Posts Tagged ‘rereading’

Down the side of the bed

Monday, 16 May 2011
The Speed of Dark

Image via Wikipedia

I read in bed quite a lot. It’s something I’ve always done, and it goes together quite well with a baby who doesn’t like to sleep without a parent next to her. I usually have a few on the go, piled on the top corner of the bed (in a corner of the room) and occasionally one or two fall down the side, from where I fish them out as I realise they’re missing. The bed got jogged out of place this morning, however, and when I went to retrieve the avalanche I realised that there were a few older escapees. To be unnoticed as missing these were ones I hadn’t actually got into, and sometimes hadn’t even started, but had just thought might be interesting. Anyway, I thought I’d list them here, with comments on how I’m getting on with them. (The order is just as they were piled.)

The ones I really wasn’t reading will probably go back on the shelf for now, but renoticing them has got me intrigued by some of them again. Watch this space to see which ones make it to the ‘Read’ lists…

The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon

Unstarted, although it looks interesting. Looks a bit different from the other science-fiction I’ve been reading of late.

Cover of

Cover of Farewell, My Queen

Farewell, My Queen by Chantal Thomas

About three-quarters of the way through this novel of the last days French royal court in July 1789, and enjoying it quite a lot.

Cover of "The Green Flag: A history of Ir...

Cover via Amazon

The Green Flag: A History of Irish Nationalism by Robert Kee

While this officially covers the history right from the 12th century it really picks up the detail from the mid-17th century. I’m up to the late 18th century, approaching but not yet at the 1798 rebellion.

The Little Girl Book by David Laskin and Kathleen O’Neill

A rather different approach to a parenting book than I’ve come across before, this discusses the complicated issue of bringing up little girls while negotiating the stereotypes and sexism of our societies. The book was published in 1992, so still seeing how it stands up two decades later to my own opinions. Definitely interesting, though.

Cover of "Byzantium Endures"

Cover of Byzantium Endures

Byzantium Endures by Michael Moorcock

The two or three chapters I’ve read of this so far are decidedly odd. I’ll give it more time gradually and hope it grabs my attention. I wasn’t enjoying it all that much, and yet it was somewhat compelling.

Cover of "PEOPLE OF DARKNESS"

Cover of PEOPLE OF DARKNESS

People of Darkness by Tony Hillerman

I got side-tracked from the Hillerman books, but will get back to them. (I’d better, seeing as I ordered the entire set on Bookmooch!) I’d read a chapter or so of this one, but would probably restart from the beginning.

The Sea Wolf by Jack London

I haven’t read any London since I was seven, and read White Fang in one sitting (staying with my grandparents I picked it up off their shelves to sustain me through a long morning meeting of my grandmother’s). I’m still in the introduction here, and I hadn’t realised what a fascinating life the author himself had.

Cover of How I Came West

Cover of How I Came West

How I Came West, and Why I Stayed by Alison Baker

A rather bizarre collection of often fantastical (but always so far set in modern-day USA) stories that I’m enjoying so long as I read each story in a single sitting, as they can be hard to keep track of after a break.

I don’t think I’ve read a collection of stories that was neither from one of the orthodox Jewish publishers nor aimed at children in an absolute age. (These are definitely not for children, although not crude, just for adults.) I’m enjoying the different perspective, and wondering why the general market avoids them so much.

Med Ship by Murray Leinster

I think this is a compilation of a lot of stories and novellas Leinster set in the same universe, but which aren’t always about the same characters, but I’m not far enough in to be sure.

Cover of China WitnessChina Witness by Xinran

More academic in its feel than the other books by Xinran I’ve read, this offers a very broad sweep of 20th century experience in China, as told by the survivors and thrivers of that period, an apparently reticent and now elderly generation. Each chapter, about a different person or small group, is relatively short, and tends to leave me wanting more, but that’s not a bad thing.

Wisdom of the Fox by Harry Turtledove

I don’t know why I haven’t got into this, seeing as I’ve been enjoying Turtledove’s alternate histories so much. I think I wasn’t really in the mood for what appeared to be more classic fantasy. I’ll try again at some point.

Cover of Wild Swans

Cover of Wild Swans

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang

The first book about Chinese history I read. That was as a teenager, shortly after it first came out, and with all the Xinran I’ve been reading I thought I should go back to this one too. I’m picking up on details I certainly hadn’t remembered, partly because I’m older and partly because I do know a bit more about China now and can make more sense of what was going on (not that it’s badly explained in the book, but there’s only so much context a writer can be expected to give). Still looking for other modern writers on the country.

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A running beat

Sunday, 27 March 2011
Cover of Heartbeat

Cover of Heartbeat

26. Heartbeat by Sharon Creech

A bit more than a month ago I discussed Cloud Busting by Malorie Blackman, and said it reminded me of this, so thought I should read this one again.

