Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Neverending Story

The Neverending Story, by Michael Ende

A couple of months ago, I took my kids to see The Neverending Story at the movie theater for the 30th anniversary.  We had a lot of fun -- there was a little documentary first about the filming of the movie, and about a kerfuffle with Michael Ende (he hated the ending) -- and the movie was beautiful to see on the big screen.  Naturally, I promptly wanted to re-read the book, but I wanted my 13yo daughter to read it first.  It's one of her favorite movies, and so I've seen it several times over the years, but I haven't read the novel since the mid-1990s. 

My kid still hasn't gotten around to reading it my battered old paperback, but a couple of weeks ago at work I was going through the children's literature/YA section and moving a bunch of things down to the reading lounge, where they will get more use.  There was a mystery book with black tape on the spine and no title on the cover, but when I opened it up it turned out to be a fairly early edition of The Neverending Story, complete with two-color text and illustrations!  (The 'real world' action is in purple, the Fantastica parts in green.)   So I checked it right out and brought it home, and I had a lot of fun reading it in the proper way.

26 chapters begin with consecutive letters, A-Z

Bastian is an imaginative, lonely little boy whose distant father is wrapped in his own grief.  The kids at school tease him for being weird, and Bastian finds comfort in the stories he makes up and in books.  He steals a book from a bookstore, hides in the school's attic, and doesn't plan to go home.  The book tells the story of Fantastica, a land falling apart, and Atreyu's quest to find the a human being who can save it.  Bastian is stunned to find that he is part of the story, and frightened to participate, but eventually he enters Fantastica as its Savior and starts re-making the land with his wishes...which take away his memory.  Forgetting who he is, Bastian becomes proud and corrupt, and if he loses his last memory, he will never go home.  He doesn't want to anyway.

If you've seen the movie but never read the book, you really really ought to go out and get a copy to read.  It's an excellent, and very strange, story that offers no certainty of a happy ending.  Not a lot of child protagonists turn into corrupt tyrants partway through!   The film that everybody knows actually only covers the first half of the book; they made a sequel that sort of covered the second half, but it wasn't very good.  And the film ending is just about the opposite of what Ende wrote; he hated it so much that he tried to stop the release of the film.  I think that was kind of a silly thing to do, and I love the movie, but the novel is longer, deeper, and a good deal weirder.

I'm not a huge fan of the names, though.  Probably they sounded a lot better in the original German.  I tend to think that they're a little overdone in spots -- Bastian Balthazar Bux is not my favorite name ever.  On the other hand, Atreyu is a perfect name!

Back to the Classics 2017

Once again, it's time to sign up for the Back to the Classics challenge, hosted by Karen at Books and Chocolate, now run from Germany!  Hope Karen is getting lots of yummy chocolate there.  Mmmm, now I want German chocolate -- the Milka with the hazelnut filling, for choice.  Anyway, Karen says:

It's back! Once again, I'm hosting the Back to the Classics Challenge.  I hope to encourage bloggers to discover and enjoy classic books they might not have tried, or just never got around to reading. And at the end, one lucky winner will receive a $30 (US) prize from Amazon.com or The Book Depository!
Here's how it works:

The challenge will be exactly the same as last year, 12 classic books, but with slightly different categories. You do not have to read 12 books to participate in this s

  • Complete six categories, and you get one entry in the drawing
  • Complete nine categories, and you get two entries in the drawing
  • Complete all twelve categories, and you get three entries in the drawing
And here are the categories for the 2016 Back to the Classics Challenge:

1.  A 19th Century Classic - any book published between 1800 and 1899.

2.  A 20th Century Classic - any book published between 1900 and 1967. Just like last year, all books MUST have been published at least 50 years ago to qualify. The only exception is books written at least 50 years ago, but published later, such as posthumous publications.

3.  A classic by a woman author

4.  A classic in translation.  Any book originally written published in a language other than your native language. Feel free to read the book in your language or the original language. (You can also read books in translation for any of the other categories).

