CATO in Robert Harris (Conspirata, p. 92)

#amreading all Imperial Rome narratives

Until next week, when self begins Rinker Buck’s The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey

Robert Harris’s Conspirata (In the United Kingdom it’s got a different title: Lustrum) covers exactly the same ground as the books self just finished reading: SPQR by Mary Beard, and Rubicon by Tom Holland. So she knows how everything is going to end. But Harris is such a good writer (She read Fatherland, years ago: highly recommend) that self is giving Conspirata a go.

Here’s a speech by Cato which self thinks is fascinating for what it reveals of the character (Also, it is interesting that millions of youths around the world see the name Cato and think immediately of that blonde bully in The Hunger Games):

Never be moved by favour. Never appease. Never forgive a wrong. Never differentiate between things that are wrong — what is wrong is wrong, whatever the size of the misdemeanour, and that is the end of the matter. And finally, never compromise on any of these principles. “The man who has the strength to follow them — is always handsome however misshapen, always rich however needy, always a king however much a slave.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Nearing the End of RUBICON

The next book in her reading list is a novel, which is a change from the history she’s been reading most of 2017. But it’s a novel of ancient Rome, and the lead character is Cicero, who’s been a major player in SPQR and Rubicon. She’ll probably move faster through that book. In the US it’s Conspirata but in Ireland it has a different name — ? She ordered it from Dublin bookstore Chapters.

After that, she’ll be reading Rinker Buck’s The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey, and then William Finnegan’s surfing memoir, Barbarian Days. Those are the last books she brought with her from the States. After that, everything she reads will be what she can find here.

Rubicon was great. Five stars.

In the final pages, a young man appears at the home of Cicero, introducing himself as the heir of the murdered Julius Caesar. The stranger is blonde, bright-eyed, all of 18. A month earlier, he’d been with an expeditionary force on the Roman frontier of Parthia. Next thing you know, Julius Caesar is murdered, the will is read, and the eighteen-year-old becomes Julius Caesar’s designated heir.

You couldn’t make stuff like this up.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

“Magellan’s Mirror”: Self’s Pushcart-Nominated Story, 2012

Magellan’s Mirror

  • Note: In this story, The Philippines is the home of giants. In the history books, Ferdinand Magellan is credited with their discovery.

During the next week, no natives appeared on the shore. The beach was empty as it had been on the first day, before the crew had sighted Enrique. The men looked up at the sky, cloudless and blue. Under their breaths, they cursed their leader.

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The Beach at Capitola-by-the-Sea, late December 2016

In the middle of the third week, four of the giants were seen gesticulating on the shore. The sailors shook their heads. The natives importuned them with tragic gestures. Finally, the tribesmen boarded a massive canoe and began paddling towards the Trinidad. Magellan ordered his men to welcome them warmly. The crew offered the visitors their fill of wine. Just as the giants were sleepily dozing off, Magellan had his men shackle them.


Thanks to J Journal for nominating self’s story for the Pushcart. Self took the historical journey of Ferdinand Magellan and included magical elements. She has a Part II, called “Vanquisher.” And a third story, called “Residents of the Deep,” which she began at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Annaghmakerrig, 2014, which takes place centuries later (1840s)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Wall Street Journal Books, July 23 – 24, 2016

Self found a couple of books to add to her reading list while perusing the Books section of the July 23 – July 24 Wall Street Journal:

  • Your Friend Forever, A. Lincoln, by Charles B. Strozier (Columbia)
  • The Castle of Kings, by Oliver Potzsch (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) — historical fiction, set in 1524 Germany
  • Abahn Sabana David, by Marguerite Duras (Open Letter) — “minimal, dream-like setting” and narration that has “the bluntness of stage directions.” Self adores Duras.
  • The Brotherhood of the Wheel, by R. S. Belcher (Tor) — Resourceful residents of a small town use a HEXapp — an actual HEXapp! LOL LOL — to show the most recent sightings of the local spectre!
  • Richard Cohen, literary critic and Tolstoy expert, shares his favorite British crime novels: The Cask, by Freeman Wills Crofts; Tragedy at Law, by Cyril Hare; Reputation for a Song, by Edward Grierson; The Shortest Way to Hades, by Sarah Caudwell
  • Brazillionaires, by Alex Cuadros (Spiegel & Grau) — nonfiction by a journalist

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Friday Everlark: Wyoming, 1870

Things are so wild and Godforsaken out there in the Wyoming Territory that Peeta has to resort to finding himself a mail-order bride.

