Monday, June 1, 2015

June Reading Theme - Anne Frank/the Holocaust

For this June, I decided to have a reading theme, and I chose Anne Frank for many reasons. Most importantly, I have read her diary countless times beginning in childhood, when it had a profound effect on me and led to me reading about and studying the Holocaust. I realized I haven't re-read the diary in the past several years, so it seemed like a good time to revisit it. I chose June in particular because Anne was born in June (June 12, 1929 to be exact), so it seemed like a fitting way to remember her during her birth month.

Another reason I chose her as this month's theme was that it's long been my ambition to read her diary in the original Dutch, ever since I was able to purchase the Dutch version on a trip to Amsterdam during which I was lucky enough to visit the Anne Frank House, the actual "achterhuis" in which Anne and her family and 4 other people hid from the Nazis, many years ago. At the time I knew maybe 2 words in Dutch, but now thanks to a class and some confidence gained through the Language Freak Summer Challenge, I feel like I can muddle through the diary in Dutch. In addition, since I know it fairly well in general, that will help my comprehension. Yet another reason was that I also happen to have a copy of the diary in French (it was a gift that I am still very thankful for), but I never had enough confidence in my ability to read it to actually sit down and do so. Of course I regret my lack of self-discipline and self-confidence thus far, so I want to stop making excuses and realize this goal after having it in mind for a couple decades now (gulp).

So my reading plan is this: I will read an entry in Dutch, then read the same entry in French, and then read the same entry in English. Read-alongs seem to work very well in terms of comprehension. And this time, as I mentioned, I have my past history with this book, which will really help comprehension.

I know that people sometimes criticize those who uses Anne as a symbol of the Holocaust; they claim this takes away from the six million who were systematically murdered by the Nazis, and etc. I understand what these critics are saying, but as I mentioned before, reading about Anne led me to read about the Holocaust in general, and to read many stories of other people who were victims, or who helped the Jews, as well as histories of specific camps, etc. So while I do not claim to be a scholar on the subject, I like to think that I have a reasonable amount of knowledge. My reading list for this month includes books that are about the Holocaust and that don't center on Anne, too. If you know of a book that fits this theme that you would like to recommend to me, please leave a comment, I would love to hear from you!

Sunday, May 31, 2015

May - This Month in Reading

An unfortunate illness in May had the silver lining of giving me more time to read books this month, so overall I managed to read 13 books, which was a good solid number and much better than April's total of 4.25. Another benefit was that with 2 exceptions, the books I read were physical books from my pile - so that was another win. I even read some challenge books, so I got some momentum going for that. And I cleared the last 2 NetGalley books and managed to avoid requesting any new books, so that is a positive thing too. I think I can definitely summit Mount TBR this year!

For June, I have a special reading theme planned, and some books that have been set aside for this theme. I may read some additional, non-theme books, but it will depend on how much time I end up having, since a couple of the planned books are not in English, so they will take a lot longer to read than if they were in English. So my plan is to read the 8 books I have set aside for this theme in June, and more if I have the opportunity. For July I will be back to reading off the TBR pile with no theme in mind, just avoiding the summer heat and humidity and counting down until fall.

How is your summer reading looking? Do you have any themes or challenges planned?

Love Over Scotland - Alexander McCall Smith

Yet another book in the 44 Scotland Street series. This volume showed more of the "writing in serial form" seams in my opinion - there were more red-herring dead end plot elements that seemed to be there on purpose to spin out the plot and elongate the story, that sort of thing. That said, I enjoyed this book, even if I did prove to me beyond any reasonable doubt that Charles Dickens was indeed paid by the word.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Espresso Tales - Alexander McCall Smith

The second book in the 44 Scotland Street series is very much like the first, with further developments happening in the lives of the characters. I think my favorite characters are Cyril and Bertie. This book had a few dead-end plot elements that probably stuck out less when reading the story over time in a serial format, but were more obvious in a book form. Another enjoyable light read.