5.  A classic published before 1800. Plays and epic poems are acceptable in this category also.

An romance classic. I'm pretty flexible here about the definition of romance. It can have a happy ending or a sad ending, as long as there is a strong romantic element to the plot.

7.  A Gothic or horror classic. For a good definition of what makes a book Gothic, and an excellent list of possible reads, please see this list on Goodreads

8.  A classic with a number in the title. Examples include A Tale of Two Cities, Three Men in a Boat, Slaughterhouse Five, Fahrenheit 451, etc.

9.  A classic about an animal or which includes the name of an animal in the title.  It an actual animal or a metaphor, or just the name. Examples include To Kill a Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men, The Metamorphosis, White Fang, etc. 

10. A classic set in a place you'd like to visit. It can be real or imaginary: The Wizard of Oz, Down and Out in Paris and London, Death on the Nile, etc.

11. An award-winning classic. It could be the Newbery award, the Prix Goncourt, the Pulitzer Prize, the James Tait Award, etc. Any award, just mention in your blog post what award your choice received.

12. A Russian Classic. 2017 will be the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, so read a classic by any Russian author. 

Head on over to see the rest of the rules!  I don't have anything picked out ahead of time -- I'll just aim at finishing all 12.  This is a great challenge and a favorite of mine, so I'm excited about getting started.  And this is a really fun list of categories!

Monday, December 5, 2016

This is How I Read (Month of Faves 2)

Estella's Revenge is hosting a month of favorite things.  Today: what do we read?

Mon. | Dec. 5 – This Is How We Read #AMonthofFaves2016 – eg. Number of books read so far, genre you read the most from, picture of favorite (or most often used) reading location, most read author, % eBooks, hardcovers, paperbacks and/or audiobooks, hint at what your favorite read of the year is (let us guess), types of books you wish you read more of, month you read the most and least)

Forgot to mention this, which was neat
Goodreads says I have read 130 books, which doesn't count the fluffy mystery re-reads that I don't bother recording.  (For example, I have not recorded anywhere that my brother gave me a pile of old Three Investigator books at Thanksgiving, and I'm on something like #6, or that I'm reading Aunt Dimity mysteries at the gym.)  I have blogged about most of those, but not all -- maybe 120-125 books blogged about this year.

This year has been a mix of world literature and non-fiction, with some medieval literature and SF/fantasy thrown in too.  In other words, it's my usual eclectic brew.

I don't keep stats on what kind of book I'm reading, but it's overwhelmingly hard copies, and at a guess about 60% paperback.  I'm having a hard time reading ebooks for any but the most fluffy of reasons, which is too bad, since I have some great non-fiction on my Kindle app.  Part of the trouble is that I much prefer Aldiko, which I can read in gold on black (perfect for night time!), but all the more serious books are on Kindle, which only offers white on black (ow, my eyes!).  I don't listen to audiobooks at all; I've always found them frustrating.  I like lectures, but not books.

Most read author would certainly be Kage Baker, since I did a re-read of the entire Company series this year -- about ten books.  Usually, Diana Wynne Jones would win that contest, but I don't think I read ten this year (though it's probably seven or eight, and I plan to read The Pinhoe Egg again soon!).  I also had a bit of an Eleanor Farjeon kick, as I bought several of her books.

The month I read the least would probably be June, since we spent half of it racing around southern England.  January or March would appear to be when I read the most -- January's Vintage Sci Fi month always brings in a lot of short reads, and March was DWJ/Pratchett month.

I don't know that there is a type of book I wish I read more of, proportionately speaking; just that I could squish more reading of the same kinds of things into my life.  More history!  More medieval literature!  More Ukrainian novels!

Favorite book of the year: Gosh, that's a tough one.  I've read some wonderful stuff this year!  And I hate picking favorites.  But some of my best reads have been travel (like The Broken Road) and novels by favorite authors (like Before We Visit the Goddess and Gentian Hill).

I've had some wonderful literary moments this year, and yesterday I mentioned the Green Knowe visit as one, but I should have included meeting Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni!  That was certainly a squee-worthy evening!

