Friday, February 5, 2016

Into Thin Air: Beginning

The next book I'm going to read is also the most-recently-written book on my list (I think): Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer.

This is a non-fiction work, one of only a few on my list, and was published in 1997. It has been adapted into a TV movie by the same title and the story it covers is also the basis for the 2015 movie Everest. This book is a true story about a storm which hit Mt. Everest in 1996 and resulted in the deaths of eight climbers and the injuries of several others. Jon Krakauer was present on the mountain at the time of the storm as part of a writing assignment for Outdoor magazine, and wrote the book about his own experiences.

I chose this book because I was familiar with it but had never read it. My father was interested in mountain climbing and climbed Mt. Rainier twice when I was a child and my grandparents were mountaineers as well. So while I have a passing familiarity with the challenges of climbing Everest (I did a report on George Mallory and Andrew Irvine when I was in junior high), I am looking forward to reading this true story of a harrowing climb of the world's tallest mountain.

I am also vaguely aware that there is some controversy surrounding Krakauer's account of what happened on the mountain, however, I have intentionally not researched the topic, preferring instead to approach the book with an open mind. When I have finished it, I do intend to read more about this aspect of the story, and I will let you know what I find.

I purchased this book for my Kindle, the version I am reading can be found here, and it has 405 pages.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Cry, the Beloved Country: 100% Complete

I finished Cry, the Beloved Country, two years after I began it. All the way through, since I picked this book back up, I've been trying to put my finger on "what is the book about." I wanted to find the root, the topic, of the story and I couldn't. There is much complexity here, topics of race relations, religion, politics, family, and crime run through the story. But on page 247 (out of 251) it hit me. The book is about a relationship between two men: James Jarvis, a white, albeit progressive, landowner, and Stephen Kumalo, a black Zulu reverend who lives nearby.

Midway through the book Kumalo's son murders Jarvis's son during a burglary gone bad and is sentenced to death. As Kumalo wrestles with losing his son in this way, Jarvis has also lost his son. Despite the incredible divide separating them based on race and class, the two men show immense compassion and connection with each other. The beautiful part here is the subtext of their conversations. They speak kindness and friendship without breaking convention. It is clear that both men appreciate the other's part in their complex relationship, but this appreciation is never voiced. I loved this complexity and depth so much that I felt emotional reading their conversations, despite not being able to identify the emotion. I found one example of that here. In this quote, Jarvis and Kumalo are speaking about Jarvis's grandson, the young boy of his murdered son, a child whom Kumalo has befriended. (Note: there are several Zulu forms of address in this book, including umnumzana, meaning "sir.")

"And then Kumalo said, Indeed, I have never seen a child as he is.

Jarvis turned on his horse and in the dark the grave silent man was eager. What do you mean? he asked.

-Umnumzana, there is a brightness inside him.

-Yes, yes, that is true. The other was even so. (NOTE: Jarvis is speaking of his dead son, when he says "the other."

-And then he said, like a man with hunger, do you remember?

And because this man was hungry, Kumalo, though he did not well remember, said, I remember."

This passage also illustrates the unique formatting style of this book, without quotation marks. And another quote, after this passage when Jarvis leaves:

"...Kumalo cried after him, Go well, go well.

Indeed there were other things, deep things, that he could have cried, but such a thing is not lightly done."

Paton uses this phrase "not lightly done" several times during the book to point out times when characters may have wanted to break custom or convention and chose not to, or even chose to.

This book was very enjoyable, beautifully written, deep and thought-provoking. I'm very glad I came back to it, as it will rest in my heart for a long time after I've finished it.  Highly recommended.

Next up: Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Project, revisited

Well, it's been two years. Two long years as I crept closer to thirty without doing much reading, at least project reading.

In the past two years I finished nursing school, became licensed as an RN and now I'm working as a nurse. So I've decided to revisit the project. I doubt I'll be able to finish the list before thirty, considering I now have fewer than three years, but at least I can get a little closer!

I'm starting back in with Cry, the Beloved Country (luckily my trusty Kindle still remembers where I left off: at 56% complete). I had to refresh my memory a little to remember what was going on, but I'm starting back in!

I'll try to update again soon.