In both books the narrator uses a school project to understand more about both themselves and the others in their lives. In Cloud Busting that is the poetic tale itself, whereas here it’s the drawing project whereby Annie draws the same apple every day for 100 days. (I’ve thought that might be an interesting project even for someone not as artistic as Annie – ie me – but haven’t followed up on it. I’ve got enough ongoing projects for the time being.)

Another difference is that whereas Cloud Busting is basically about one relationship, Heartbeat is about several, and Annie negotiating her place between them. It’s more of a feel-good piece than the other, but is no less valuable because of that.

Calling me back

Thursday, 3 February 2011
Cover of "Deafening"

Cover of Deafening

29. Deafening by Frances Itani

Another with a (partial) military setting, and another I thought to reread because I was telling DH about it. I think this time I noticed most the personal connections and distancing that ebb and flow in the novel. Grania is the focus of these, with first her deafness and then going away to school separating her from members of her family, but bringing her new friends and other relationships. Jim comes into her life and then is called away to war where he in turn makes great friendships but also loses people left, right and centre. Communication is always major, of course.

I really do like this novel, as there’s a whole lot to take out of it, and it’s beautifully written. There’s a lyricism that fits with Itani also being a poet and a great depth of feeling too.

Curiously late

Friday, 28 January 2011
The Curious Incident...

Image by Vasanthakumar via Flickr

NaBloPoMo Jan201128. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

Pretty sure I reread this one last summer because I was talking to DH about it. Not that he‘s read it yet, of course!

After leaving it this long, however, I haven’t got much more to say than I did last time. Still funny and plausible and touching without being mawkish. If you haven’t read it yet, then do! (And that applies to my DH too! 😉 )

Free Books!

Tuesday, 25 January 2011
Eight Hamodia books

Eight Hamodia books

We just got our prize from a Chanuka raffle, and it’s a nice one. Expect reviews of at least some of these in the next few months.

As for free books for the rest of you, I just learned of new ways to access the cornucopia of material available on Project Gutenberg, Librivox and elsewhere. (I’ve recommended both of those sites here many times before.)

E.C. recently recommended a freely downloadable Kindle application for the PC, which you may find useful for paid products or free ones.

Somehow I missed it three months ago when it apparently started, but ChapterMe.com is now offering random rateable chapters of Librivox books to listen to. Each chapter has a link to the work’s info and download page so that ifwhen you find something you like you can listen to the whole thing. This seems like a great way to find new audiobooks (the RSS feed of what’s newly published is another), which I believe is the intention, but I also enjoyed just listening to what came up, hitting “Next” if I wasn’t interested in what came up. For me, poetry and chapters of old favourites were best for this, but some new random chapters were good to, even without knowing what came before. (This works better with non-fiction than novels, in my opinion.)

Stitching back and forth

Monday, 6 December 2010

31. The Penelopeiad by Margaret Atwood
Cover image of The Penelopiad
It has been awhile since this one. It must have been back in the summer, when my DH started blogging about the Odyssey. I told him about this book, and then decided to reread it myself (it’s fairly short). Admittedly, I don’t think I’ve read the Odyssey properly myself (I have read the Iliad in full translation), but I have a broad enough education to know the basic story, and have learned a lot by talking it over with my DH as he blogs about it. (I’ve been reading his commentary as well, of course!)

I read and discussed this book back in 2008 and part of what interests me, as always, is how the context of other things I’m reading, doing, and thinking about affects my perceptions of a current book. Unfortunately I’ve forgotten some of what I meant to say about it this time, but I was much more focussed on Homeric literature this time, and how Atwood fit in with the tradition or not. Perhaps because of that, I noticed the modernness much more this time. Homer it’s not, but it’s not really trying to be, either. I still enjoy it, a lot.

Book movement

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Trade your books at BookMooch.com

My baby is two weeks old now, and she’s gorgeous, of course. I haven’t got a whole lot of reading or crafting done lately, though, let alone blogging! Still, we did just join BookMooch.com, since we have a largish bag overflowing with books weeded from our shelves that we haven’t got around to taking to a second-hand bookshop anytime in the last several months, and this seems like it might work for us. Hopefully so!

Above are pictured some of what we’re giving away at the moment – for a variety of reasons. In many cases we liked the book, but don’t expect to read it again any time soon, so want to save the space on our shelves.

Going over the Basics

Sunday, 24 October 2010

With all the discussion of rereading I’ve done, you know I can very much enjoy revisiting topics, ideas, and especially stories. At the same time, I’ve never been good at revising things I’ve learnt in a course. It does seem like a bit of a dichotomy. I think perhaps I don’t (and didn’t) mind reading a good book again, and I’m happy to see a new perspective on a known fact, so long as I do not have to pretend I don’t know it, but I really don’t like just going over stuff I already know without that involving going deeper (or broader) into it.