Faerie Queene Book IV, Part I

I'm still plugging along, really I am!  I got a little bogged down when I mistakenly thought I should not finish Canto 6 until I had blogged my way through the pile of books on my desk.  That was dumb.  But, excelsior!

Book IV is about Friendship, and it was written several years after the first 3 books, so Spenser has changed some things about the way he's writing.  While this book is officially about Cambel and Telamond and their great friendship, really it's more about the story we've already been following, with Amoret and Scudamore, Britomart and Artegall, and so on (refresh your memory with Book III if you like, it's been a while).  Cambel and Telamond hardly appear!  And there are now so many knightly couples to keep track of that we need a list.

It turns out that Amoret and Scudamore were already married when she was abducted, in the middle of the wedding festivities, by Busirane.  He put on the Masque of Cupid and grabbed her, and kept her imprisoned for seven months.  (Given that this is all partly an allegory about Amoret's psychological state, this should give us pause.)  As far as Amoret knows, she's been rescued by a male knight....therefore she should favor (marry) him...but she's married...but she's not totally married....ack!  Plus, rumors are flying about her and this knight, and Britomart is flirting with Amoret in order to keep up her disguise.  Luckily this is all cleared up soon, and the two girls confide in each other and become close friends, searching the world for their loves.  Soon they meet two knights escorting Duessa and Ate (war), who encourage them to fight over Amoret.  Some quite complicated knightly social maneuvering goes on, and the upshot is that Scudamore hears a lot of lies and is murderously angry, especially at Britomart's nurse Glauce, who is with him.

Glauce is a peacemaker, but the wicked knights scorn her.  Sir Ferraugh arrives with the False Snowy Florimell,, thinking he's got a prize.  Ate encourages fighting over her, and friendships start to break up.  The Squire of Dames arrives, describing the imminent tournament for Florimell's girdle, and they all decide to make up and go.  (This, however, is false friendship, without true virtue!)  On the way, the group overtakes Sirs Cambell and Triamond with their ladies; they are fairy knights of great prowess and true friends.  What's their story? We now pick up Chaucer's Squire's Tale where it left off, and finish the story: Canacee is the most learned lady around and can talk with the birds, but she refuses to love anyone, which sparks wars among her admirers.  Her brother Cambell decides to fight the strongest three and the winner will get her.  (Canacee gives him a magic ring that will heal his wounds.)  Only the triplet sons of Agape will venture (here we get Agape's story, which gives the three brothers a special gift).  They are Priamond, Diamond, and Triamond.

The battle is started with great ceremony.  It's a truly epic fight, with a couple of resurrections.  They don't stop until a lady shows up in a chariot drawn by lions!  She overruns the crowd and kills many with her chariot before announcing herself as Concord (!).  She has nepenthe, a drink that assuages grief, and makes both drink it.  They embrace, stop fighting, and the two ladies marry the two knights, swearing friendship eternal.

Back to the main story: everybody is now on the way to the tournament.  Braggadocio arrives and claims False Florimell, but backs off when challenged; he is too base to care for either friendship or emnity.  At the tourney, all enter in groups according to who is false and who is true.  Satyrane brings out the gorgeous girdle.  He and the Knights of Maidenhead fight everyone else, so there we have chastity vs. friendship (?), as well as false friendship.  Triamond is doing well, but Satyrane wins the day.  The next day, Cambell dons Triamond's armor and fights for him, and is taken prisoner, so Cambell gets up (despite his wounds) and puts on Triamond's armor to fight for him.  They win for that day, but the Knights of Maidenhead win overall...until a strange knight arrives, dressed apparently as a woodwose, with long tattered leafy things everywhere and a French shield.  He wins, and he is Artegall.  Then another new, strange knight arrives and beats everybody -- so Britomart wins the girdle.

