Into the new year: a challenging post

Hello! Ahem… Long time no see. Oh, by the way, happy new year! I hope you all had a good time over the Christmas season, huge piles of new books under the tree on Christmas morning, and a great start to your reading (and blogging, for those of you who blog) year.

As for me, the start was less than great as you can see. It’s the end of January already as I am drafting this first post of the year, and so far I managed to finish just one (one! :shock:) book. I do need to get my act together. In my defense, I only have this: this year I do need to put a lot more steam in my work. And I’d be sad to see my reading rate drop too far, so the blog is what goes, mostly. I’ll be taking things very very easy around here. But I’ll still be around.

And I don’t want to let go of the good things. Such as readalongs and group and buddy reads. Here’s my plan so far…

My 2013 readalongs 

OK, OK; these are all may-bes. I’d love to participate in them all (and more), but we’ll see.

Also, I’ve seen many bloggers kiss challenges goodbye, but you cannot count me in that group. Sure, I have to cut back and not sign up for every challenge that pops up, but I always loved challenges that pushed my reading toward new lands, and these I will keep doing (even though I failed them last year and will probably fail them again! I told you, I don’t want any pressure, but I love being exposed to new titles!)

geo

My 2013 geography-themed challenges

Middle East Challenge
Level: Tourist (1-5 books)

  1. Jerusalem by Simon Seabag Montefiore
  2. … really no idea, but last year I ended up reading only books written by Western writers, so I’d like to concentrate on local writers this time. Any suggestion?

Aussie Author Challenge
Level: Tourist (3 books)

  1. something by Melina Marchetta, certainly
  2. something by Geraldine Brooks, ideally Year of Wonders if I can get a copy
  3. The True History of the Kelly Gang, by Peter Carey

South East Asia Challenge

S. Krishna said she’d put this one up again this year, but it’s not official yet. I’ll try to read 3 books again, starting with Anita Nair’s The Lilac House.

Global Reading Challenge
Level: Easy (1 book per continent)

  • Africa:
  • Asia: The Lilac House by Anita Nair
  • Australasia/Oceania
  • Europe: Long John Silver: the True and Eventful History of My Life of Liberty and Adventure As a Gentleman of Fortune and Enemy to Mankind, by Bjorn Larsson
  • North America:
  • South America:
  • The Seventh Continent:

I’ll also keep doing a few other challenges that I love — really, you cannot stop my passion for chunksters, my interest for non-fiction or my newly-found love of classics!

other

My 2013 “other” challenges

Chunkster Challenge
Level: Mor-book-ly Obese (8+ books, 3 over 750 pages)

  1. Jerusalem by Simon Seabag Montefiore
  2. Shogun by James Clavell
  3. A Dance with Dragons by G.R.R. Martin
  4. The Map of Time by Felix J. Palma
  5. The Manuscript Found in Saragossa by Jan Potocki
  6. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

Non-Fiction Challenge
Level: Explorer (6-10 books)

  1. Jerusalem by Simon Seabag Montefiore
  2. Alpha Beta by John Man
  3. In Search of Plenty: A History of Jewish Food, by Oded Schwartz and Jane Human
  4. Colour: Travels Through the Paintbox by Victoria Finlay
  5. Periodic Tales: The Curious Lives of the Elements by Hugh Aldersey-Williams

Double Classic Challenge
Level: 2 pairs

  1. … OK, I’m stuck, but last year serendipity came to my rescue, so I’m leaving it open. Feel free to suggest anything! (Maybe something connected with one of the readalong classics?)

Oh, and then there’s the Classics Club. But that list needs a post of its own (although, *scratches head*, maybe I’ve reached my list-in-a-post limit for 2013 already with this post…)

How’s 2013 going so far with you? What challenges and group reads are you loving this year?

