End of March 2015 Reading Check-In!

At the beginning of the year, on Goodreads, I challenged myself to read 52 books in 2015, which is lower than I’ve shot for in the last few years. Instead of going for total number of books, I am focussing on page count. My highest page count since being on Goodreads was 30,766 in 2013, about 590 pages a week. Last year I had a long lasting slump in the first quarter that took far too long to get over and my page count for the year was 25,290—486 pages a week. I would like to surpass that in 2015 and would be happy if I could match or surpass my 2013 total page count. Here it is in no particular order.

* Indicates books I’m reading for The Novel: A Biography, by Michael E.C. Schmidt, a year-long reading project of which I am a co-moderator in The Rountable, a Goodreads group I also help moderate, and I have a feeling it’s going to take me longer than a year to do this, also that I’ll be adding more books to this list as get further in the book. I really want a solid foundation for the beginning of the book though, which covers mostly big classics I’ve never gotten around to reading.


*Le Morte d’Arthur
*Don Quixote
*The Pilgrim’s Progress
*The Travels of Sir John Mandeville
*North and South
Life and Fate of Tristram Shandy
A Problem from Hell
*Jude the Obscure
The Daughter of Time
Richard III
The Marble Faun
The Sorrows of Young Werther
The Odyssey
The Flamethrowers
Motherless Brooklyn
All My Puny Sorrows
*The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling
Bark: Stories

In The Heart of the Country
My Brilliant Friend
A Very English Hero
Too Loud A Solitude
Notes From Underground
The Custom of the Country
Half of a Yellow Sun
Trollope’s Barcetshire series
The Bell Jar
On Beauty
Out Stealing Horses

Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature
Catharine the Great
A Distant Mirror
The Sixth Extinction
The World Without Us
Team of Rivals
The Fabric of the Cosmos
Factory Girls
The Mushroom Hunters
Winter King
They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky
The Emperor of All Maladies
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
On the Origin of Species
The Tell-Tail Brain
The Black Count
John Adams
The Beak of the Finch

Garden Goofs

The first weeks of March have been so lovely. Lovely enough to plant seeds and spend time in the garden. It’s probably only interesting to me exactly what I planted (spinach, peas, lettuce, cabbage), but aside from just glorying in being out in the garden again I got to spend time with a couple of funny (in both senses, ha-ha and not-quite exactly) characters whose pictures I hope will be more entertaining than a close-up of freshly planted dirt. So here you are!


Bella decided to walk behind the planters for unknown reasons. Then she stood there and stared at me.
Bella decided to walk behind the planters for unknown reasons. Then she stood there and stared at me.


This guy didn't really want to plant seeds with me. He was more in the mood to lounge and be hilarious.
This guy didn’t really want to plant seeds with me. He was more in the mood to lounge and be hilarious.

To Powell’s!

It’s off to Powell’s we go to sell the booky books!

I sold almost all of my books.
I sold almost all of my books.

My friend Maud really really really helped me out. It took us two days to go through them all. The car was so full that I couldn’t even pick Chris up from work to help me truck all the books into the store. It took over two hours and three people to go through them all. Thank goodness Powell’s will box up the ones they don’t buy and send them to Better World Books. I didn’t want to them back in the car!

New To Me: Olav H. Hauge

Drops in the East Wind, 1966

You’ve left the big storms
behind you now.
You didn’t ask then
why you were born,
where you came from, where you were going to,
you were just there in the storm,
in the fire.
But it’s possible to live
in the everyday as well,
in the grey quiet day,
set potatoes, rake leaves,
carry brushwood.
There’s so much to think about here in the world,
one life is not enough for it all.
After work you can fry bacon
and read Chinese poems.
Old Laertes cut briars,
dug round his fig trees,
and let the heroes fight on at Troy.

—Olav H. Hauge

A poet I really like who is new to me is Olav H. Hauge. I’m reading The Dream We Carry
and it’s fantastic.


Book Review: Fortunata y Jacinta



Fortunata and Jacinta: Two Stories of Married WomenFortunata and Jacinta: Two Stories of Married Women by Benito Pérez Galdós

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I feel as though I’ve been living in Madrid for the past week while reading this. What an author Galdós is! My thoughts are completely disjointed right now as I’ve just finished reading the last page a moment ago. So. This is a draft of a review right now.

“The response from the famous judge of literary works was that it had the makings of a play or a novel, although in his opinion the artistic texture wouldn’t be especially attractive unless it were warped in places so that the vulgarity of life might be converted into esthetic material. He didn’t tolerate ‘raw life’ in art; it had to be scrubbed, seasoned with aromatic spices, and then thoroughly cooked. Segismundo did not share his opinion and they discussed the matter, each party advancing its select reasons, but each sticking to its own convictions, so that in the end they agreed that well-ripened raw fruit was very good, but so were compotes, if the cook knew what he was doing.” p. 812

I would say Galdós likes raw fruit best and this novel doesn’t attempt to disguise the madness, joy, love, inanity, humor, impulsivity, selfishness, self-deceit, bravery, devotion, inconstancy and violence—along with all the other traits of humanity—and instead revels in them.

Notes to come back to: “Madwoman in the house.” Angel/saint/devil. Virgin/whore. Philosophy & religion. Café life. Politics. Spectrum of religious and spiritual beliefs. Cultural stereotypes. Compare Catholic perspective to Protestant and Spanish to English and French lit of the time.

Medical details. Mental illness. Migraines. Drugs.

Boobies and cotton breasts.

Galdós’ interest in street life, textiles & apparel, interiors, angles of view, painting and sculpture.