The winner crowned
 Now there shall be a beauty contest to see which lady gets the girdle (and the winning knight, which is Britomart).  Now, some of the ladies want this amazing girdle for "glorie vaine" and others for "vertuous use."  It gives chaste love and true wifehood, and it's really Venus' girdle (otherwise known as Aphrodite's zone, which gives rise to some intriguing thoughts from my other reading), passed down to Florimell.  Artegall is really not pleased at having been outdone.  At the contest, each is lovelier than the last, but False Florimell outshines everyone, even the actual, missing, Florimell.  But!  The girdle won't stay on her!  Many try it and none can wear it except Amoret.  False Florimell grabs it back, and Britomart refuses the lady prize out of loyalty to Amoret.  In fact, every knight already has a lady except Satyrane, and everyone gets angry.  They decide to put False Florimell in a circle and see who she will walk to, as if she's a puppy or something!  She picks Braggadocio, and he runs off with her that night.  All the knights give chase, leaving Britomart and Amoret to continue searching for Artegall (since neither party ever removed their helmets, they didn't recognize each other) and Scudamore (who is currently hoping to kill Britomart).  Scudamore finds shelter in Care's (Worry's) cave; she makes little iron wedges for minds.  He can't sleep, and has bad dreams when he does.  So he leaves, exhausted.

Artegall in woodwose outfit

Scudamore is in bad shape after a night at Care's house.  He meets the Savage Knight, dressed in wild clothes and no device on his shield--this is Artegall, remember, and he is currently being a rudimentary, rough form of justice.  Both are angry at Britomart and search for her.  When they meet, both lose the battle to her, which is filled with male imagery, but she's the one who stabs Artegall.  During the fight, her helmet breaks, exposing her face for the first time.  Artegall promptly apologizes, even as Britomart wants to keep fighting and has to be restrained by Scudamore and Glauce.  All faces are now shown, Britomart recognizes Artegall, and Glauce explains all.  Scudamore asks about his wife, and Britomart explains that Amoret disappeared during the trip and she has searched far and wide for her.  As they all rest at a castle, Artegall woos Britomart and wins her consent -- so both continue on their separate quests.

Phew!  A lot has happened.  Where is Amoret?  Can't wait to find out!  Also, isn't it funny that Spenser brings in a tale from Chaucer?  And finishes it--in two cantos flat, although the book is nominally about that story.  Also, if you noticed that Cambel and Telamond's names got changed halfway through, that's what Spenser does--not my fault.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

A Month of Faves 2016: Day 1

As I caught up on my blogroll today, Kristen at We Be Reading had a nice pick-me-up post that I haven't seen before -- the Month of Faves, hosted by Estella's Revenge.  Well, I may be a day late and a dollar short, but I'm going to do it anyway, at least a few of them.  So here's Day 1:

Thu. | Dec. 1 – These Are A Few of My Favorite Things #AMonthofFaves2016 – eg. to eat, drink, wear, smell, see, do, enjoy, best thing I bought, most used gift received etc, favorite concert, outdoor activity, place visited, most squee worthy moment of the year, biggest change.

Food: At the moment, it seems to be chorizo soft tacos from Chipotle, but that's only because I just discovered them.  Eat two, save one for lunch!

Drink: I've been a Dr. Pepper addict for way too long, but I've switched to Dr. Pepper 10, which tastes way better than diet.

Wear: In December, fuzzy socks.  I get cold easily.

Do: Besides reading, snuggle with the family, quilt, and take trips.

Best thing I bought made:  I can't think of anything I bought that can beat this quilt top I just finished last night.  A couple of years ago, I blogged about the great pavement at Westminster and how I wanted to make a quilt like that.  I just got started on the road!  Here is a cosmati-style quilt that doesn't actually look anything like the Westminster floor:

Place visited: Our UK trip, for sure!  That was a lifetime highlight.

Most squee worthy moment of the year: Was on the UK trip, when we went to the Manor/Green Knowe.

Biggest change: My older daughter started going to regular old public school.  This is probably my last year as a homeschooling mom.

Saturday, December 3, 2016


Stonehenge: Exploring the Greatest Stone Age Mystery, by Mike Parker Pearson

Wow, this is a great book!  Before I start, let's note that while I read the UK edition (purchased at Stonehenge), the US edition has a slightly different title, and that's what I've linked to above.  I made sure it was the same book, though.  OK...

