Friday, December 28, 2007

Shakespeare in 2008

I think I've found my 4 Shakespeare books for BiblioShakespeare's challenge. I went digging into my bookcases (many shelves have double rows of books so I have to move things around to find what I'm looking at -really need to buy more bookcases, but don't know where I'd put them) and found two really old books to add to my list. I still have one I'm going to buy with my Christmas gift card.
  1. A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare 1599 by James Shapiro, a new book.

  2. Shakespeare by Allardyce Nicoll - this is a British book, part of the Home Study Books series originally published in 1952, that I bought when I visited Stratford while in college, many years ago.

  3. Shakespeare by Mark Van Doren, written in 1939, I picked it up as a paperback at the Newberry Library book sale a couple of years ago.

  4. Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare by Stephen Greenblatt - this one I have to buy yet.

The Nicoll Shakespeare is a series of essays exploring different theories about Shakespeare and his work, from the point of view of a British author.

The Van Doren Shakespeare has an essay for each of the plays.

As a "just in case" I also have The Folger Guide to Shakespeare from the Folger Library. And if I can find it, my sons' Tales from Shakespeare By Charles and Mary Lamb.

Should be an interesting time reading.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Books & Mysteries

I do enjoy mysteries and, of course, books so when the two are combined, I usually enjoy the read. John Dunning is a Denver-based antiquarian book dealer, who owned The Old Algonquin Bookstore before closing it to become a by-appointment-only dealer. He knows his books and he knows how to write an engrossing mystery. There are five books (so far) in the Cliff Janeway series and I read the first two this past week.

Booked to Die
When the first book begins, Cliff Janeway is a homocide detective in Denver, on the trail of what appears to be a serial killer with a horrible temper - the murderer appears to kill for the sheer pleasure of it. The victims are all homeless men and when the latest victim turns out to be, not only NOT homeless, but a bookscout known by many bookdealers in Denver, the mystery broadens.

Janeway's first suspect is Jackie Newton, a creep with a way with money and a violent temper. Janeway is sure Newton was responsible for the other murders, even bringing him to trial on one. But Newton always manages to threaten his way out of tight spots. When Janeway finally snaps, Newton ends up free and Janeway unemployed, and also free - free to follow his dream of opening his own used and antiquarian book store.

Other suspects appear, including the lovely and reclusive book dealer Rita McKinnley, and Janeway, ever the cop, tries (but not too hard) to stay out of it. When the next murders, however, hit a little too close too home, he can't remain aloof. Eventually, he solves the mystery and indirectly gets revenge.

I enjoyed the story (not always the "tough cop/guy" language, but I don't know how cops talk to each other). The identity of the murderer was unexpected, but logical, once the reasons were explained.
I give it 3.5 out of 5

The Bookman's Wake
Once a cop, always a cop - even when you're finding and selling books. This time Cliff Janeway is asked by another ex-cop/private investigator, to pick up a young woman who has jumped bail in New Mexico after stealing a rare book. The bail jumper with the unlikely name of Eleanor Rigby (yes, it's her given name) has been spotted near her home outside Seattle and doesn't appear to be ready to go any further.

Right up Janeway's alley and easy money - a quick couple of grand plus expenses and the chance to hit the bookstores of Seattle. But, all is not as it seems. The book may or may not be the rumored final publication of Grayson Press, a limited run, fine art press located outside Seattle - a one-of-a-kind edition of Poe's The Raven.

Janeway heads for Seattle and finds the young woman only to have grave doubts about the tale he was told in Denver. People have been killed and more are being killed, all because of the book-that-may-not-be. The Grayson Press closed when the Grayson brothers died in a mysterious fire 20 years before. Now collectors are paying exorbitant prices for anything connected with the press and the brothers. And that can get dangerous for anyone with connections to the brothers and their books.

Dunning exhibits a knowledge of printing and fine presses, as would be expected. As with Booked to Die, the murderer was a surprise, one of many surprises, which kept my interest. But I'm not fond of mysteries where the only way to explain the ending is to explain the ending. I remember my sons' third grade teacher's lessons on "show, don't tell" as a writing method. Dunning could use a few of those lessons. While the story itself kept my interest, I was disappointed that it was necessary to explain what happened and why at the end. The ending made sense. I understood why everything happened, but, somehow, would rather have discovered it rather than been told it.
I give it a 2.5 out of 5. It would have been higher if the ending worked better for me.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Crazy time of year

I should have known better than to start a new project that required time and energy and organization at the end of the year. I get too far behind.

