Books for 2019 (After the 2018 Cambridge Literary Festival)

During the 2018 Cambridge Literary Festival, writers spoke and gave readings and fired up self’s imagination. Though the list below is heavy on British authors, their books are no doubt available here (in the U.S.)

  • Flights and Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, by Olga Tokarczuk
  • Holding and A Keeper, by Graham Norton
  • Building and Dwelling, by Richard Sennett
  • In Extremis: The Life of War Correspondent Marie Colvin, by Lindsey Hilsum
  • The Stopping Places, by Damian LeBas
  • What a Carve Up! and The Rotters Club, by Jonathan Coe
  • Hello World: How To Be Human in the Age of the Machine, by Hannah Fry
  • The Merchant of Syria, by Diana Darke
  • Seven Types of Atheism, by John Gray
  • The Bastard of Istanbul, by Elif Shafak
  • We That Are Young, by Preti Taneja
  • Let Us Sing Anyway, by Leone Ross
  • Take Nothing With You, by Patrick Gale
  • On This Day in History, by Dan Snow
  • All Along the Barley, by Melissa Harrison
  • The Light in the Dark, by Horatio Clare
  • The Essex Serpent and Melmoth, by Sarah Perry
  • Ghost Wall, by Sarah Moss

Favorite Place 3: A Book

Self added Utopia to her reading list, just today.

She figures, any book that manages to remain in continuous print for 500 years is surely worth reading.

She took this picture in another favorite place: the Philosophy section of Gallery Bookshop in Mendocino. She’s sure Thomas More would have been tickled pink to know that a young writer named China MiĆ©ville, in the 21st century, would be introducing his book by writing about how much he influenced her.

DSCN0481

Her reading list for spring and summer goes something like this:

  • Every Philip Pullman book written in the Dark Materials universe, starting with Volume One of his new trilogy The Book of Dust: La Belle Savauge
  • Homer’s Odyssey
  • Utopia

Yes, she is forsaking the contemporary, at least for now. Apologies about the heavy concentration on male writers. She’s on a quest to find books about islands, and she’s only just started her hunt. Women writers will appear, of course they will.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Tweaking the Reading List, Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Spent the day trying to stay warm and dry. It’s very cold here in Mendocino. A few minutes ago, rain started to come down.

Self tried to get into Empress of the East, had high hopes, but the first chapter, Abduction, isn’t really about how Roxelana, Slave-Girl-Turned-Empress-of-the-Ottoman-Empire, was abducted. Instead, it consists of page after page of speculation about the exact spot from where she was taken. Then, a few pages of how hard it was on captives. DUH. This is dull stuff.

Luckily, self brought the next book on her reading list to Mendocino. It’s The Book of Dust, by Philip Pullman. Opening sentence:

Three miles up the river Thames from the center of Oxford, some distance from where the great colleges of Jordan, Gabriel, Balliol, and two dozen others contended for mastery in the boat races, out where the city was only a collection of towers and spires in the distance over the misty levels of Port Meadow, there stood the Priory of Godstow, where the gentle nuns went about their holy business; and on the opposite bank from the priory there was an inn called the Trout.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Poetry Saturday: “Trenarren, Autumn 1941”

An excerpt from Trenarren, Autumn 1941

by A. L. Rowse

The thunder-green sea
Brings nearer the Island
On which stood the chapel
Of Michael the Archangel.

Smoke from a chimney
In the V-shaped valley,
The voices of children,
A robin on the bough:

Familiar and cheerful
Domestic noises
Speak of contentment
About me now.

But what is to come?
I ask myself, waiting
In this burial-place
Of my ancient people.


from A. L. Rowse’s collection Poems, Chiefly Cornish (London: Faber and Faber), dedicated to Edward Sackville West, “in our common passion for Cornwall”

Stay tuned.

#amreading #amwritingfantasy: Inspired by Ian McEwan’s SATURDAY

The first time self read Saturday, by Ian McEwan, was in 2009. She only knows for sure because she did a Search on this blog. And up it popped, complete with spoilers.

But, since she believes she has more time to appreciate reading while she’s in Ireland, she’s going to give Saturday another go.

Amazing how ‘interior’ it is. Also amazing: that it’s about a surgeon. And she just got through reading Do No Harm, by neurosurgeon Henry Marsh. She swears, that’s just coincidence.

What Saturday‘s already succeeded in doing, even though self is only a few pages in: it’s gotten her to add a few more lines to the story she began three days ago, after arriving at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Annaghmakerrig. Working title: Transporter 2118

“As a matter of fact . . . ” I thought, but why mince words when she could read minds.

Tu-an Ju rose from the bed.

Oh. I didn’t realize she was that tall.