From 2003 to 2008, archaeologists carried out an extensive campaign of digs around the Stonehenge area; their goals included figuring out how Stonehenge fit into the surrounding landscape and clarifying certain points about the monument itself, including the chronology.  They wound up discovering a tremendous amount, and this book, written by one of the project leads, explains their hypotheses, what they discovered, and his thoughts about what it all means.  It was a fascinating read and I highly recommend it if you are interested in this sort of thing.  And it even starts with a good story!

Pearson has another archaeological friend who is from Madagascar, and when he saw Stonehenge and environs, his thoughts were that the meaning of all this was quite obvious.  Wood is for living people, and stone is for the dead.  This sparked some ideas with Pearson, and he started looking around the Salisbury plain area to see if he could figure out how Stonehenge was situated in the larger landscape.  He wound up planning a large, multi-year dig that would spot-check several different places, including the almost unexplored Durrington Walls remains.  There, they discovered Neolithic houses and all sorts of things.

Pearson spends much of the book talking about everything but Stonehenge, especially Durrington Walls.  He explains the whole area--cursuses, long barrows, round barrows, wood henges, avenues, and how they all fit together.  Long barrows came first, but they were quite old-fashioned by the time Stonehenge was built.  Then he spends long chapters investigating the origins of bluestones (really cool stuff) and the more local sarsens that nobody ever seems to worry much about.  There is a long piece on Stonehenge Avenue, and why it is laid out the way it is.  In fact, he thinks he's figured out just why Stonehenge is where it is, which turns out to be a pretty compelling argument.

This is a great book, filled with newly-gleaned information about the British Neolithic era that stresses Stonehenge's place within the larger landscape -- it didn't just stand there all by itself.  It's also a highly detailed book, so be prepared for plenty of descriptions of postholes and scatterings of bluestone chips.  In fact, one thing that really stands out is how much it is possible to figure out from dirt and rocks and ashes if you are incredibly careful and accurate about digging.

I enjoyed it a lot.  


NB:  A fun fact I learned -- we all know that pagans often go to Stonehenge at the summer solstice.  It's actually open to the public then, and Pearson says about 37,000 people show up.  But what I didn't know was that it's also open to the public on the winter solstice -- and only a few hundred go then.  If you're in the UK, I think you should go in a couple of weeks.  I certainly will if I ever get the chance!

Friday, December 2, 2016

Classics Spin: Light in August

Light in August, by William Faulkner

Wow, I really hated this book.  I hated it so much that I had to assign myself to read 50 pages a day, and I was determined that I would not let Faulkner beat me.  I was going to beat him.   But then the election happened, and I still had 150 pages to go, and I couldn't do it.  The world is quite difficult enough, it turns out, without subjecting myself to Faulkner as well.  So I quit.

The story starts with a girl walking and hitching rides out to where she hopes to find the father of her impending baby.  She's about to give birth, her brother threw her out, and she has every faith that she will find her man and things will work out for them.  The man, of course, has changed his name and gotten involved with the illegal moonshine trade, and just as she arrives, he's found in a burning house with the murdered owner upstairs.

The murderer is Joe Christmas, an orphan who may or may not have some black ancestry.  He's obsessed with the possibility, and most of the novel is given over to his life story.

Mostly, it's horrible people doing horrible things to each other.  So I quit.  And I'll be perfectly happy never to pick up another Faulkner novel again.  He seems to have been a horrible person anyway.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Vintage Sci-Fi Month in January!

Yep, it's my favorite January event, the Vintage Sci-Fi Not-A-Challenge at Little Red Reviewer!   I'm pretty sure this will be my fourth year participating, and I always have fun with it.  Red says:

If you could ask your great grandparents what their life was like when they were growing up, you would, right?  If you could go back in time and see what your country and your family were like before social media took over the universe, you’d be interesting in seeing what the world was like, right?