Anyway, I haven't been too busy to read. I'm never that busy! I'm on an essay kick right now.

Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Ann Fadiman
Actually this is a re-read. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed this book the first time I read it. I remember reading her columns in Civilization when it was being published and ran out and bought this book when it was published. I bought it in hardback so you know I was excited - I rarely by hardbacks - too expensive and too hard to carry around with me. But this was worth it. I particularly identified with two of her essays -
  • "Inset a Carrot" - As a family we're always pointing out misuses in things we read and have been known to verbally proofread newspaper articles and magazines, regaling each other with the malaprops and typos.
  • "The Joy of Sesquipedalians" - as a elementary school child I was accused of reading the dictionary because of my vocabulary (didn't everyone read the dictionary?!?) Our after-school activity when my sons were young was watching Jeopardy (GE College Bowl was long gone) and trying to run categories - my youngest was particularly adept. Eventually he was selected to head the highschool Scholastic Bowl team and was selected all district champion.

Definitely a 5 out of 5.

I'm currently reading Rereadings: Seventeen Writers Revisit Books that They Love that she collected/edited from her days at American Scholar. Frankly, not as enjoyable since most of essays are a bit more intellectual than I enjoy. I prefer Ann Fadiman's more straightforward style. But, I thoroughly enjoyed "My Life with a Field Guide", Diana Kappel Smith's re-reading of A Field Guide to Wildflower of Northeastern and North-Central North America." And, of course, Ms. Fadiman's opening essay. But I'm less than half way through so I'll see how the rest of the essays strike me.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

My First Challenge

I've found the challenge I'm going to try. Historia at BiblioShakespeare has a Shakespeare challenge, not surprisingly, that runs from January 1, 2008 to June 30, 2008. I only have to read four books about The Man. His plays also count. I can handle that for my first challenge.

I haven't come up with my list yet, except for one:
1599 A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare - by James Shapiro
It's already sitting on my bedside table. I started it a couple of months ago, but got sidetracked by several other books and only made it through part of the first chapter. I'm afraid I remember next to nothing about what I read, so it will be good to start over.
Thanks Historia.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Recent Reads

I haven’t been reading as much lately, although I did finish Kristin Lavrensdotter, The Bridal Wreath. I thoroughly enjoyed it. In many ways it was a typical romance novel – heroine is rescued by the handsome stranger with a past, falls madly in love, sneaks around to be with him, becomes estranged from her family, and in the end. . .well no spoilers. But the setting and the feel for Norwegian culture/life in the 1400s made the novel stand out from the typical. I’m looking forward to the next book in the series, which tells of her tumultuous marriage. I give it 4 stars out of 5

I thought I’d go back and look at some of the books I’ve read lately.

Up at the Villa by Somerset Maugham
I was on a Maugham kick for awhile – Cakes and Ale, Razor’s Edge, The Moon and Sixpence,. While enjoyed Razor’s and Cakes and Ale, I couldn’t finish The Moon and Sixpence – there was not one character that I found sympathetic. The characters in Up at the Villa were also unpleasant, self-centered, thoughtless and, generally. not someone I would want to know. I kept seeing Sean Penn and Kristin Scott Thomas and Edward Fox in their movie roles.. I had only seen the beginning of the movie and decided to stick it out with the book. Definitely not a “re-read”. I give it 3 stars out of 5

