the group first, it will not have a club (with its handy reading schedule feature) attached to it ... nor can you combine it with a club if you create one later. 

 

I discovered all this -- you guessed it -- when creating a Discworld book club AFTER we had already gotten the Discworld discussion group up and running.  At first I thought oh well, let's just forget about the club feature (also, RL seriously got in the way in the interim), but as some of the Discworld group members have since found the club and have already signed up for membership, I hereby officially give you

 

The BookLikes Discworld Book Club

 

with its very own attendant and brand new

 

Discworld Discussion Group.

 

(For purposes of clarity: This is the NEW group auto-created by the system when I created the book club page.)

 

As it's really very handy to have the combined book club and discussion group features, I suggest we continue using the new discussion group henceforth -- I'll post a message corresponding with this one in the old group, too.

 

So, if you are / were a member of the old Discworld discussion group but haven't signed up for membership with the new Discworld Book Club yet, you may want to do so now.

 

Also: Once I've posted the message in the old Discworld group, I'll start transferring our old posts and discussions from that group to the new group.  So if you're already a member of the new club (+ group) and see lots of notifications for me having posted something in the new group, please disregard -- this is just me replicating the discussions we already had.  (I may not do all of them, but I at least want to copy the essentials across.)

 

Ahem.  As you were ...

 

Snow in Bonn

I know many here are battling the Arctic climate at the moment, so I won't post these here -- but snow is rare enough hereabouts (we only get it a few times, if that, for a day at a time each winter), and I’ve blessedly had time to take a stroll yesterday and enjoy the beauty that it can bring ... I've shared the resulting photos on my Wordpress blog.  (OK, here's one ... :)

 

DNF @ Chapter 4

The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements - Sam Kean

I think it's fair to say that if I prefer doing office admin chores and listening to a(n albeit truly fascinating) memoir about growing up in and getting out of North Korea to reading this book, that's a pretty good indication I won't be getting back to this.

 

Chapter 4 started readable, but within 2 pages we had the next bit of arrogant nose-snubbing, at the scientist authors of one of the most groundbreaking papers in all of 20th century science writing no less, with a casual misinterpretation of two lines by Shakespeare tagged on in another asterisked footnote -- and I decided I just couldn't take it any longer.

 

Writerly tone aside: if I find that I can't trust an author's pronouncements on the bits of his book that I can instantly verify based on my own knowledge, experience and interests (e.g., European history and Shakespeare's writing) ... how can I possibly trust him on the bits that I cannot verify quite as easily and quickly?

 

So Huggins must regretfully record that I'm outta here as well.  I think we may seriously need to review our book selection procedure ...

 

No wonder Barbara Pym appreciated Austen

Excellent Women - Barbara Pym, Alexander McCall Smith Excellent Women - Barbara Pym, Gerry Halligan, Jonathan Keeble, Alexander McCall Smith

The same kind of seemingly unassuming writing, combining gentility (and apparent gentleness) with acute, razorsharp, detached observation of both society and its individual constituents, and a very subtle sense of humour.  Pym, like Austen, is far from being a revolutionary, but she notes the state of the world in which she lives and comments on it with wry humour and the self-deprecation only possessed by those who are truly beyond the need of advertising themselves.  And, of course, like all great writing (Austen's included), Pym's feels relevant and -- to use a word much bandied about in connection with this particular buddy read -- "relatable" long after first having been published, in a world that (at first blush) seems to have undergone quite a number of drastic turns since.

 

Like Austen's, Pym's writing abounds with memorable quotes -- in lieu of pausing every other minute to post yet another one while I was reading / listening to the book, let me just share this:

"'You could consider marrying an excellent woman?' I asked in amazement. 'But they are not for marrying.'

 

'You're surely not suggesting that they are for the other things?' he said, smiling.

 

That had certainly not occurred to me and I was annoyed to find myself embarrassed.

 

'They are for being unmarried,' I said, 'and by that I mean a positive rather than a negative state.'"

Preach it, Mildred -- and Barbara, of course.

Reading progress update: I've read 114 out of 288 pages.

Excellent Women - Barbara Pym, Alexander McCall Smith

"... Curried whale, goodness, you wouldn't feel like having that for tea, would you?  I had an argument about it the other day with Protheroe -- you know how strictly she keeps Lent and all that sort of nonsense -- well, there she was eating whale meat thinking it was fish!"

 

"Well, isn't it?"