Friday, May 29, 2015

44 Scotland Street - Alexander McCall Smith

Picked up several of the books in this series on the Library Sale shelves over the past couple years, and I was in the mood for something light and enjoyable to read, so I picked up the first book. Evidently this book is really like Tales of the City for straight Edinburghians (Edinburgers?) - it was originally published in serial form in a newspaper, and evidently still is, until the overall story gets compiled in book form. I have probably read almost all of the Precious Ramotswe No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series and enjoyed it, and this book is very much in that vein - it's light and fluffy and filled with mostly kind, good natured characters making their way in the world. I say "mostly kind" because there are definitely a few characters I want to give a good shake or a smart rap on the skull - but all good stories need them, I suppose! If you are a fan of the author's other books you should enjoy this one too.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Decline and Fall - Evelyn Waugh

This was a wickedly funny satire of the British upper classes circa the late 1920s (I seem to have a little mini-theme of that time period going here). I'm sure as an American product of the late 20th century I missed plenty of the humor that would have been more obvious to a reader when it was first published, and/or who had life experience that was more similar to events in the book, but I still found much to laugh at. The darkly dry, humorous tone was very enjoyable. Recommended.

Cold Faith - Shaune Lafferty Webb

This sci fi/fantasy book engaged my interest right away, with some sympathetic characters to root for, as well as some antagonistic characters to wonder about, and a well thought out setting. The author has set up some mysteries that keep the reader turning pages, wanting to know the answers. I think there may be a forthcoming series, and I hope there will be more books, as there are definitely things that could be explored and expanded on in this setting, and I'd love to read more. Another winning book for fans of well done sci fi/fantasy novels.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Through the Language Glass - Guy Deutscher

Yet another random book find on the Library Sale shelves. I picked this book up thinking I should read it as a prelude to the Language Freak Summer Challenge, which I think might not be on this year. In any case as a language junkie the topic, summarized in the subtitle "Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages," jumped out at me. I had no idea just how little I actually knew about linguistics (to be fair to myself, I have never formally studied linguistics, just random languages). My mind was blown right away, when the author described languages that have no separate words for "green" and "blue" - speakers of such languages consider these colors to be different shades of the same color. I hadn't come across this idea before! There were many interesting revelations about the relationship between language and thought which I won't spoil here. I'd like to read the author's other book after reading this one. Interesting book for readers interested in linguistics and foreign languages.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Magnificent Obsession - Lloyd C. Douglas (Spoilers?)

This was yet another random Library Sale book that seemed interesting at the time, but then took up residence on Mount TBR until I made it a part of this year's Back to the Classics Challenge. I knew nothing at all about it, and was surprised to discover that not only was this book hugely popular in its day, it inspired at least 2 filmed versions (that I have obviously never seen).

I have to say that this book can best be described in modern parlance as a cross between "The Secret" and "Pay It Forward," combined with a conventional fictional love story, which naturally includes plenty of silly misunderstandings that contrive to keep the would-be lovers apart so as to further the story along, topped by a pinch of religion for good measure. To be fair the religious parts were somewhat interesting, as they didn't dwell on particulars but seemed to convey the message that people should do good works anonymously/without expectation of reward, and if they truly do that, a higher power will reward them. This idea, straight out of 1929, is a bit refreshing in this day and age of screamers who thump holy books and seem to not only go out of their way to avoid doing anything that could remotely be considered a good work, but to actively do bad things and gloat about them.

Southern Lady, Yankee Spy - Elizabeth R. Varon

This well researched book's subtitle tells it all: The True Story of Elizabeth Van Lew, A Union Agent in the Heart of the Confederacy. I picked this book up at a Civil War historical site's gift shop, as I love stories about spying, particularly how people did it in bygone eras when there was no "technology" that we take for granted today. I grew up in the North of the U.S., where the Civil War is just something you hear about in school a couple times over 12 years (as opposed to something discussed daily as if it were still an ongoing occurrence, as it apparently is in some places in the South), so I was not familiar with Civil War-era spy craft in general or Ms. Van Lew in particular. I'm glad that I have learned about her now, as her story encompasses a lot of the issues that continue to appear today: civil rights, racism, women's rights, politics becoming too personal. Elizabeth Van Lew was a truly brave person, who risked her life and livelihood because she felt so strongly about her loyalty to the Union. I'm surprised she is so little known today - but maybe that's my Yankee bias showing, she may (ironically) be more well known in the South. In any case, her story deserves a much wider audience, and I recommend this well done book as a good source.