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Transfigured: a classic double challenge post

Or: of To Kill a Mockingbird, of Jellicoe Road, and of the awesomeness of reading them both.

classic_double

When I first saw the Classic Double Challenge, hosted by Melissa @ One Librarian’s Book Reviews, I thought it was a great idea. Read a classic and a book that is a retelling or in any other way connected to that classic? Count me in. (*) And yet, I only had a very vague idea of what I would read.

Then I read Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta. Which is awesome.

In Jellicoe Road [JRoad], two girls have to study To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee [TKaM] in school, and because one of them is ill, the other helps her out. In thanking her friend, the first girl says something like “If you ever need me, I’ll be Jem for your Mrs Dubose.” I won’t say more because I don’t want to spoil JRoad for you, but I ended the book more interested than ever to read TKaM — no, I had never read it before, but keep in mind I’m not American, so that’s the main reason why. Later this year I found a copy and read it.

And BAM!, I knew I had my couple of books for this challenge.

(By the way, To Kill a Mockingbird is awesome too!)

JRoad is not a retelling, strictly speaking. It’s more like TKaM is transfigured in it. The story it tells is completely different. The themes it touches upon are other.

But it has the same way of dealing with difficult subjects without ever bringing them to the forefront. In TKaM it’s mental health and racism (among other things), but everything is seen through Scout’s eyes. To me, it felt like those ethereal things that you can only see without looking directly at them (I think Tolkien describes the elves in that way somewhere, but I may be misremembering. It happens with smaller stars, to me at least). In JRoad the narrator is 17, not a child anymore, but still the feeling is the same: domestic violence, drug addiction, the story is a way of dealing with harsh themes, without ever looking at them directly.

Also, they share the same great storytelling (which may be why they both manage to deal with those themes so well).

And they share a reflection on the absence of parental figures. (By the way, can anyone point me towards something that explains the figure of Atticus Finch? A strange character, that one. Genial and lovable, but strange.)

And more than everything, JRoad is TKaM transfigured because it takes single elements from the classic and uses them to build its own story: the friend only coming over for summer, the shooting at tins, the big fire, the tree… maybe the only thing that does not make an appearance is Scout’s ham costume!

Bottom line: this was a fun challenge to do, and both these books great, but taken together they are pure awesomeness!

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(*) If you like the idea of the Classic Double Challenge, it will be on again in 2013. Also, don’t miss the Retell Me A Story event, on January 13th-19th! See you there!

Oh, September…

September is here and summer is over. Or not really over, there’s still plenty of sun ’round here and maybe a couple of trips to the sea ahead, but around the blogosphere it feels like summer is over. (I guess it has to do with school schedules, but that’s something that I’m not concerned with at all at this point in life.)

I finished yesterday the Semi-Charmed Summer 2012 Book Challenge organized by Megan. It was a fun experience, different from most because it worked with points and felt more like a competition than a reading challenge, but it fit the summer feeling perfectly and allowed me to get some reading done. (I did have to tweak the last couple of categories in order to finish in time, but still.) So I guess yes, in blogging terms summer is really over for me too. And I am ready for more “serious” reading (not that I stopped reading serious things, but I did get more fluff than usual this summer).

So. September. The good thing with the end of summer is that there’s plenty of interesting things starting to happen. I wonder how much I can do — let’s see.

September 1st to October 31st: here comes the seventh edition of R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril, hosted by Carl V. @ Stainless Steel Droppings. I’ve never participated before because Gothic/Horror is not really my thing, but the experiences organized by Carl are always great fun, so I thought I would try. I’ll start easy, with “Peril the Third or, the One Book Only option”, and I think I have one book that fits the bill. Or more than one, possibly.

September-October is also the timeframe of the current Read-a-Long @ Unputdownables. I so loved the first experience that I was looking forward to Wallace’s next read-a-long that would catch my interest. The current read is Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë, which I remember loving more than I expected to when I read it for the first time. So it will be a re-read, and at the same time not a re-read, because I read it in Italian and will try the original this time. I am looking forward to an interesting discussion on this one!