 

"No, of course it isn't.  The whale is a mammal," said Dora in a loud truculent tone.  "So you see it can hardly count as fish."

 

 

Hah.  Take that, Mr. Melville ...

Reading progress update: I've listened to 60 out of 493 minutes.

Excellent Women - Barbara Pym, Gerry Halligan, Jonathan Keeble, Alexander McCall Smith

Buddy read with Moonlight Reader, Murder By Death, BrokenTune, Lillelara, The Better To See You My Dear, Person of Interest, Peregrinations, Locus Amoenus: All By My Shelf, and Mike Finn.

 

And so far, I'm loving it!

Reading progress update: I've read 63 out of 391 pages.

The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements - Sam Kean

The fact that I actually finished chapter 3 the day before yesterday and it took BT's first status update for me to remember to also comment on my own progress probably tells you all you need to know about the priority this book has in my reading.

 

Well, the good news, I guess, is that chapters 2 and 3 are actually readable.  I don't think I'll retain from them much more than I already knew (and chapter 2 is another example of Kean getting stuck on two elements, amplified on by way of numerous details, after setting out to make a more general point), but at least he held my attention for the duration of those two chapters, and chapter 3 also contains a historical positioning of the periodic table.  Since this is the final chapter of the introductory section of the book, I'll retract my criticism that he didn't give any sort of historical introduction at all.  Which however doesn't excuse the amount of condescension and outright innuendo going on in the description of the key biographical details of the scientists whose works he is describing in chapters 2 and 3.

 

That said, two days have gone by and I still haven't been able to bring myself to move on to chapter 4.  As I mentioned in my comments on BT's status update, somehow the combination of atoms as a topic and this author's fractured approach to narrative and explanations doesn't portend much encouragement.  Nor does his approach to the presentation of scientific theories (psst, Mr. Kean -- that's where footnotes just might be put to good use) ... or his dealings with the biographies of several eminent scientists of the past, who can actually count genuine, important discoveries among their achievements.  I'll be on a full-day trip tomorrow, and although it will include some train travel, I don't see myself actually taking this book.  I also don't think I'll be in much of a mood to touch it tomorrow night when I get back.  I guess what I'm saying is I'm still on the fence whether or not to finish this.

 

Christie-esque? Hardly.

Murder at Mt. Fuji - Shizuko Natsuki

Ugh.  If I believed the publisher's hype that this is among the best that Japanese crime fiction has to offer, I'd be done with Japanese crime fiction here and now.

 

Natsuki knows how to write "atmosphere", but how she could ever have become (according to her American publisher) "one of Japan's most popular mystery writers" is utterly beyond me.  And while I do believe that Natsuki really was trying to copycat Agatha Christie, all she produces is an overly convoluted plot and a novel brimming with inconsistencies.  From egregious scene continuity issues to essential information being gathered "off stage" by teams of policemen elsewhere, to characters behaving purely as the author's plot sequencing and writerly convenience dictates (with little to no regard for, and repeatedly even contrary to what should have been both their inner and their outer response to events), to a clichéd "woman facing off against villain during dark and stormy night" final scene, the novel abounds with things that either should have been weeded out in the editing process or should have prevented it from being published altogether. 

 

Worst IMHO, however, are the police, who

 

* let a family -- all of whom are suspects -- merrily go on living in the very house that constitutes the crime scene without having cleared the scene first (thus affording the suspects plenty of opportunity to tamper with the scene ... which promptly happens),

* give press conferences in the very building that constitutes the crime scene (again before the scene has been cleared -- allowing for the reporters to further muddy the scene),

* allow the suspects to be present at those press conferences (oddly, without a single reporter showing any interest in approaching the suspects -- instead, the reporters wait until most of them have finally departed to Tokyo, to then fruitlessly stalk the premises from outside at night),

* reveal every last scrap of information -- including and in particular things only known to the police and the culprit(s) -- to the press,

* and involve a civilian who only a day earlier had still been one of the suspects (and should actually be charged with conspiring to conceal a crime / as an accomplice after the fact) in an ill-conceived, risk-prone, and promptly almost fatally derailed scheme to entrap the killer.

 

Oh, and did I mention that -- though I can't comment on the substantive details of the Japanese legal provision central to the plot (which gets cite-checked to numbing point in the final part of the novel) -- Natsuki's research, if any, on the legal issues that I can comment on is seriously off as well?  (Which, in turn, may actually explain the otherwise inexplicably stupid behaviour of one particular character.)

