30 April 2020

Book Beginning: Richard Walden's Wife by Eleanor Mercein Kelly


Book Beginnings is a weekly meme hosted by Rose City Reader. We share the first sentence (or so) of the book we are reading, along with our initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

For a long time after the great family hegira - indeed, at intervals for the rest of her life - Emmeline would wake shivering in the solid security of her bed, reliving portions of it.

It's not often that I have to look up a word in the very first sentence of a novel, but "hegira" was not a word I really knew. I had fuzzy thoughts that it was something religious and perhaps Middle Eastern. Wikipedia tells us: "The Hegira is the migration or journey of the Islamic prophet Muhammad and his followers from Mecca to Yathrib, later renamed by him Medina, in the year 622."

So now we know that Emmeline's family made some sort of long journey. Intriguing! But who is Richard Walden, who is his wife, and where does Emmeline fit in?

23 April 2020

Book Beginning: Indiscretions Of Archie by P.G. Wodehouse

Book Beginnings is a weekly meme hosted by Rose City Reader. We share the first sentence (or so) of the book we are reading, along with our initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

Sir? replied the desk-clerk alertly. All the employees of the Hotel Cosmopolis were alert. It was one of the things on which Mr. Daniel Brewster, the proprietor, insisted. And as he was always wandering about the lobby of the hotel keeping a personal eye on affairs, it was never safe to relax.

Since I love Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster series, - in print, on film, on audiobook - I'm taking a plunge into a different Wodehouse world. Should be many crazy antics ahead!

21 April 2020

World Book Day 2020


Are you ready for World Book Day? It will be upon us this Thursday, 23 April 2020. This special day was officially proclaimed in 1995 by UNESCO, The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, and is celebrated by over 100 countries on that day.

According to the UNESCO web page, the full name is World Book and Copyright Day, and many festivities are planned all around the world. In addition, a World Book Capital is named each year, and that city promotes literacy throughout the year until April 23rd of the next year. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, is the World Book Capital for 2020.

23 April is a symbolic date for world literature. It is on this date in 1616 that Cervantes, Shakespeare and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega all died. It is also the date of birth or death of other prominent authors, such as Maurice Druon, Halldór K. Laxness, Vladimir Nabokov, Josep Pla and Manuel Mejía Vallejo.
- UN web page

I'm all for promoting books, reading, and literacy; they have always been a big part of my life. What makes me especially happy is that Amazon.com is celebrating by offering 9 Kindle books for free! And remember that free Kindle reader apps are available for most devices!

The categories of the nine free ebooks are: Contemporary Fiction, Thriller, True Crime, Chinese Literature, Romantic Comedy, Biographical Fiction, Historical Fiction, Children's Book, and Memoir. The books have all been translated into English, and come from a wide variety of languages. In addition many are by authors who are prize winners or best sellers in their native countries. Such a good chance to peek into another culture.

But hurry, these books are only free until 11:59 PM [Pacific Daylight Time] on Friday night. The time remaining is shown at the top of the download page, so check it in your local time zone. Here's the page on Amazon.com to get your free ebooks:



* UN: World Book and Copyright Day 23 April

* UNESCO: World Book Day

* World Book Day - a British site for their day, 7 March 2019

19 April 2020

Classics Club Spin #23

It's Classics Club Spin time again! Each Clubber has a personal list of 50-100 classic books that we have chosen to be our challenge list. For the Spin we pick 20 of those titles and put them into a numbered list. On April 19th the Club moderators will draw a number from 1 to 20 and we have to read that book on our list by the end of May and report back to the Club.

I've missed the last few Spins, but I'm in a reading mood now, so here's a list of books that I think I have on my shelves or can get for my Kindle. First publication date is in parentheses.

  1. At Swim-two-birds, Flann O'Brien (1939)
  2. Billy Budd and other Tales, Herman Melville (~1891)
  3. Candide, Voltaire (1759)
  4. The Dubliners, James Joyce (1914)
  5. Emma, Jane Austen (1815)
  6. Enemies, A Love Story, Isaac Bashevis Singer (1966)
  7. Eugénie Grandet, Honoré de Balzac (1833)
  8. Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain (1884)
  9. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë (1847)
  10. The Man in the Brown Suit, Agatha Christie (1924)
  11. Oroonoko, The Rover and Other Works, Aphra Behn (<1689)
  12. The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas, Gertrude Stein (1933)
  13. The Rainbow, D. H. Lawrence (1915)
  14. The Reef, Edith Wharton (1912)
  15. A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens (1859)
  16. Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe (1958)
  17. This Side of Paradise, F. Scott Fitzgerald (1920)
  18. Three Men in a Boat, Jerome K. Jerome (1889)
  19. The Vicar of Bullhampton, Anthony Trollope (1870)
  20. Wives and Daughters, Elizabeth Gaskell (1864)

I'm looking forward to reading them all eventually, but I think I'd like to tackle Gertrude Stein's "The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas". Go #12!