Looks like the transporter might have a problem.

lol

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

Cavalry vs. Infantry: WATERLOO, pp. 238-239

It is really hard reading this section of Waterloo: The History of Four Days, Three Armies, and Three Battles. It is 5 p.m. on the 18th of June 1815 (Kudos, BTW, to Bernard Cornwell and his publisher for structuring the book this way. Every time self loses her place, she only has to look at the top of the page and see what time and what day it is) and Napoleon is on his last charge of the day. He sends in his cavalry. What he didn’t expect to see was the British infantry waiting for the charge, formed into squares.

There were 20 squares of British infantry formed at the end of the day, which self thinks is a testament to Wellington’s impeccable sense of organization. That he was able to get his infantry into this formation, after a whole day of fighting — well, hats off to you, Sir.

The squares withstood the cavalry charge. The British infantry aimed at the horses and it was a terrible massacre. It was “steady, relentless, pitiless volleys.”

Reese Howell Gronow, an Ensign in the 1st Foot Guards, reported that “the musket fire . . . brought down a large number of horses, and created indescribable confusion.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

When the Least Qualified Are Related to You

Barreling through Waterloo: The History of Four Days, Three Armies, and Three Battles. Now on pp. 208-209, which features the antics of one of Wellington’s most inexperienced commanders, Slender Billy. Of course Slender Billy is only a nickname. Slender Billy (also sometimes called the ‘Young Frog’), was the 23-year-old Crown Prince of the newly created Kingdom of the Netherlands. Though he had no battle experience, his father, King William I, told Wellington he would only commit the Dutch Army if Slender Billy was given “high command” in Wellington’s army. Which Wellington of course did.

(Earlier, self read about how Napoleon’s siblings were each given positions like King of Spain, King of Whatever even though, to borrow the words from Immortal Ygritte in Game of Thrones, they knew nothing.)

In the afternoon of 18 June 1815, some of Slender Billy’s troops were holding on to the Chateau Hougoumont, “a great house with a walled garden” and several adjacent stone buildings. The Dutch troops were assisted by the British, who were led by a 34-year-old Scotsman, Lieutenant Colonel James MacDonnell. Sometime on 18 June, while battle raged, “Slender Billy ordered the British Guards out of Hougoumont, which he certainly was stupid enough to do, but it is almost inconceivable that MacDonell would have obeyed.”

The point is, there was a big battle fought here that raged all day. Afterwards, when Wellington was asked to identify an “MVP” to receive a special annuity for bravery at Waterloo, he chose Lieutenant-Colonel MacDonnell. And all MacDonnell did, apparently (aside from fight, of course) was close a gate.

Sometime in the afternoon of 18 June, MacDonnell realized that if he and his men did not shut the gate in the north side of the chateau, the attacking French would come pouring into the chateau’s courtyard. In fact, a couple were already IN the courtyard, having already passed through this precise gate.

So MacDonnell and an Irishman (who MacDonnell later insisted should share his annuity) closed the gate. That act turned out to be “the decisive act of the battle” — according, anyway, to Wellington.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Waterloo: 16 June 1815

It was only 200 years ago that battle was joined by the French and Prussian armies in the picturesque Belgian village of Ligny.

The French sent the Prussians (led by Marshal Blucher) reeling back. Blucher, “despite his age, tried to restore the position by attacking with his own cavalry. He was unhorsed and ridden over by French heavy cavalry, but Blucher’s aide-de-camp, with great presence of mind, draped a cloak over the Marshal’s medals and braid, so obscuring his eminent status, and in the failing light the French cavalry did not recognize him, so that at last he could be rescued by his own men.”

Waterloo: The History of Four Days, Three Armies, and Three Battles, p. 74

When someone writes a battle this well, the prose (to borrow a word from self’s favorite character in Game of Thrones, Gendry) sings.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

WATERLOO Sentence of the Day: p. 46

(The Duke of) Wellington liked the company of women, except for his wife, whom he detested.

 

Sentence of the Day: Waterloo, May 1815

Currently reading: Waterloo: The History of Four Days, Three Armies, and Three Battles, by Bernard Cornwell

It’s very fleet. Self’s barely begun (p. 28) and already Napoleon has escaped from Elba and mustered an army of 200,000 men.

Opposing him are the British, the Prussians, Russia, and Austria. In very short order, Napoleon finds himself confronting generals like the “mercurial and fearesome” Michel Ney and another named Marshal Forwards, who “had the habit of shouting his men forward. He was popular, much loved by his troops and, famously, prone to bouts of mental illness during which he believed himself pregnant with an elephant fathered by a French infantrymen.” With generals like these, how can these armies expect to defeat Napoleon?

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

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