I really wish now that I’d realised this about myself explicitly all those years ago, because I’m sure my teachers, parents and local librarians would have been sympathetic and helpful to my finding (for example) alternate textbooks to read/look over as my ‘revision’, rather than always intending but rarely actually going over the notes I’d made in detail. (Thankfully my memory and original understanding tended to be pretty good, so I generally managed just fine in tests and exams anyhow. I’m sure I could have done better in many cases, however.) Since my DH was similar in many ways, we think it might be sensible to remember this as a strategy for when our own children have tests and exams to revise for! (As well as when we do again ourselves, of course, but that doesn’t come up as often any more.)

The two books I’m planning on discussing here and now fit this personal dichotomy well, as the first is a very readable book that I’m certainly coming back to for the second or third time, because as my experience of the topics discussed changes and grows, so does my perspective on them, and different parts of the book become more and less relevant, so that I can certainly get more out of it. The second, as a textbook that in absolute terms I’m beyond the level of, is one that I certainly wouldn’t reread, but since I’m intending doing a proper course in the topic in a few months, and I want to get the best possible value out of that (starting at as high a level as I can, and progressing as far as I can within the given timeframe), then absolutely solidifying my knowledge and understanding of the basics thereof is worth my while. (Particularly as we happened to have the book just sitting on the shelf… 😉 )

39. The Committed Marriage by Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

The Committed Marriage by Esther Jungreis coverI reread this, in its entirety, on Yom Kippur (so about five weeks ago), when I was stuck at home (rather than being in the synagogue, where the services of the day include enough ‘extras’ that someone alone leaves out, that they take all day) and wanted something of meaning and some relevance that at the same time didn’t require too much concentration when I was fasting and trying to save my mental agility for the davening.

This is a fairly lightly written but still meaningful book, about the importance of the marriage relationship, coming from an orthodox Jewish perspective. It’s published by HarperCollins rather than a Jewish publisher, and does not assume a particular background of its readers, although all the example stories are of Jewish couples and families Rebbetzin Jungreis has been involved with or counselled, across the range of Jewish practice/religiosity, with many being secular. (I bought this book, and her previous one, The Committed Life, at a talk she gave that I attended a few years ago.)

This isn’t (in my opinion, not having read very many of them) a classic self-help book with specific solutions to specific problems, but more a philosophy of relationship building, aiming to promote, begin and strengthen strong marriages at the core of loving healthy families. (As I said, it’s written from an orthodox Jewish perspective.)

It’s probably the kind of book I have to be in the right frame of mind for, although it isn’t wishy-washy, but when I am it can be useful, if only in increasing my gratitude that the problems described just don’t apply to us, and hopefully never will! This is probably why Yom Kippur was a good time for me to reread it, to remind me to thank Hashem for the gift of a good marriage and to pray for it to always continue so, particularly as our family grows and changes.

40. Modern Hebrew by Harry Blumberg and Mordechai H. Lewittes

Modern Hebrew by Blumberg & LewittesThis is subtitled “A First-Year Course in Conversation, Reading and Grammar”, and is introductory (apart from assuming as ability to read the Hebrew script, although there is a brief reference guide to that at the back of the book). While there were several vocabulary items that were new to me, the grammatical instructions were revision, and even though this was a new text to me I didn’t bother writing out any of the exercises, just doing them all orally to myself. Since this book is intended as a classroom text, I had no means of feedback, but for review I didn’t need that to feel I was getting some benefit from reading through the book and getting some semi-formal Hebrew practice.

As a textbook it’s certainly of its time (first published 1946, with this 3rd edition apparently from 1963, and the copyright regularly renewed up to 1982) in its choice of texts and topics, as well (to a certain extent) in its stereotyping, so that I certainly wouldn’t expect to use it in a classroom today. However as a revision text for me to read it worked very well indeed.

Taking the principle of going over the absolute basics, but this time in a context where I can get feedback, and even push myself a bit, for the last week I’ve been doing the basic (free) Hebrew courses on LiveMocha.com. What’s available as lessons is very basic indeed, but I have picked up on some vocabulary (I’d never done the colours systematically before, for example), and even better, the writing prompts can be elaborated on much beyond what has been taught, with many/most of the Hebrew speaking site users happy to give good feedback based on what you’re actually producing, rather than the lesson level.

I actually realised the potential for this when correcting an English exercise for someone who’d made a story out of the (fairly boring) prompt. (The way the site works is that you tell it which languages you’re native and fluent in – for me English and French respectively – and which languages you want to learn, and then each person corrects what they are fluent in and is corrected by native/fluent users of what they’re learning. It seems to me so far a very good system.