 

Well, I guess at least I finally get to check this one off my TBR ... and check off Japan on my "Around the World in 80 Books" challenge.

 

Next!

Reading progress update: I've read 31 out of 391 pages.

The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements - Sam Kean

Well, let's just say Mr. Kean clearly isn't Helen Czerski (and that is not a good thing).

 

He either has no clear conception of who his target audience is, or he doesn't know how to talk to his audience.  Someone with an average to advanced training in science obviously wouldn't need any explanations as to the structure of the periodic table, to begin with.  The rest of us might need one -- but (and it speaks volumes that I even have to emphasize this) a clearly structured one, please, not an assortment of anectdotes that blows any explanatory structure clean out of the window.  Also, if you're writing a book subtitled (in part) "...Tales of ... the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements", wouldn't it be a good idea to give your readers an idea when and how the periodic table itself made its first appearance in the history of the world?  Just a paragraph or so, for reference in conjunction with its basic structure, so we know where we are, both in chemical terms and the history of science?  (Ms. Czerski did just that.  But as I said ... Mr. Kean clearly isn't Helen Czerski.) 

 

So far, he's managed the feat that only one of my school teachers ever managed, and that was my physics teacher, who, like Sam Kean, presented his material full of enthusiasm as to the magic of it all, or the big joke associated with a given scientific fact / discovery, or some other reaction clearly warranted in his eyes, while completely failing to transport to the rest of us -- and hence, leaving us entirely mystified -- what all all of this had to do with any of us and why it was actually important (other than in a way that only the initiated would be able to appreciate).  I used to actually like chemistry in school (unlike physics), and I believed I had a fairly good grip on the subject -- an impression my teachers seemed to share, judging by my grades.   A major reason for this was the fact that (unlike in physics class) I never had a moment's doubt as to why what I was learning mattered, and how it all fitted together in the grand scheme of things.  But if I didn't at least have this distant reservoir to rely on, I'm pretty sure I'd be entirely baffled already.  And I can only hope that this state of affairs is going to improve, because otherwise I'm either going to throw in the towel or it's going to take me eons to finish this book (and it won't earn a particularly high rating, either).

 

@MbD and BT: Obviously it really WAS only a matter of time ...

 

Charlie was the first (and seems more interested in the boxes currently sitting in my hallway overall), but Sunny has been observed sitting in one of them today, too -- unfortunately, when I didn't have a camera anywhere in reach.

 

ETA: ... and now here he is as well:

 

Proposed buddy read

Excellent Women - Barbara Pym

Themis-Athena, Murder By Death & I are planning a Buddy Read of Barbara Pym's Excellent Women to tentatively begin on Friday, January 25.

 

Plot summary: 

 

Excellent Women is one of Barbara Pym's richest and most amusing high comedies. Mildred Lathbury is a clergyman's daughter and a mild-mannered spinster in 1950s England. She is one of those "excellent women," the smart, supportive, repressed women who men take for granted. As Mildred gets embroiled in the lives of her new neighbors--anthropologist Helena Napier and her handsome, dashing husband, Rocky, and Julian Malory, the vicar next door--the novel presents a series of snapshots of human life as actually, and pluckily, lived in a vanishing world of manners and repressed desires.

 

Barbara Pym was born in 1913 and died of breast cancer in 1980 and Excellent Women was originally published in 1952.

 

According to Wikipedia:

 

"several strong themes link the works in the Pym canon, which are more notable for their style and characterisation than for their plots. A superficial reading gives the impression that they are sketches of village or suburban life, and comedies of manners, studying the social activities connected with the Anglican church (Anglo-Catholic parishes in particular.) (Pym attended several churches during her lifetime, including St Michael and All Angels, Barnes, where she served on the Parish Church Council.)

 

Pym closely examines many aspects of women's and men's relations, including unrequited feelings of women for men, based on her own experience. Pym was also one of the first popular novelists to write sympathetically about unambiguously gay characters (most notably in A Glass of Blessings).  She portrayed the layers of community and figures in the church seen through church functions. The dialogue is often deeply ironic. A tragic undercurrent runs through some of the later novels, especially Quartet in Autumn and The Sweet Dove Died."

 

In 2013, The Telegraph published an interesting piece for Pym's centenary, which can be found here.

 

If any of this sounds interesting, feel free to join us!

Reblogged from Moonlight Reader