This January,  you can.  This January, I invite you to travel through time with me.  Travel into the past,  look into the youthful eyes of your great grandparents. See what came before so we could have what we have now.
Ok, maybe not time travel exactly. . .  but sort of.
Everything comes from somewhere. You came from your parents, duh.  But who are the parents of your favorite science fiction books? I’ll tell you:  the parents of your favorite science fiction books are the books that author read to be inspired and to dream.  And those books have parents too.  If you don’t like me using the word “book parents” here, how about “the author’s influences”?  Something they were influenced and inspired by to create something new and modern.
By reading older fiction, you get to see how that fiction progressed to get to where it is today. You get to experience the family tree, as it were, of speculative fiction.
To learn more, click on “Vintage Sci-Fi Not-A-Challenge” tab up top.  This is not a reading challenge. You do not have to do anything.  You can read one book or ten. You can listen to a radio broadcast, you can watch and old movie or old TV shows.  You can post a comment, a few sentences, a full on book review, a video blog post, you can just lurk if you want.  There is one rule:  what you read/listen to/view/ discuss should be older than me.  If it was born before 1979 it’s fair game for Vintage Month.

I've been collecting a few books to read for this event.  I know I want to read Clifford Simak's They Walked Like Men, and after I read Leigh Brackett's Black Amazon of Mars last year, my brother lent me a couple of Brackett collections.  Then, the other day I went to the library, and may have gone a little overboard.  I found a volume of three early Heinlein stories, a collection of pre-Fahrenheit 451 stories by Bradbury that show him working on the ideas, and a collection of Philip K. Dick that includes Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Ubik--so one re-read and one new.  (I also found Octavia Butler's Dawn, which looks pretty good, but is not officially 'vintage.')

So dig through your piles of old SF books and join me for a month of fun!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Creeping Shadow

The Creeping Shadow (Lockwood & Co. #4), by Jonathan Stroud

I really enjoy these Lockwood & Co. books.  They are just so much fun, and they keep moving; the series isn't getting stale.

In this fourth installment, Lucy has been on her own for some months; she's lonely, but she doesn't have time to do anything but work and sleep.  Lockwood offers her a commission for a particularly tricky job, and then a little kid shows up asking for help for his village, which is coming under massive attack.  What is causing this sudden and deadly outbreak in a remote village?

In every book, we (and the characters) find out a little more about the world and how the Problem works.  They tackle different things every time and find out more.

Lucy, the narrator, is a great character; she's smart and practical, and very matter-of-fact about her work.  She's never clearly described, but she's messy and bedraggled and impatient with anyone who isn't fine with that.  She doesn't have time for it, and she's no good at it anyway.  Still, it makes her nervous, which makes her angry, and she works through her difficulties without ever discussing them outright.

Fun middle-grade ghost stories.  I love 'em.

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Secret River

The Secret River, by Kate Grenville

I scootched in just before the deadline!  I wanted to participate in Brona's AusReading Month, so I picked out a book that's been on my mental (not literal) TBR pile for a few years--Kate Grenville's The Secret River, which (in case you care) won the Commonwealth Prize and was in the finals for the Man Booker Prize.  I got kind of bogged down when it became obvious that really unhappy things were going to take place, but then I gathered up my courage and read the second half in a day.

William Thornhill is a London waterman who--like most laborers--steals here and there to get by.  When he's caught, he's sentenced to death, but gains a merciful sentence of transportation, together with his beloved wife Sal and their baby.  He lands in Sydney in 1806, and after years of labor, gains his own ship and a route carrying goods between tiny farms and the town.  Will's dream is to own some land himself, but eventually he has to deal with the people who already live there.

Grenville's writing is lovely, and it's easy to be drawn into Will and Sal's lives.  We actually get Will's entire life story, and honestly I enjoyed that part most.  None of Will's life is fun or anything, but the London part is easier to read.   But, while I liked Sal a lot, I do not love Will.  He seems...wishy-washy to me; he often doesn't so much make decisions as just float along, even when he knows he's following men who aren't worth a thing.  Although Will is the one whose head we live in, I understand Sal a lot better.

A very good novel, but no light or enjoyable read, or one that I will return to with fond memories.  Hard stuff.