So I now try to make stories from my written exercises too, as it pushes me to use vocabulary and grammar beyond that of the given lesson (obviously using that too) and gets me feedback that is actually useful to me. Personally I actually find it more interesting to help those trying to go beyond the course limits, and my impression is that I’m not the only one to feel this way. (I do still give appropriate feedback to those not going beyond, of course, but there’s often less of interest to say.)

While the speaking exercises I’ve done have all involved reading a given (short) text aloud, (the paid courses have more interactive speaking exercises) I’ve also had good feedback on my intonation, as well as the pronunciation of words I’d only seen in writing (without vowels) and had misinterpreted.

It seems like a very good site for both beginners (so long as you can read the script/alphabet for the given language – so I’m leaving aside Ukrainian, which would require better Cyrillic skills than I currently have, for now) and improvers. I’m not sure how advanced the paid courses get (the free ones are all pretty basic) and those are available in all languages at the moment, but the site certainly seems to me to have a lot to offer for those who do want to work on their language learning.

Anthropomorphy

Friday, 3 September 2010
Front cover of Wind in the Willows

Image via Wikipedia

35. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

I have memories of my father reading this to me (and probably later to my brother) when I was little. Also of going to at least one play version (specifically an adaptation of the Toad of Toad Hall plotline), as well as reading it myself. So, of course, it’s a long-time favourite, with a lot of nostalgia attached.

Thankfully, then, it seems to stand up fairly well to an adult going back and assessing its merits. (Unlike some of what I and my DH have been returning to of our own and each other’s youthful libraries. But more on that another time.) The main thing I still can’t work out with this book is how much the animals are supposed to be of their own species and behaviour (including size), with a veneer of anthropomorphic speech and clothing, and how much they’re humans with an overlay of animalised individuation. I amn’t really convinced Grahame has decided this himself.

Basically, the problem is Toad. The other animals live in burrows and other holes dug in the ground (depending on their species), and undertake activities reasonably consistent with those of their real-life brethren. (Eg Mole and Badger prefer to live underground and are relatively shy of the wider world, the (Water) Rat and the Otter don’t like to go too far from their source of food and safety, the river.) Their size is never completely clarified, but there are suggestions in the text (when Toad isn’t involved, at least) that they are certainly smaller than humans, if not as small as a mole or mouse in real life. None of these animals interacts directly with humans, either.

Toad, however, is a rich, pampered playboy, who lives in a large stately home with grounds and servants, and has several interactions with definite humans. (Usually involving him getting or being on the wrong side of the general law.) Toad buys, crashes and steals several cars and other vehicles, all of which are made for the general market, and is also able to dress up and pass as a human, certainly suggesting no size differential. (I’ve just remembered the one stated conversation between a human and an animal other than Toad – which is when Badger, Mole and Ratty are trying to save Toad from himself, and Badger tells the latest car delivery man to take the vehicle away again, as Toad won’t be wanting it.)

Still, even while Toad is subject to the same laws as any human, he is not treated as exactly the same. In prison the gaoler’s daughter tries to help him (and gets permission from her father to do so) because she is fond of animals and has several pets. Then when his disguise is discovered while he’s on the run he is referred to with disgust as a ‘nasty toad’. Horses seem to be a particular in-between case. They are definitely used as beasts of work, and while the first time we meet one we are given the impression this is at least partially voluntary, and that the other animals speak to the horse they’re using, the second time there is no such suggestion.

My personal feeling (and I haven’t looked at what others may have written in this regard, as yet) is that when Grahame started this story he intended the animals to be just that, if somewhat anthropomorphised (they wear clothing, paint their homes, use boats, and so on) and avoiders of humans. However once he introduced Toad, things got somewhat out of hand. The story still works, and it is certainly a fun read for/with kids (although I could have done without the scene with Pan, which doesn’t really add anything, and completely changes the mood of that part of the story).

Rereading mysteries

Friday, 20 August 2010

NaBloPoMo August logoSo, how is rereading mysteries different from rereading anything else? I know some wouldn’t see the point, since you already know the denouement; others would go straight back (with a decent mystery) and reread to find the clues they had missed or the red herrings they didn’t. After the second time through, though, is it any different from rereading any other novel, even any other book?

You already know I’m a rereader, so can guess that I have no problem going back to a well-written mystery. I enjoy both picking up on things, and reminding myself of the story and sequence.

24. The Disappearing Dowry by Libi Astaire

As I’ve said here before, this is a well-written and well-researched historical mystery, set in early 19th century London among the Jewish community. It seems clear enough to be enjoyable both by those who know Jewish law and custom well, and those who don’t at all, and it uses the narrative voice of a sheltered teenage girl cozily but not cloyingly. I have been looking for the sequel since January (I emailed the publishers last Autumn to find out when it’d be out, and that’s what they said then), but the bookshops don’t have it listed or available yet, annoyingly, so perhaps I should try the publishers again…