Details of daily life. Cleaning. Food preparation. Other habits.


Galdós tying the whole, massive thing together = freaking brilliant, but of course (view spoiler)[ a chick had to die. (hide spoiler)]

Translation issues: spelling, pronunciation, dialect.

Also, has anyone ever compared this book to Anna Karenina?

“I adore her , because we would have no way to feel God’s love unless God revealed it to us through our idea that His attributes are transmitted by a creature of our human race.” p817

If he were a painter, who would he be? Vuillard?

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Bookish Winter Challenge 2013

This winter, I’ve begun participating in a Goodreads group called Bookish. It’s a great group of people who are both smart and kind and upbeat. The thing that I’ve loved the most is the Bookish Winter 2013 Challenge. I had a great time searching for books to fit the tasks and am having an even better time reading them! As silly as it might seem to care about points, it really has been a fun and motivating game to play, and the result has been some of the best, most focussed reading I’ve done in a long time. I had no idea what I was missing not being part of a book group whose tastes are similar to mine.

In recent years I haven’t been as ambitious about my reading as I’d like, but I didn’t realize until participating in the Bookish Winter Challenge just how unadventurous my reading had become. The challenge involves a whole bunch of tasks that have parameters and points associated with them, some of them thematic to the time of year and some invented by group members. They are really creative and fun. When I first started to try to find books, I had no idea how much fun it would be to go searching for books to fit the criteria. I have spent hours making lists and using search terms on Goodreads.com and the Library as well as looking at other sites related to literary movements and geographical areas, and tracking down authors, looking at page length, and noting dates of publication. I’m actually sad that there’s only a month left and that I’m going to have to wait until the fall for the next challenge!

So far I have completed two tasks. The first is two-book task called “As Seen On T.V.” that required me to find two books read by two different television characters. I ended up with The Razor’s Edge, by W. Somerset Maughm, which was on Rory Gilmore of the Gilmore Girls extensive reading list and The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, by William L. Shirer, which apparently Lisa Simpson of The Simpson read. Luckily I wasn’t required to also have watched the shows mentioned. Not that I wouldn’t have enjoyed watching the shows, but both of those shows are ones I have missed or only watched a few episodes of here and there. The other two shows that had particularly interesting book lists associated with them were Lost and Mad Men.

The second task is called “The Three Rs: Reread, Restart, and Reassess.” I reread Anna Karenina, restarted The Adventures of Augie March (which I’d somehow put down and never gotten back to even though I thought it was some of the best writing I’d ever read), and reassessed Sophie’s Choice, which I posted about here, and which I’ve long thought I might have judged unfairly.

I’m almost finished with the “Upstairs/Downstairs” Challenge, which is in honor of Downtown Abbey. I read Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh for the “upstairs” half and am three quarters of the way through Raised From The Ground, by José Saramago. I’ve also read Will In The World, one book of a three book challenge that has me picking three out of four suits from a deck of cards on the theme of Socializers (Hearts), Achievers (Diamonds), Killers (Clubs), and Explorers (Spades.) Pretty fun stuff, huh?

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich is the only book I’d had already been planning to read. I was happy when I saw that it was on Lisa Simpson’s list, but I could probably have fit it into one of the other challenges. All of the other books I’ve read and plan to read were books I’ve never heard of or were books I’ve been heard of and was interested in reading someday but hadn’t actively sought. The challenge has been an excuse to range farther afield and find things I otherwise wouldn’t have read, or at least not right away.

Hipstamatic, Instagram, and Flickr

I’m having some fun with photography using my lovely new iPhone 5. Having instagram and flickr make it really easy to share images and also get that slight critical distance I only seem able to get when I show my work to others.

It’s interesting to note some theme emerging. It’s also really fun to have my camera with me on my morning walks. Since it’s winter, and I leave early, I have quite a few images of trees with bare branches. I just never seem to get tired of trees!

The app I like best is Hipstamatic. I have a bunch of the lenses and films they’ve released over the years because Chris has been collecting them. I’m really having fun using that app with random combinations. Then if I like a particular film/lens pairing, I save it as a favorite. Hipstamatic works well with instagram because they are both in the square format.

I’ve been doing lots of still life photography as well as sketching and posting other stuff on instagram and flickr. And now that it’s getting a bit warmer, I’ve gone further afield with my handy camera, just driving out to find images. Having the phone is very helpful for helping me get oriented to the landscape and also to help me find coffee and food along the way!

As is evident from this sampling of the photos I’ve shared, natural reflections and abstractions appeal to me a lot. Oh, and the mutts. Can’t forget them!

Book Review: Reassessing Sophie’s Choice

Sophie's ChoiceSophie’s Choice by William Styron

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m halfway through my second reading of Sophie’s Choice. I read it in high school and I don’t know how I got through it. I had loved the movie and was so disappointed in the book. Then I found out that some of my literary idols named it as their favorite book. The humor, especially the sexual comedy, went completely over my head, and all the literary, cultural, and historical aspects were just so much filler to be gotten through between the sections of narrative of Sophie’s life. I remember just hating Stingo and thinking he was boring and self-indulgent. Well, yes, he is, but I didn’t get the ironic significance of that fact. I also had no clue how to read “unreliable narrators” and took it all literally as Styron himself, kind of like when theater or opera audiences not only hate the villain but the actor or singer who plays him and thus don’t applaud but boo.

I’m reading Sophie’s Choice after having just read The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany and The Adventures of Augie March. I can’t think of a more perfect book to be reading along with those excellent books.

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