UPDATE: The spin is #6, so I'm reading "Enemies, A Love Story", by Isaac Bashevis Singer. I know only a little bit about Singer: he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, and he always wrote and published in Yiddish. I'm looking forward to reading this novel!

17 April 2020

Book Beginning: This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Book Beginnings is a weekly meme hosted by Rose City Reader. We share the first sentence (or so) of the book we are reading, along with our initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

Amory Blaine inherited from his mother every trait, except the stray inexpressible few, that made him worth while. His father, an ineffectual, inarticulate man with a taste for Byron and a habit of drowsing over the Encyclopedia Britannica, grew wealthy at thirty through the death of two elder brothers, successful Chicago brokers, and in the first flush of feeling that the world was his, went to Bar Harbor and met Beatrice O’Hara. In consequence, Stephen Blaine handed down to posterity his height of just under six feet and his tendency to waver at crucial moments, these two abstractions appearing in his son Amory.

This book was the debut novel for F. Scott Fitzgerald and was first published in 1920. All I know about it is that it "examines the lives and morality of post–World War I youth", according to Wikipedia. This was the beginning of the Jazz Age, The Roaring Twenties, so it should be an interesting contemporary account of the early stages.

16 April 2020

The Debut of M. Hercule Poirot

The Mysterious Affair at Styles
Agatha Christie
William Morrow, 2020 Kindle Edition
Originally published 1920
269 pages

I read a classic Agatha Christie for the 1920 Club, presented by Simon at Stuck in a Book and Karen at Kaggsy's Bookish Ramblings. Years ago I listened to the audiobook version of this, the first in the Hercule Poirot series, but I had no memory of the story.

Reading this book now, I took delight in the many details of M. Poirot's appearance, mannerisms, and quirks. Of course I was comparing them to the wonderful TV portrayal of Poirot by David Suchet, and I think the shows were faithful to the original character, always an important issue for me.

Not to give away the plot, but Poirot does solve the murder, which involves a poisoning in a locked room and lots of suspicious relatives. This was Christie's first mystery, and it was turned down by six publishers before being published in 1920. I was quite surprised that this was her first published novel. The characters seem well-defined and the plot logical without annoying loose ends. She had, however, written one earlier novel that was rejected and never published.

This Kindle version of the William Morrow paperback includes two short articles by Christie where she explains how Poirot came to be and her relationship to him over the years. Very interesting!

Now I think I will continue to read more of Poirot. There are 33 novels, 2 plays, and more than 50 short stories in the Poirot canon. Plenty to keep me busy.

The is my entry in the Classic Adaptation category for the 2020 Back to the Classics challenge. It was adapted as part of the long-running Poirot TV series.

13 April 2020

Disease in the Bad Old Days

In the Wake of the Plague: The Black Death and the World It Made
Norman F. Cantor
Harper Perennial, 2001
245 pages

Talk about topical! Because I spent 16 years doing microbiological research, I have been interested in infectious diseases for a very long time, and I buy books on that topic whenever I unearth them in some dusty corner of a used book store. So, given the current covid-19 pandemic and lots of time, I grabbed this one off my shelf.

Let me say right off the top: this book will not help you to understand our world in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. It can, however, help you to appreciate how far modern medicine has come in fighting infectious disease epidemics.

Cantor uses stories of historical individuals from the aristocracy, the gentry, and the peasants to personalize the devastation caused by the Black Death in the 1400s in England. I highly recommend looking at a listing of the kings and queens of England during that period. Much of the book involves the English court scene and I was totally lost without knowing the families involved. I found Wikipedia's "List of English monarchs" extremely helpful. I also copied out the relevant parts on paper so I could check back now and then. This in not to be taken as a flaw in the book! What the rulers were doing at that time had large implications for how the common folk were affected by the Black Death. And most of us just don't have a handle on royalty of the Middle Ages.