September is also Chunky Book Club month. This is probably the only month I can participate in the discussion this year and I am looking forward to it, but I still have to start reading. September’s pick is Ken Follett’s Fall of Giants, and discussion starts on the 15th.

In non-readalong news, September is the month of the Book Blogger Appreciation Week, which will be hosted on September 10th to 14th. This is a first for me and I am sad that I won’t be able to participate in full, but I’m still curious to see how it goes and looking forward to participating as much as I can!

I recently and totally by chance became aware of the Antonio Tabucchi Week which will be hosted by Caroline of Beauty is a Sleeping Cat on September 17th to 23rd. I don’t know that I can read more by him right now, but I hope it will be a chance to discuss two works I read recently, Sostiene Pereira and Requiem.

Towards the end of the month, it’s time for a new Bloggiesta on September 28th to 30th. Fun and a chance to blog better? Count me in. There’s so much more I’d like to put into my blogging!

To close the circle, let me finish with something for October: as part of the R.I.P VII, Carl is hosting a read-a-long for Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book. Guess who’s not going to miss that?

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Post summary: a list of books I want to read in September (did I mention I want to finish a couple of challenges too?)

  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
  • Fall of Giants by Ken Follett
  • Kraken by China Mieville or The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving
  • Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield
  • The Rock by John Masters
  • The Most Beautiful Thing by Fiona Robyn
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • Le Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Mallory

Book: Prose Edda

The book: The Younger Edda, by Snorre Sturleson,

The edition: free e-book by Dodo Press of the 1879 edition edited by Rasmus B. Anderson, 216 pages. It includes an English translation of the Foreword, the Fooling of Gylfe, the Afterword, Brage’s Talk, the Afterword to Brage’s Talk and passages from the Skaldskaparmal, plus and introduction, notes and vocabulary by the editor.

About the book: this is one of the main original sources for Nordic mythology, and includes a telling of cosmogony and gods’ feats.

My experience with the book & my thoughts: back in my university days, I had to study the Edda from a linguistic point of view, and was fascinated, but never read the whole of it (which I regretted deeply while reading American Gods). Now that I finally got around to it I cannot say I’m satisfied.
Of course I wasn’t completely ready. The Edda was written in the XII century and storytelling was completely different. I did expect some of it, but it was harder than I thought. It reminded me of the Catholic Catechism of old, with its questions and answers.
I guess this is one of those books that you (or at least I) don’t read for the sake of it, but more because of all the other works that refer back to it. And I’m glad I’ve read it, and I surely do know more about Norse mythology now than I ever wanted to, but I cannot say that the details will stay with me.
Also, I was very sad to discover that the part I studied was not included in this edition, although I do agree that when the editor had all the reasons to do so:

We have not translated any of the Hattatal, and only the narrative part of Skaldskaparmal. The parts omitted cannot possibly be of any interest to any one who cannot read them in the original. All the paraphrases of the asas and asynjes, of the world, the earth, the sea, the sun, the wind, fire, summer, man, woman, gold, of war, arms, of a ship, emperor, king, ruler, etc., are of interest only as they help to explain passages of Old Norse poems.

Still, that was the part that fascinated me and I was sad that it was not included.

What I liked: in the middle of a description of the end of the world, they would stop and insert rules for good living. It cracked me up, every time, such as here:

[During the Ragnarok] the ship that is called Naglfar also becomes loose. It is made of the nails of dead men; wherefore it is worth warning that, when a man dies with unpared nails, he supplies a large amount of materials for the building of this ship, which both gods and men wish may be finished as late as possible.

… so be good and take care that your nails are short at all times! LOL

Also, I loved deciphering the details Tolkien took directly from here to draw his world. For example, did you know that Gandalf was the name of a dwarf, originally, part of a list that included Bifur, Bofur, Bombur and Thorin?