Saturday, December 28, 2013

Cry, the Beloved Country: 29% Complete

Now that I have read almost a third of this book, I know what my mom meant when she said this was one of her "beautiful books."  The poetry and description in this book are gorgeous and very old in it's style.  It reminds me of parts of the Old Testament of the Bible in many ways.
I can think of no better way to demonstrate the lilting nature of this book than to give you part of the very first paragraph in it.
"There is a lovely road that runs from Ixopo into this hills.  These hills are grass-covered and rolling, and they are lovely beyond any singing of it.  The road climbs seven miles into them, to Carisbrooke; and from there, if there is no mist, you look down on one of the fairest valleys of Africa."
I love that phrase, "lovely beyond any singing of it."  Singing has such a way of evoking the emotional side of beauty, so for something to be lovely beyond any singing of it is beauty indeed.
I also ran into an interesting thing.  The quote from the book reads,
"I persuaded him to open a Post Office book, and he already has three or four pounds in it."
I would not have had any idea what a "Post Office book" was if I had not been recently watching the BBC television series "Lark Rise to Candleford" which takes place in the late 1800's in England and in which the Post Office plays an important role.  From watching that show, I knew that the Post Office often served as a sort of bank for rural customers who could not access an actual bank.  A little more research taught me that this system was implemented first in England in the 1860's to promote savings among the poor.  Deposits were limited to thirty pounds a year and a total balance of 150 pounds.  Systems like this still exist in Japan (where the post office was the world's largest savings bank in 2008), Germany, China, Brazil, India, South Africa (where Cry, the Beloved Country takes place, of course) and several other countries.  This information was obtained from, and more information can be found, here.
The vocabulary word for today is "kloof" which is actually an Africaans word (interesting side note: according to the Foreign Service Institute, which ranks difficulty of language learning for English-speakers, Africaans is the easiest language for English-speakers to learn).  Kloof means, "a steep-sided, wooded ravine or valley" (definition from the New Oxford American Dictionary).
And finally, many congratulations to Carrie, winner of our holiday giveaway!  Thank you to everyone who participated!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Cry, the Beloved Country: Beginning

The next book I will be reading is Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton.  This book tells the story of a black priest in South Africa who is searching for his son in Johannesburg.  The book was written and published just prior to the institutionalizing of apartheid in South Africa and it speaks out against the practices of segregation and discrimination.  Alan Paton grew up in South Africa and drew heavily upon his experiences to write this book.
When I told my mom that I was reading this book next, she said, "Oh! That's one of my beautiful books!"  The book describes South Africa in such a way that people have referred to the country as one of the characters in the book.
This book enjoyed immediate success following it's publication in 1948 and in South Africa it has sold more copies than any other book besides the Bible.  I thought it appropriate to read this one now after the recent passing of Nelson Mandela.
The copy I have for Kindle can be found here.  It has 320 pages.
Happy New Year! What are you hoping to read in 2014?

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Phantom of the Opera: 100% Complete

Well I finished The Phantom of the Opera just in time for Christmas! I really enjoyed the last portion of the book; it was suspenseful and fascinating.  Since I haven't seen any of the movies in a very long time, I didn't actually remember what happened, so I was on the edge of my seat toward the end.
One of the things I especially enjoyed, was that at the end of the book there are three chapters which are supposed to be a written narrative of events written by the Persian about his encounters with the opera ghost.  Although Gaston Leroux wrote the whole story, he did a fantastic job of changing  his narrative style while writing as the Persian which is a difficult thing to do as a writer.  The Persian writes with a much less detached and more passionate style than the rest of the book.
To show this, here's a quote from the Persian's portion of the book:
"For we not only saw the water, but WE HEARD IT! ... We heard it flow, we heard it ripple! ... Do you understand that word 'ripple?' ... IT IS A SOUND WHICH YOU HEAR WITH YOUR TONGUE! ... You put your tongue out of your mouth to listen to it better!"
The vocabulary word for today is "mountebank" which is "a person who deceives others, esp. in order to trick them out of their money" (definition from The New Oxford American Dictionary).
Very happy holiday wishes to you and yours! Up next? Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Phantom of the Opera: 71% Complete

I'm almost to the three-fourths mark in The Phantom of the Opera and I'm still enjoying it. One thing I particularly like is how Leroux often breaks down the fourth wall and talks directly to the audience which adds to his attempt to present the story as an actual non-fiction history of what happened.  This is something that's rather rare in literature and I enjoy it.
All the way through this book there are references to the Labyrinthine underground levels of the Paris opera house. I love the idea of mostly forgotten people wandering around in the annals of the earth.  I don't know (perhaps some of you do!) how realistic this is, or if there actually are subterranean levels of the opera house, but I enjoy the descriptions.  Here is one paragraph that I particularly enjoyed with regards to the necessary but unglamorous jobs in the lower levels of the opera house:
"They were the door-shutters, the old, worn-out scene-shifters, on whom a charitable management had taken pity, giving them the job of shutting doors above and below the stage. They went about incessantly, from top to bottom of the building, shutting the doors; and they were also called 'the draft-expellers,' at least at that time, for I have little doubt that by now they are all dead.  Drafts are very bad for the voice, wherever they may come from."
At the end of the previous paragraph there is a footnote which reads, "M. Pedro Gailhard has himself told me that he created a few additional posts as door-shutters for old stage-carpenters whom he was unwilling to dismiss from the service of the Opera."
The word of the day is "astrakhan" which is "the dark curly fleece of a young karakul lambs from central Asia" (definition from The New Oxford American Dictionary).  In the book there is a Persian who wears a astrakhan hat.  At one point Leroux points out that, "It was an infringement of the rule which insists upon the tall hat behind the scenes; but in France foreigners are allowed every license: the Englishman his traveling-cap, the Persian his cap of astrakhan."
Less than a week left to enter my holiday giveaway for an illustrated copy of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens!

