September 2014 Reading Wrap-Up

 

 

This is somewhere where I don't live. :-)  I love the pic though.

This is somewhere where I don’t live. :-) I love the pic though.

I read the following titles (with links to blog posts about said book where there is one):

Indian Horse – Richard Wagamasee (F)

I See You Made an Effort – Annabelle Gurwitch (no blog post) (NF)

Video Night in Katmandu – Pico Iyer (NF)

The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly – Sun-Mi Hwang (F)

Memory Wall – Anthony Doerr (brief post) (F)

Absolutely Typical – Victoria Mather and Sue MaCartney-Snape (no blog post) (NF Humour)

Significant part of The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins…  (F) (post to come)

Best books by far: The Wagamasee and the Hwang (both fiction which is not usual for me).

Total number of books read in September: 6

Total number of pages read: 1397 pages (av.233)

Fiction/Non-Fiction: 3 F and 2 NF

Library books vs. books I owned (and thus removed from the home abode): 1 library books and 5 owned books. No e-books this month (except if you count the ongoing read of Collins.)

And now for October – one thing is certain – scary reading will be in the list. :-)

Catch-Up Time…

catch_up

This is one of those general catch-all blog posts to round up all the other parts of my life which have been happening at the same time as my reading. (And some of this will be reading-related, but I’m afraid it’s been a bit slow going lately.)

I’m reading a Victorian read – The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins – which I am loving and seems perfect for this time of year. Each chapter is written from the perspective of one of the characters, and some of them are hilarious in how awful they are. (Not the actual writing itself, but how the characters each present themselves through telling their story.)

It all revolves around the disappearance of a huge diamond (the Moonstone of the title), and Collins has done a really good job of presenting those involved as they give their version of events. I think this could count as an epistolary novel in some ways, but whether it does or not, I am really enjoying it. Just a bit dense and not a book to fly through. It’s also 528 pages (which I’ve only just found out), but as I’m reading it on-line, I’m not too freaked out by that. (I have a history of slightly freaking out at large page numbers in books. See Scary Big Books (SBB) for details of a project that tried to address that.)

Tea in the garden circa 1905

Tea in the garden in some tropical clime. (Source: ??)

I’ve also been reading a coffee table non-fiction book called “Out in the Noonday Sun” by Valerie Pakenham. Having a title taken from the old Kipling verse – “Mad dogs and English men out in the noon day sun” – this book is a readable delve into the lives of those Edwardians (mostly men of course) who chose (or were forced) to join the diplomatic and other services to support and move forward the ongoing territorial “Scramble” for Africa, India and the East. (I say “were forced” to go because some of these men had done some bad behavior at their school or home (like debts, drinking, etc.) and their families pushed them into the foreign service to get rid of them mostly. If their hijinks continued, at least it wouldn’t make the London papers.)

So, again, this book is another slow reader, but mostly interesting. (It’s hard to understand how entitled a lot of these people were, but them were the times, I suppose.)

Outside reading, life has been very damp and wet which is remarkably unusual for this semi-arid region. It was cool and rainy for about three weeks and probably rained almost every day. People were calling our region the “Seattle of the South” because there was so much rain, and I really enjoyed the change from the summer heat. We even had a mushroom growing in the garden. (That wet.)

Credit: KCBD-TV.

Flooding in Lubbock, TX, recently. Credit: KCBD-TV.

Having been born and raised in England, I love rain, and so got to thinking about how the rain in UK and the rain here in Texas compare. I boiled it down to the idea that the rain in England is much more “polite” – it’s a gentle rain (with a bit of heavy in between) and sort of coughs and says “Excuse me, I’m going to rain all day if that’s all right with you…” Here in Texas, the rain is much more “rude”, if you will. It comes down hard (flooding is pretty common), it comes down loudly (hard and big rain drops), and it’s very in-your-face for the (mostly) short time that it’s falling. It seems quite rare that Texas gets a nice polite steady gentle rainfall compared to England. (Now the rain might be quite different in other parts of the state, but around here, I think this metaphor is pretty accurate.)

balloon-fiestaSpeaking of weather, I’m getting ready for a trip to the Albuquerque Balloon Festival taking my English mum along with me for the ride.  Looking forward to some lovely times and some fantastic photo-taking of the balloons. The colors can be fantastic in the mornings when the balloons first take off and at dusk when the balloons glow.