The ad he puts in the local newspaper (For some reason, the author did not specify a city, maybe there were none in 1870? Self, you silly thing. Of course the ad was put in an Omaha, Nebraska paper! DUH!) says:

Mr. P. Mellark, age 26, Baker, Wants a Wife

Isn’t that just adorable? Peeta had self at . . .

Never mind.

Spinster Katniss (age 26) responds to the ad like so:

  • Several months ago I saw an advertisement in the local newspaper. Mr. P. Mellark, age 26, baker, wants a wife. She must be under 30, amiable, and a hard worker. The address was a town in Panem, Wyoming. No one has ever called me amiable but I am under 30 and a very hard worker.

Naturally, P. Mellark, baker, falls hard for the enticement buried in the letter (Subtext is all!) Katniss responds that she accepts his proposal and sets off for Wyoming.

But Peeta never gets that letter (LOL) so he doesn’t greet her at the train station and she has to ask for directions to the bakery from a drunken man who says he is Haymitch Abernethy and nearly has a cow when she introduces herself as “Peeta’s fiancée.”

“Does he know about it?” Haymitch asks Katniss.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

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.

 

 

Inspired by Stephen King Interview in Vanity Fair, October 2013

Today, self lugged around the huge September 2013 issue of Vanity Fair, the one with Kate Upton and her magnificent, hydraulic chest on the cover.  She had to remind herself to turn it over so that it wouldn’t cause anyone to do a double-take.

The Proust Questionnaire is with Stephen King, one of her absolute faves.  One of the questions was:

Who are your favorite writers?

King responded:  Cormac McCarthy, John Le Carré, John Sandford, Margaret Atwood, Michael Connolly, Lee Child, Ruth Rendell, Patricia Highsmith, Larry McMurtry . . .

The list causes self to think back.  Specifically, to the books she read in 2012.  Which ones stood out in her memory?

  • Caesar:  Life of a Colossus, by Adrian Goldsworthy
  • Atonement, by Ian McEwan
  • The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food, by Jennifer 8. Lee
  • Human Smoke, by Nicholson Baker
  • The Mezzanine, by Nicholson Baker
  • How Doctors Think, by Jerome Groopman, M.D.
  • The Beautiful and The Damned, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • The Finder, by Colin Harrison (This one she read in, of all places, PARIS)
  • I Feel Bad About My Neck and Other Essays About Being a Woman, by Nora Ephron
  • The Last Empress, by Anchee Min
  • A Voyage Long and Strange:  Rediscovering the New World, by Tony Horwitz
  • Dreams From My Father, by Barack Obama
  • Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, by Rhoda Janzen
  • Loot:  The Battle Over the Stolen Treasures of the Ancient World, by Sharon Waxman

So far this year, the most memorable books self has read are:

  • The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin
  • Fiasco:  The American Military Adventure in Iraq, by Thomas E. Ricks
  • La’s Orchestra Saves the World, by Alexander McCall Smith
  • A Passage to India, by E. M. Forster
  • Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel
  • The Quiet American, by Graham Greene
  • The Leopard, by Giuseppe di Lampedusa
  • Sister Carrie, by Theodore Dreiser
  • Little Heathens:  Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression, by Mildred Armstrong Kalish
  • Out Stealing Horses, by Per Petterson
  • Don Quijote, by Miguel de Cervantes, in a translation by Burton Raffel
  • Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
  • The Human Factor, by Graham Greene
  • In Praise of Messy Lives, by Katie Roiphe

Perusing the two lists, the authors self might describe as her favorites are:  Nicholson Baker, Jerome Groopman, Anchee Min, Tony Horwitz, Gretchen Rubin, E. M. Forster, Hilary Mantel, Graham Greene, Giuseppe di Lampedusa, Theodore Dreiser, Miguel de Cervantes, Leo Tolstoy, and Katie Roiphe.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

The Summer in Books

Here are the books self read this summer (She starts her summer in June and considers it over by 1st of September):

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard:  Self tried manfully, but she just couldn’t bring herself to finish.

Sister Carrie, by Theodore Dreiser:  She has encountered more than a few people who say they have never heard of Theodore Dreiser.  She loved this novel.