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
I loved this book. In fact, I recommended it to two friends for their reading groups. It was truly a romantic mystery, in the form of letters or essays written by various characters, totally from the character’s point of view. One character saw Count Fulco as a wonderful, kind gentleman, while others had an entirely different, more accurate opinion of him. Love blooms between the art tutor Walter and his lovely pupil Laura who, unfortunately is engaged to someone else. The mysterious Woman in White touches all their lives some positively, others less so, as everyone tries to determine who she is (those that don't know) and what her relationship is with Laura and her family. Will love conquer all? Of course, but its the how that makes it such a wonderful read. I give it 5 stars out of 5.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
I had heard many people talk about both the book and the movie but wasn’t familiar with either, until I picked up Rebecca at my favorite used book store. In high school I was hooked on gothic romances, so how I missed this book I’ll never know. Fortunately, I read it before seeing the movie (in fact I didn’t even know who starred in the movie version.) The unnamed narrator meets Maxim de Winter in Monte Carlo and after a brief acquaintance, marries him. He’s a very wealthy man, quite a bit older and far more sophisticated than his bride. The relationship between the second Mrs. de Winter and Maxim is intriguing – she loves him but is afraid of his world. Watching her mature and come into her own as well as solve the mystery behind the relationship between Rebecca and Maxim was engrossing. As I’ve said before, I love highly vivid descriptions of the locale and I could “see” Manderley and it’s surroundings. I admit to preferring my Manderley to Mr. Hitchcock’s in the movie when I finally saw it. (I think it was Turner Classic Movies that ran it a week after I finished the book.) I give the book 5 stars out of 5.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
I made the mistake of picking this book up at the library right after reading Rebecca. Not that it was a bad book, quite the contrary, but it paled in comparison. It was an ambitious novel with a number of connected subplots. A young woman who works in her fathers antiquarian bookstore is hired to write the true story of England’s premier storyteller, a woman who has told as many stories about her own life as she has about her characters. Her true story is complex involving numerous characters, mistaken identity and bizarre masochistic behavior/relationships. I was wrapped up in the events for the first two thirds. Then it was as if Ms. Setterfield couldn’t figure out how to end it. The wrap-up was disjointed from the story preceding it. She tied up a lot of loose ends quickly with a “they all lived happily ever after” ending, some of which rang true but to me the primary explanation was stretching it. I felt like she was saying “oh, dear, this story is going on too long. I have end it. So I’ll do this.” I look forward to Ms. Setterfield’s next offering, though, since this was an excellent start for a first novel. I give it 3 stars out of 5 (because the first part was so good.)

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
This was recommended (and loaned to me) by a friend from work. I read it rapidly, staying up a little later than usual to keep reading. The train rides to work and back home sped by while I followed the adventures of Jacob and Marlena and August and Rosie and Walter in the circus. The story moves between Jacob’s life as a 90 something year old living in an assisted living home and his life with the circus when he was in his early twenties. The transitions were perfect. Jacob knows he’s old, he can see it in the mirror and in the way his body acts. Sometimes his memory shifts in and out, but he’s not ready to give up and be OLD. His memory of the circus is strengthened when a circus comes to town and puts up a red and white tent (not the traditional white tent of Jacob’s youth) near the home where he lives. The stories he remembers are exciting, scary, depressing sometimes, but riveting. Many chapters include a photo from an actual period circus, that makes the events come even more alive. I give it 4.5 stars out of 5.

There are other books, there always are, but those are the most recent.

Currently, I’m reading The Tenth Muse by Judith Jones, recommended by my beloved Chef/Husband. Mrs. Jones was an editor at Alfred Knopf when she was given the opportunity to introduce the world to three women who revolutionized American cooking – an American woman and two French women. The American was, of course, Julia Child. But Julia Child was not the only fascinating chef she knew.

I tend to read like I visit the library and bookstore - selecting books on a whim. I've been reading a number of book blogs the last few months and I think I'll try a challenge to give my reading more structure. Just have to figure out which one.

Sunday, November 11, 2007


Welcome. Since I created this blog over a month ago, I guess it's time I posted something. The Name of my blog and the subtitle say it all - I read. Although not just in the 'Burbs - on the train going to work, on airplanes, in the airport, at the doctor's office. Anytime there's a lull in my day, I have a book.

As long as I can remember, I've been reading. My grandmother always gave me a book for Christmas so I grew up reading the older classic children's books - Polyanna, Eight Little Peppers and How They Grew. I read books, magazines, comic books, newspapers, cereal boxes, dictionaries and the Encyclopedia Britannica Junior.

So what am I reading now? I'm a primarily a one-book-at-a-time reader. While I have a stack next to the bed, they're interesting but not riveting books - Dawn to Decadence by Jacques Barzun, A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare 1599 by James Shapiro. Interesting subject matter but not something I'd stay up all night reading because I couldn't put it down.

My train-to-work book right now is Kristin Lavransdatter, The Bridal Wreath by Sigrid Undset. I think it's an older translation since it's a paperback printed in 1981. The translation seems literal since the language is not contemporary. But the story is excellent and the descriptions of places (one of my criteria for an interesting read) is outstanding. I've only been to Norway, outside of Oslo, once to visit my father's family's home, but I can "see" familiar places. I don't know if the places she mentions are real or not (I'm assuming most are real), but they feel real.