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Phantom of the Opera: 27% Complete

I got a lot of reading done yesterday so I'm now over a quarter of the way through The Phantom of the Opera.  I'm enjoying it a lot; it's funny in parts and sometimes a little creepy! I'm also glad I read Faust before this one because the operatic version of that work is the opera they are performing in this book (at least so far).  So when they make reference to it, I actually know what they're talking about!
I have a couple of funny quotes for you today.  First of all:
"None will ever be a true Parisian who has not learned to wear a mask of gaiety over his sorrows and one of sadness, boredom or indifference over his inward joy."
"'Reputations are easily obtained,' replied Moncharmin. 'Haven't I reputation for knowing all about music? And I don't know one key from another.'
'Don't be afraid: you never had that reputation,' Richard declared.'"
The vocabulary word for today is "reticent" which means, "not revealing one's thoughts of feelings readily" (definition from the New Oxford American Dictionary).
Don't forget to enter my holiday giveaway!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Phantom of the Opera: Beginning

So after my poll ended in a three-way tie, I decided to read The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux next.  This book was originally published as a serial in 1909 and originally sold very poorly.  It tells the story of the famed "ghost" of the Paris Opera House and the ghost's relationship with the beautiful soprano Christine Daae.
There is a 1986 musical version of this book with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber which is the longest running show in the history of Broadway.  There is also a film version of this musical that was released in 2005 starring Gerard Butler and Emmy Rossum which I have actually never seen (I'll have to watch it after I finish the book).  In addition there is a silent film version of the book from 1925 with Lon Chaney which I watched as a child and a 1943 film version with Claude Rains.
This book was originally written in French and the version I have, (which is free for Kindle here) appears to have been translated by Kate McMullan, Lowell Bair and Peter Neumeyer. On my Kindle the version has 500 pages and will probably take me longer to get through than the last book!
One last thing: you will notice on the right side of the page there is a HOLIDAY GIVEAWAY for an illustrated copy of Charles Dickens' classic holiday tale: A Christmas Carol! This is very exciting and the first of what I hope will be many giveaways that I will be able to host.  There are multiple ways to enter and if you follow me on Twitter or are a fan on Facebook then you are already eligible for one or more entries! So throw your hat in the ring and good luck!

Monday, December 9, 2013

A Farewell to Arms: 100% Complete

I raced through A Farewell to Arms in about 36 hours.  I really enjoyed it, even though it has a sad ending (I'm actually kind of glad I knew the ending before I started it because I was prepared!).  Be warned, however, this blog post contains some spoilers, so if you haven't read it and spoilers bother you, don't read ahead!
About halfway through the book, Catherine becomes pregnant.  Then she proceeds to drink alcohol throughout the rest of the pregnancy.  Now I realize they didn't know as much about fetal alcohol syndrome and I also realize that in some parts of the world the admonition of women not to drink when pregnant is not so strictly maintained as it is in the US, but it still made me cringe every time.  Case in point:
"'Don't we have a fine time?' Catherine asked. 'Look. Let's go some place and have beer instead of tea. It's very good for young Catherine [the baby].  It keeps her small.'
'Young Catherine,' I said. 'That loafer.'
'She's been very good,' Catherine said. 'She makes very little trouble. The doctor said beer is good for her and keeps her small.'"
The nurse in me was thinking, "It keeps her small, alright.  They call that low birth weight and it's NOT a good thing!"
The vocabulary word for the day is "puttee" which means "a long strip of cloth wound spirally around the leg from ankle to knee for protection and support" (definition from the New Oxford American Dictionary).
So now I have to decide what book I want to read next.  For today, you can vote for the book you think I should read next on poll on the right hand side of the page.  I'll let you know how the poll turns out in a couple of days!