Year’s end: short thoughts on my latest reads

I’m more or less back. (Meaning: after all the traveling of December, I’m still not back home, but will be blogging more often.) Meanwhile, it’s the end of the year and everyone else has been publishing stats and projects… I have less than 12 hours to catch up. And I need to jot down my thoughts on the last books I read this year, wrap-up challenges, set down reading goals for 2012, compile yearly stats… not to mention finish one last book, prepare the dinner for New Year’s Eve and spend time with my family (who is right now chatting away in the next room).

Let’s see how far I’ll get.

As a start, here’s some very short thoughts about my latest reads.

*****

The book: The Last Cato, by Matilde asensi, in the Italian translation by Andrea Carlo Cappi, 483 pages.

My thoughts: a quick and quite engrossing read, this book falls exactly halfway between The Da Vinci Code and Fucault’s Pendulum, as it can boast a conspirational plot while being neither silly as the former, nor too learned as the latter.

Hidden jewel: use of the Divine Comedy as a code for conspirators through the centuries

Pet peeve: a nun who understands nothing of vocation

Counts as: I read this for the Italy in books challenge

*****

The book: the “Short Guide to Great European Wines” is the chapter about wines from Alexandre Dumas’ Great Dictionary of Cuisine. It was published in Italian as a self-standing book, translated by Augusta Scacchi, 105 pages.

My thoughts: rarely have I read something so useless. It seems written without a general plan, as if the author was simply jotting down any thought about wine as it crossed his mind. It may have been better inside a wider work, but I sincerely doubt it.

Hidden (very hidden) jewel: a few nice anecdotes, like the story of the Est! Est! Est!

Pet peeve: machism (the book shows its age)

Counts as: One! Two! Theme! challenge – wine

*****

The book: Erik Fosnes Hansen, Psalm at Journey’s End, in the Italian translation by Margherita Podestà Heir, 476 pages.

My thoughts: this book is a little jewel, and I am sad that I don’t have the time to tell you more about it. It brings together the stories of very different men from different countries and different backgrounds, only put together by the fateful destiny of being aboard the Titanic in its first and last voyage. It’s like a majestic fresco, colorful and full of life and facets. It’s one of those books that make reading worthwile.

Hidden jewel: music!

Pet peeve: the Titanic is only a pretext to bring the characters together, and quite useless in the general economy of the book, as these are not the real musicians who were onboard, but other, completely invented characters.

Book connections: it mentions the Rubaiyat and features a pianist without a name

*****

The book: The Other Foot of the Mermaid, by Mia Couto, Portuguese original version, 482 pages

My thoughts: this book is very African. Or at least I think it is, because it’s so far removed from my own feeling that I could only scrape its surface in terms of understanding. It’s strange and different, and while beautiful it remains full of things that are not part of any culture I know.

Hidden jewel: the book tells a major story, interwoven with a second one which comes from manuscripts read by the characters. The publisher used a different paper with a different color and texture and a different typeface for these parts.

Pet peeve: footnotes that explained almost nothing

Counts as: I want more challenge

Wondrous Words Wednesday: Tim Powers

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme where we share new (to us) and interesting (to us, again) words we encountered in our readings. See this week round-up at BermudaOnion’s blog!

My words for this week come from The Drawing of the Dark by Tim Powers. Because there are so many (and all of them from Chapter 1 alone!), I’ll restrain from comments and pictures this time 🙂

*****

Duffy ducked under the awning of the felze.

Felze: n. nautical the cabin of a gondola
*This definition comes from Wiktionary

*****

The gondolier … began poling his way back up the glittering watercourse, softly callling, “Stalì!” to draw any possible fares.

Stalì: n. calls supposedly used by gondoliers to avoid collisions.
*This definition comes from Google Search – I wasn’t able to browse the site it comes from

*****

A sleepy footpad huddles under the bridge roused when he heard the Irishmans uneven tread.

Footpad: n. historical a highwayman operating on foot rather than riding a horse.

*****

I threw a fit in church during the midnight Easter mass, shouting, they later told me, for the need-fires to be lit n the hilltops.

Need-fire: n. paganism a ritual fire created by friction
*This definition comes from Wiktionary

*****

Duffy easily ducked the wide swing and, blocking the dagger-thrust with the quillons of his rapier, stepped aside.

Quillon: n. The guard of a sword or other bladed weapon designed to protect the hand from harm.
*This definition comes from Wiktionary

*****

The gold-stamped spines of leather- and vellum-bound tomes lined a high bookcase along one wall, and ornate tables, shellacked boxes, glittering robes and dim, disturbing paintings filled the rest of the room.

Shellac: v. varnish with shellac.
Shellac: n. lac resin melted into thin flakes, used for making varnish.

*****

Duffy opened the cabinet and chose a bottle of sauternes.

Sauternes: n. a sweet white wine from Sauternes in the Bordeaux region of France.

*****

You’re a worthless trollop

Trollop: n. dated or humorous a sexually disreputable or promiscuous woman.

*****

The word is they’ve begun to assemble the akinji in Constantinople.

Akinji: n. irregular light cavalry, scout divisions (delil) and advance troops of the Ottoman Empire’s military.
*This definition comes from Wikipedia

*****

A bundschuh leftover from the Peasants’ War will knife the Lutheran…

Bundschuh movement: a loosely linked series of localized peasant rebellions in southwestern Germany.
*This definition comes from Wikipedia

*****

And these things cut into the profits in a big way — damages, nice customers scared off, tapsters harder to hire.

Tapster: n. archaic a person who draws and serves alcoholic drinks at a bar.

*****

He remembered the sharp thudding of the Turkish guns and the hiss of a grapeshot whipping across the plain.

Grapeshot: n. historical ammunition consisting of a number of small iron balls fired together from a cannon.

*****

Keep the riffraff out. Keep the peace.

Riffraff: n. disreputable or undesirable people.

*****

Half these ships have their sails reefed anyway.

Reef: n. each of several strips across a sail which can be taken in or rolled up to reduce the area exposed to the wind.
Reef: v. take in one or more reefs of (a sail).

*****

(All definitions are taken from the Concise Oxford English Dictionary © 2008 via WordReference.com unless otherwise stated.)

Wondrous Words Wednesday: Gulbenkian

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme where we share new (to us) and interesting (to us, again) words we encountered in our readings. See this week round-up at BermudaOnion’s blog!

My words for this week come from a visit to the Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon, so there’s no context to them.

*****

Fritware: n. a type of pottery in which frit is added to clay to reduce its fusion temperature. As a result, the mixture can be fired at a lower temperature than clay alone. Also known as Islamic stone-paste.
*This definition comes from Wikipedia

And, in case you are wondering:

Frit is a ceramic composition that has been fused in a special fusing oven, quenched to form a glass, and granulated.
*This definition comes from Wikipedia

Photo credits: rocor on Flickr

*****

Mihrab: n. a niche in the wall of a mosque, at the point nearest to Mecca, towards which the congregation faces to pray.

Photo credits: dalbera on Flickr

*****

Muraqqa: n. an album in book form containing Islamic miniature paintings and specimens of Islamic calligraphy, normally from several different sources, and perhaps other matter.
*This definition comes from Wikipedia

Photo credits: Walters Art Museum Illuminated Manuscripts on Flickr

*****

(All definitions are taken from the Concise Oxford English Dictionary © 2008 via WordReference.com unless otherwise stated.)