What I didn’t like: this is a 19th century edition, and it shows. There is a lot of praising the “Teutonic race” and it grated on me. Things like:

Such marriages [i.e. incestuous marriages] were not allowed among our Odinic ancestors. Our ancestors were never savages!

Language & writing: I loved that these people had a myth about the origin of poetry (see the mead of poetry on Wikipedia, as it’s longish to tell here) and that their “catechism” included definitions for poetry itself:

Then said Æger: In how many ways do you vary the poetical expressions, or how many kinds of poetry are there? Answered Brage: There are two kinds, and all poetry falls into one or the other of these classes. Æger asks: Which two? Brage answers: Diction and meter. What diction is used in poetry? There are three sorts of poetic diction. Which? One is to name everything by its own name; another is to name it with a pronoun, but the third sort of diction is called kenning (a poetical periphrasis or descriptive name); and this sort is so managed that when we name Odin, or Thor or Tyr, or any other of the asas or elves, we add to their name a reference to some other asa, or we make mention of some of his works.

In the author’s own words: just let me share this passage about the name of Norway. This is from the notes, but I find that the characters’ names are interesting, because they give a good insight on the kind of world the authors of the Edda were used to in terms of weather:

The third son, Kare, had a numerous offspring. He had one son by name Jokul (iceberg), another Froste (frost), and Froste’s son was named Sna (snow). He had a third son, by name Thorri (bare frost), after whom the mid-winter month, Thorra-month, was called; and his daughters hight Fonn (packed snow), Drifa (snow-drift), and Mjoll (meal, fine snow). All these correspond well to Kare’s name, which, as stated, means wind. Thorri had two sons, Nor and Gor, and a daughter, Goe. The story goes on to tell how Goe, the sister, was lost, and how the brothers went to search for her, until they finally found him who had robbed her. He was Hrolf, from the mountain, a son of the giant Svade, and a grandson of Asa-Thor. They settled their trouble, and thereupon Hrolf married Goe, and Nor married Hrolf’s sister, settled in the land and called it after his own name, Norvegr, that is, Norway.

Links to better understand this book:

Counts as: I wanted to read this for so long, but I had to make it count for a whole host of things before I actually got to it. So it counts for the Medieval Challenge (my first read!), Classic Double challenge, Semi-charmed Summer Challenge (a book I was supposed to read in school, in a way), my personal goal of reading mythology, and the Travel with books project for Norway. Weeee!

Book: The Epic of Gilgamesh

The book: The Epic of Gilgamesh, by N. K. Sandars (editor)

The edition: Italian translation by Alessandro Passi of Sandars’ 1972 edition, as published by Adelphi (1986), 165 pages, with introduction, list of names and analisys of sources by N.K. Sandars

The story: Gilgamesh, King of Uruk, is the son of a goddess and of a mortal father. He is the strongest of mortals, but still he must eventually die, and he is unable to accept this fate. The gods give him a friend, Enkidu, who is the only one who can stand up to his strength, and together the two embark on several adventures, either for the good of the country or simply for glory and to look for immortality.

My experience with the book & my thoughts: I read this one because I was curious, I had heard about the epic now and again, but didn’t know what it was about. Problem is, we know too little about what it was about. The editor of this edition did a good job of finding a balance between the erudite editions and the oral text behind them, but still, I found it hard to get at: because the original culture is almost lost to us, so are most of the references. (Sandars did say so in the introduction, so I expected it, but still.) (The thing that struck me as most uncomprehensible is all the going up the mountain, and down the mountain, and up again. As in, it takes them 3 days to go up the mountain, then Gilgamesh has a dream and says to his friend “Let’s go down the mountain to talk about it”, and the following night Enkidu has a dream and Gilgamesh says again “let’s go down the mountain to talk about it”… What???)

Links to better understand this book:

Counts as: Back to the Classics – country I won’t visit during my lifetime; personal reading goal.