The Leopard, by Giuseppe di Lampedusa:  People had heard of the movie; they didn’t know it was based on an actual novel.  Self thought this novel was beautiful.  Note for note, the most ravishing book she’s read so far this year.

The Great Gatsby:  Bad.  A major disappointment, one of the worst ever.

The Quiet American, by Graham Greene:  Felt like it could have been written today, substituting Afghanistan for 1950s Vietnam.  It was all the things Gatsby wasn’t:  tightly written, surprising, harsh, and tremendously sad.

Wolf Hall, by Hillary Mantel:  A miracle.  Made her hate Thomas More, a historical figure she once revered (because of Paul Scofield’s performance in “A Man For All Seasons”).

The book self just started is Love and Summer, by William Trevor.  She was so glad she began reading it while it is still summer.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

In the Mind of Thomas Cromwell

How self doth love . . .

Self, what are you about now?  You realize, don’t you, that you began this post as if you were a citizen of Tudor England?

It’s all Hillary Mantel’s fault.  Her novel is so good.  Self can tell you that Wolf Hall is going to be another of those slow reads which might take weeks.  Self has only read 24 books since the year began!  Ten years ago, she read an average of sixty books a year.  Her brain cells are definitely going.

On p. 177, self finally reads an explanation for the vaunted memory of Thomas Cromwell.  Mantel is so skillful that she’s been teasing the reader about this since the very beginning.  Other characters say it is so:  Cromwell never forgets anything.  He’s like Poppy Montgomery in “Unforgettable.”

Anyhoo, as self was saying, here she is on p. 177:

In Italy he learned a memory system and furnished it with pictures.  Some are drawn from wood and field, from hedgerow and copse:  shy hiding animals, eyes bright in the undergrowth.  Some are foxes and deer, some are griffins, dragons.  Some are men and women:  nuns, warriors, doctors of the church.  In their hands he puts unlikely objects, St. Ursula a crossbow, St. Jerome a scythe, while Plato bears a soup ladle and Achilles a dozen damsons in a wooden bowl.  It is no use hoping to remember with the help of common objects, familiar faces.  One needs startling juxtapositions, images that are more or less peculiar, ridiculous, even indecent.  When you have made the images, you place them about the world in locations you choose, each one with its parcel of words, of figures, which they will yield you on demand.  At Greenwich, a shaven cat may peep at you from behind a cupboard; at the palace of Westminster, a snake may leer down from a beam and hiss your name.

Some of these images are flat, and you can walk on them.  Some are clothed in skin and walk around a room, but perhaps they are men with their heads on backward, or with tufted tails like the leopards in coats of arms.  Some scowl at you like Norfolk, or gape at you, like my lord Suffolk, with bewilderment.  Some speak, some quack.  He keeps them, in strict order, in the gallery of his mind’s eye.

Perhaps it is because he is used to making these images that his head is peopled with the cast of a thousand plays, ten thousand interludes.  It is because of this practice that he tends to glimpse his dead wife lurking in a stairwell, her white face upturned, or whisking around a corner of the Austin Friars, or the house at Stepney.

Isn’t that just fascinating?

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

WSJ: Pride of Tudor England

Since self is currently reading Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel, she finds herself exceedingly curious about everything Tudor.

By coincidence, there’s an article in the Wall Street Journal of 2 August about Hampton Court, the place where Henry VIII married Katherine Parr, his last wife.  The author of the piece is Elizabeth Fremantle.  Fremantle’s historical novel, Queen’s Gambit, about Parr, is appearing this week.

Here’s the opening paragraph:

Hampton Court was originally built in 1514 by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey to demonstrate his wealth and position, but passed to Henry VIII on Wolsey’s fall from grace.  The symmetrical plan, grand first-floor staterooms and red brickwork were an innovative blend of Northern Gothic with Italian Renaissance — the perfect statement of aesthetic sophistication for the young Tudor monarch.  It became one of his favorite residences.

Further on:

The Tudor court was a moving population of about a thousand —  that is, a thousand who needed feeding twice a day, whose clothes needed laundering, whose fires needed stoking, whose waste needed to be dealt with.

It is hard to imagine from such a distance in time what it might have been like to be one of the forgotten army of laborers who sustained such a carnival, confronted daily by the baffling excess and privilege of the rich.  The work was brutal, starting before dawn, ending after dark, and the heat from the blazing fires unbearable.

So, this was how the place existed, in the period of time covered by Wolf Hall.

Fascinating, simply fascinating.

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