And, music-wise, I’m counting down to the upcoming Cher concert! I know – Cher’s old, blah blah blah – I get it. However, Cher is a consummate concert-giver and the last concert I saw her is definitely in my Top Five Favorite Concerts Ever. Her costumes (and the number of different ones) are amazing. Plus her voice is still spectacular. Looking forward to it.

cherpix

 

 

Things on Cowboy’s Head No. 52

Things on Cowboy's Head. No. 51: Feathers.

Things on Cowboy’s Head. No. 51: Feathers.

Background Note: Cowboy, as you know, is one of our cats. She is big and friendly and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. She naps a lot. All of which helps with this ongoing project I have going on…

It’s called “Things on Cowboy’s Head” and I am just seeing what I can balance on the top of her head when she’s amenable to that. It’s been fun so far, and she seems quite happy to play along. (She just moves when she doesn’t want to participate.)

(Cowboy’s posts are all gathered in one spot on her own blog.)

 

The Hen who Dreamed She could Fly – Sun-Mi Hwang (2014)

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Wow. I’m not sure that I can really verbalize what this little book is about, but suffice to say it’s adorable, charming, sweet and poignant and almost made me cry several times. It’s been a bestseller in South Korea, and was translated earlier this year to English. My particular edition included some wonderful illustrations that *perfectly* matched the narrative in its feel and emotional timbre which definitely added to the whole reading experience.

This is a must-read if you’re looking for an emotionally-punchy poignant fable about a small chicken called Sprout with a big dream of escaping the coop and hatching an egg.

The story revolves around Sprout the chicken who chose her secret name when she watched the acacia tree across the farmyard blossom and bloom every spring. The fact that the tree grew flowers and then leaves throughout the year meant that she too could grow and become more than she was – a not-very-good egg-laying hen in a cage. But the future? The future was hers if only she could escape.

As the plot progresses, Sprout learns how to take life by the combs and then ensues a life of freedom earned in so many hard ways. Although the story sounds like a child’s tale, this is a book which faces the reality of a chicken’s life head-on: there is violence, there is fighting, but there are also love and forgiveness. And does she get her life-long dream of hatching an egg? Aaah, my friends, you’ll have to read to find that out.

Reviewer Adam Johnson describes this book as thus: “the nexus of fable, philosophy, children’s literature, and nature writing…” which is extremely close to how I would describe it.

Honestly, this was one of the quietest and yet most powerful books that I’ve read this year. It will definitely make it on to my “Best Read of 2014” list, and I think you’ll love it as well. It’s a quick read, but one that will leave you thinking about it for days afterward. I just adored Sprout.

Things on Cowboy’s Head – Part 51

Things on Cowboy's Head. No. 51: Plastic fork.

Things on Cowboy’s Head. No. 51: Plastic fork.

Background Note: Cowboy, as you know, is one of our cats. She is big and friendly and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. She naps a lot. All of which helps with this ongoing project I have going on…

It’s called “Things on Cowboy’s Head” and I am just seeing what I can balance on the top of her head when she’s amenable to that. It’s been fun so far, and she seems quite happy to play along. (She just moves when she doesn’t want to participate.)

(Cowboy’s posts are all gathered in one spot on her own blog.)

 

 

Video Nights in Kathmandu – Pico Iyer (1988)

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Pico Iyer is a veteran travel writer, and this was an earlier publication which details some of his thoughts and experiences as he traveled through parts of Asia in the 1980’s. Of course, a lot has changed since then, but overall I really enjoyed this read to places of the world where it’s unlikely that I’ll visit. (Although after Iyer’s wonderful and gushing description of Tibet, I’d love to go there if I didn’t have to drink yak milk… :-) )

This book is not a straight-forward chronological narrative set-up; Iyer’s chapters jump around from place to place, going from Nepal to China to Hong-Kong to Bali. However, this changing around does nothing to detract from the reader’s experience as Iyer is a thorough narrator and each chapter is long enough to describe what he feels about his travels.

