A Reading List (No Joyce! Or Swift!): Historical Fiction

Near Temple Bar, Dublin

Near Temple Bar, Dublin

Self rode around Dublin on the Hop On-Hop Off double-decker bus today (the weather was gorgeous!).  Self met two fellow Americans who, it turns out, hail from Daly City, California!  She stayed on that bus for about two hours.  Her thoughts began to revolve around UK-centric historical fiction she has read and enjoyed.

Naturally, she loves Catherine Dunne (especially Another Kind of Life) and Sarah Waters (especially Fingersmith and The Night Watch), but here are some others that sprang to mind:

Ivanhoe, by Sir Walter Scott:  Set at the time of the Norman Conquest (plus self remembers it was made into a pretty fab BBC mini-series, with Ciaran Hinds playing villain)

The Scarlet Pimpernel, by Baroness Orczy (Surely that’s a pseudonym?  This was the novel self voraciously read and re-read, summers in Bacolod)

The Eagle of the Ninth, by Rosemary Sutcliff (Did anyone see Channing in the film adaptation?  So gorgeous, even when wearing Roman toga)

From Hell, by Alan Moore (The first book self bought on this trip; she spent a gorgeous April afternoon reading it in Russell Square, and then had to mail it home because it was too heavy to lug to Ireland)

One of self’s all-time favorites is Sebastian Barry’s anguished novel of World War I, A Long, Long Way.

And she knows a writer who is addicted to Nora Roberts.

Today self bought a wee pocketbook from the National Gallery of Art:  The Happy Prince & Other Stories by Oscar Wilde.  Oh, she cried already after reading the title story.  It was just so — poignant.  The swallow and the Prince, each dying of neglect, but united by generosity of spirit (Clearly, self adores angst!)

Now to read the next story, “The Nightingale and the Rose.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

 

 

Almost to the End: Books That Made Self’s 2010

Self’s reading year has been less intense than last year’s:  for one thing, self hasn’t read as many books.

Let’s see.  The books that really “made” 2010 (though she probably still has time to read at least seven or eight more books, by the end of the year) were, in self’s humble opinion, these:

  • Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Infidel
  • Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory
  • Peter Godwin’s When a Crocodile Eats the Sun
  • Arnaldur Indridason’s Jar City and Silence of the Grave
  • Steven Johnson’s The Ghost Map
  • Morag Joss’ (great, great) Half Broken Things
  • Ryszard Kapuscinski’s Travels with Herodotus
  • Henning Mankell’s Before the Frost
  • Nathaniel Philbrick’s Mayflower:  A Story of Courage, Community, and War
  • Hugh Sebag-Montefiore’s Dunkirk:  Fight to the Last Man
  • Tacitus’ The Annals of Imperial Rome
  • Danielle Trussoni’s memoir, Falling Through the Earth (about her Dad’s Vietnam war experiences, and how it scarred him and, as a result, his family)
  • Sarah Waters’ novel of London during the blitz (and the years immediately following the end of World War II), The Night Watch

What a year it was for reading nonfiction!

The month when self did the least amount of reading was June.  The month when self was able to do the greatest amount of reading was March.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Collect.Give, and Ruminations on the Week Just Ended

Today, self was in perfect form: that is to say, she did nothing but agonize over life. Over its various conundrums. Over how so many artists sacrifice all for their art, and end up poor. And other similarly depressing thoughts.

Luckily, there is always the distraction of Facebook!

Today, self received a message from Stella Kalaw. Stella has chosen to think outwards rather than in-wards (which makes her saintly, at least in self’s book).

She’s participating in Kevin Miyazaki’s Collect.Give project.

Read all about it on Stella’s blog.

And, in the meantime, the weekend is here. How did it get here so fast? How does anyone get anything done during the week?

Let’s see if self can remember all the things she did in the past week:

  • She spoke to son, very briefly. His life is unbelievably hectic.  He is trying to organize a) his summer job working for two professors at Cal Poly, b) moving to Claremont for grad school, c) saying good-bye to his girlfriend, who’s still at Cal Poly, and d) trying to get a student loan
  • She put “End” at p. 288 of her putative novel-in-progress. Unfortunately, she read the whole thing over today (A draaag!) and decided that was a fake End. That is, she Read the rest of this entry »

Trying to Read Claire Tomalin’s THOMAS HARDY

Self never realized that writing a novel would be such a bear. She just doesn’t know how people do it. She read somewhere that it took Sarah Waters four years to write The Night Watch. Four years! For the past several weeks — no, months — she’s been going at it, with the consequence that she’s spent hours and hours at her computer, and her right wrist feels stiff by the end of the day, and she’s taken to snacking. Yes, snacking. Which means that her jeans are now woefully tight. Every time self gets to a part of her novel where some of her characters are eating, she just can’t help stopping and googling delicious Filipino food that she remembers eating as a child. For instance, embutido. Or rellenong bangus. Or halo-halo. Which then has the predictable result of making self hungry. She wanders to her fridge — hence, the snacking.

(Self, what’s with all the ruminations? Can’cha just get to it???)

Anyhoo, self decided to try and finish Claire Tomalin’s Thomas Hardy. It’s too bad that this biography in no way excites her the way Tomalin’s writing excited her when she read Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self (She read it on the plane to Berlin, five years ago. And, even with all the distractions of finding herself in that tremendous city, self continued to read it. That’s how riveting the book was).

(So then why, self, why are you making yourself finish this book? Yoo Hoo! Life is short!)

The reason self is making herself continue the Hardy biography is that Hardy was, of course, a novelist. And he struggled mighty hard to get his first novels published. And then, he was lashed with some not altogether flattering reviews of his first published work. And it wasn’t as if he was getting tons of moral support. Here’s how Thomas Mallon describes Hardy’s first wife, Emma, in a review in The New York Times Book Review:

Emma’s liveliness and complicated nature had made her, early on, a kind of muse and “mine” — Hardy’s own word — of material, but her own frustrated desire to write left her jealous of her husband’s success and even of his heroines. Annoyed by her habit of referring to “our books,” Hardy worked hard at being both loyal and oblivious to her.

In the part self is reading, covering the years 1867 – 1874 (It is so strange to read about someone’s life being segmented into seven-year stretches, as if everything were so neat and fell naturally into a pattern), Hardy is writing Under the Greenwood Tree, regarding which Emma “claimed in later years that she helped and advised Hardy with his writing, while he insisted that her help was pretty well confined to making fair copies … “

And — and …

It suddenly occurs to self that if she were not trying to write a novel, she would be agonizing over something else, like bills. Or trying to make something complicated in the kitchen. Or exerting herself to get new plants into her garden. Something like that.

Well, in that case, she isn’t spending her time too badly, by trying to write a novel! Even if it turns out to be a bad one!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

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