The book is structured in three parts. "Part 1 Biomedical Context" has an overview of the book and some discussion about the cause of the Black Death. There is a very interesting question raised: was it bubonic plague or was there another microbe involved?

In "Part 2 People", the longest section, he discusses what he calls the "microscopic closeup perspective" on the disease. He shows the many effects this disruption of society had on lawyers and property law, on women of the gentry class, and on science and religion. Interestingly he mentions anecdotal evidence that gentry males were hit harder that their womenfolk, a situation reflected in current covid-19 data.

"Part 3 History", the macroscopic perspective, has a fascinating discussion of alternate theories of where the plague came from and how it spread: other microbes? other vectors (animals)? outer space? The final chapter "Aftermath" has a wide-ranging discussion of the many ways the Black Death changed European society in the Middle Ages. This is followed by a bibliography divided into various topics brought up in the book. If you get seriously intrigued by this plague or this era of European history, you will find lots of further reading.

I am glad I read this book as it has given me a better picture of life in the European Middle Ages during the Black Death. And it makes me profoundly grateful for modern science and medicine.

This is part of my reading for the 2020 Mount TBR Challenge.


Plagues and Peoples by William H. McNeill (1976)
Upon its original publication, "Plagues and Peoples" was an immediate critical and popular success, offering a radically new interpretation of world history as seen through the extraordinary impact – political, demographic, ecological, and psychological – of disease on cultures. From the conquest of Mexico by smallpox as much as by the Spanish, to the bubonic plague in China, to the typhoid epidemic in Europe, the history of disease is the history of humankind. -from the publisher

I loved this book which I read when it was new. Might be time for a re-read!

10 April 2020

Book Beginning: On The Art of Reading by Arthur Quiller-Couch


Book Beginnings is a weekly meme hosted by Rose City Reader. We share the first sentence (or so) of the book we are reading, along with our initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

In the third book of the "Ethics", and in the second chapter, Aristotle, dealing with certain actions which, though bad in themselves, admit of pity and forgiveness because they were committed involuntarily, through ignorance, instances 'the man who did not know a subject was forbidden, like Aeschylus with the Mysteries,' and 'the man who only meant to show how it worked, like the fellow who let off the catapult' ([Greek: e deixai Boulemos apheinai, os o ton katapelten]).

OK, so this is going to be a bit of a challenge, not easy stuff! I have read that it gets much less high-brow as he goes on with the lectures. An article in The Cambridge Quarterly of September 2014 says:

Vast numbers of self-help readers after the First World War were keen to develop their literary taste and gain confidence in navigating their way through the literary field; Quiller-Couch's innate understanding of this "new reading public" accounts for the extraordinary success of his published lectures.

It's always good to have a meaty book in the current reading pile!

Alexandra Lawrie, "Arthur Quiller-Couch, Taste Formation and the New Reading Public", The Cambridge Quarterly, Volume 43, Issue 3, September 2014, Pages 195–211,

09 April 2020

Reading 1920


Monday's the start of the 1920 Club, presented by Simon at Stuck in a Book and Karen at Kaggsy's Bookish Ramblings. They pick out a year and everyone reads and reviews books published during that year. Sounds like fun!

I've acquired three books from 1920, which was complicated somewhat by the current library closure. But my trusty Kindle Paperwhite came through for me and I'm ready to read these books:

  • "On The Art of Reading" by Arthur Quiller-Couch
  • "The Mysterious Affair at Styles" by Agatha Christie
  • "This Side of Paradise" by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Books about books are always fun, and in the comments on the club announcement page, Liz mentioned "On the Art of Reading". It a compilation of lectures given at Cambridge University in  England, lectures described as wildly popular in contemporary accounts! So that's my first one.

03 April 2020

Book Beginning: Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih

Book Beginnings is a weekly meme hosted by Rose City Reader. We share the first sentence (or so) of the book we are reading, along with our initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

It was, gentlemen, after a long absence - seven years to be exact, during which time I was studying in Europe - that I returned to my people. I learnt much and much passed me by - but that's another story. The important thing is that I returned with a great yearning for my people in that small village at he bend of the Nile.

 This book is another of my great finds in the clearance section of my local used bookstore. I had not heard of the author before, but the influential literary critic Edward W. Said proclaimed this novel to be "among the six finest novels to be written in modern Arabic literature". It also fits into my plan to read more translated literature. I'm looking forward to this short novel!