This was a good solid read – remarkably solid, in fact, as there are pages where the writing is so dense that it’s like fighting through a rain forest with a blunt machete. However, these dense passages are spread out and once I had accepted that this book was going to take some tenacity and a blindness to the clock and calendar, it was a good experience.

It’s opinionated travel writing, for certain, but not in an “in-your-face” way so I, as the reader, didn’t feel that I was being forced to view countries through Iyer’s own particular lens. He provided enough balance around his opinions that you could see the rest of the picture and this I really enjoyed. I liked this read, slow as molasses as it was, and would happily pick up another of Iyer’s works.

New Fall 2014 TBR Selection

TBR Pile: Fall 2014 edition.

TBR Pile: Fall 2014 edition.

The weather has been unseasonably cool here in the Texas Panhandle, which has been a fantastic treat for us. A couple of weeks ago, we had a record high of 104 and then a few days, later – zoooom down went the temperatures and rain and cool was here! It’s been 50’s for the past few days (as a low) and 60/70s as the high. Wow. Break out the socks!!

And – we even had to put the heating on in the house and wear sweaters at home a few times. Big change from the last few months. I’m crossing my fingers that this cool phase hangs out for a few more days! It’s been cool in my office on campus – so cool, in fact, that I have to wear gloves to warm my little digits so I can work, but not complaining. We had three weeks of internal office temps of more than 85 degrees when the AC wasn’t functioning so I’m ok with cold temps!

Speaking of autumn approaching, here is my new TBR shelf selection for the cooler months ahead…

(L-R)

  • Creating a Beautiful Home – Alexandra Stoddard (NF)
  • For Her Own Good: Two Centuries of the Experts’ Advice to Women – Barbara Ehrenreich/Deirdre English (NF – history)
  • The Mid-Life Crisis: Social Stereotypes from the Telegraph – Victoria Mather and Sue Macartney-Snape (Humor)
  • A Walk in the Woods – Bill Bryson (NF – travel)
  • Underground America: Narratives of Undocumented Lives – Peter Orner (NF – current affairs)
  • My Traitor’s Heart – Rian Malan (NF – current affairs)
  • The Victorians – A. N. Wilson (NF – history)
  • The Tomb of the Inflatable Pig – John Gimlette (NF – travel)
  • Our Noise – Jeff Gomez (F)
  • The Color Purple – Alice Walker (F)
  • War Brides – NF – repeat title from previous TBR
  • England, Their England – A G. McDonald (F)
  • Troubles – J. C. Farrell (F)
  • House – Tracey Kidder (NF – history)
  • A Long Long Way – Sebastian Barry (F)
  • The Weight of Heaven – Thrity Umrigar (F)
  • Seven by Five – H. E. Bates (F)
  • No Fond Return of Love – Barbara Pym (F)
  • Absolutely Typical – Victoria Mather and Sue Macartney-Snape (F – humor)

Progress of previous Summer 2014 TBR was really good (allowing for the caveat that I stray from the list and yet still read TBRs from the shelves…) – 15 titles off the TBR shelves which is great progress, plus some super-good reads! Yearly total: 34 TBRs completed (including 2 DNFs) out of 67 books total. :-)

Another fall, another turned page: there was something of jubilee in that annual autumnal beginning, as if last year’s mistakes and failures had been wiped clean by summer. ~Wallace Stegner.

Things on Cowboy’s Head – Part 50

Things on Cowboy's Head. No. 50: Handcarved wooden top toy.

Things on Cowboy’s Head. No. 50: Handcarved wooden top toy. (Top teethmarks are courtesy of Avi Dog who couldn’t resist the temptation of fresh wood to chew on.)

Background Note: Cowboy, as you know, is one of our cats. She is big and friendly and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. She naps a lot. All of which helps with this ongoing project I have going on…

It’s called “Things on Cowboy’s Head” and I am just seeing what I can balance on the top of her head when she’s amenable to that. It’s been fun so far, and she seems quite happy to play along. (She just moves when she doesn’t want to participate.)

(Cowboy’s posts are all gathered in one spot on her own blog.)