Books I read in May 2010

This past month, I read 4 books and listened to 2 audiobooks.

NON-FICTION:

Katherine ELKINS, The Giants of French Literature [interestingly, this is not available on amazon right now, you have giants of Irish or Russian literature, but not French!, so this link is to a public library catalog]

I found this audiobook totally by chance: another library user had left the catalog open to this item. It sound interesting and the person had not checked it out, so I did!
It’s part of the
Modern Scholar Series, an interesting series of lectures on all kinds of topics, by excellent teachers.

This teacher focuses on Balzac, Flaubert, Proust, and Camus.
She highlights what’s specific to that author, presents some of his major works, and draws interesting parallels between these 4 novelists.
I have to say, though I read and studied most of the works presented here many years ago, these classes were better than most of the classes I received by French teachers back in France!



Madame Leon GRANDIN,
A Parisienne in Chicago: Impressions of the World’s Columbian Exposition

This book was one most fascinating. She came to spend 10 months in Chicago, as her husband was working on a big fountain for the Exposition.
She goes everywhere, looks at everything, and has funny and to the point comments between American and French life style and characters of the time.

Amazon.com review:

Review

“An excellent foreign traveler’s account of Chicago, the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, New York City, and travel by ocean liner and train. The book provides wonderful commentary on gender relations and the contrast between Americans and the French.” –Perry Duis, author of Challenging Chicago: Coping with Everyday Life, 1837-1920

Product Description

This fascinating account of a French woman’s impressions of America in the late nineteenth century reveals an unusual cross-cultural journey through fin de siècle Paris, Chicago, and New York. Madame Leon Grandin’s travels and extended stay in Chicago in 1893 were the result of her husband’s collaboration on the fountain sculpture for the World’s Columbian Exposition. Initially impressed with the city’s fast pace and architectural grandeur, Grandin’s attentions were soon drawn to its social and cultural customs, reflected as observations in her writing.

During a ten-month interval as a resident, she was intrigued by the interactions between men and women, mothers and their children, teachers and students, and other human relationships, especially noting the comparative social freedoms of American women. After this interval of acclimatization, the young Parisian socialite had begun to view her own culture and its less liberated mores with considerable doubt. “I had tasted the fruit of independence, of intelligent activity, and was revolted at the idea of assuming once again the passive and inferior role that awaited me!” she wrote.

Grandin’s curiosity and interior access to Chicago’s social and domestic spaces produced an unusual travel narrative that goes beyond the usual tourist reactions and provides a valuable resource for readers interested in late nineteenth-century America, Chicago, and social commentary. Significantly, her feminine views on American life are in marked contrast to parallel reflections on the culture by male visitors from abroad. It is precisely the dual narrative of this text–the simultaneous recounting of a foreigner’s impressions, and the consequent questioning of her own cultural certainties–that make her book unique. This translation includes an introductory essay by Arnold Lewis that situates Grandin’s account in the larger context of European visitors to Chicago in the 1890s.

David KING,
Finding Atlantis: A True Story of Genius, Madness, and an Extraordinary Quest for a Lost World

Another very interesting book, found on the month display of weird things at my public library.

It’s the life and work of Olof Rudbeck, a Swedish genius and eccentric character. Beyond his madness, there were some interesting parallels between civilizations, and you can also see that there’s danger at trying to absolutely find what you look for, pushing things a bit too much…

From Publishers Weekly

Few lives are as sadly instructive as that of the dreamer who, by reaching for the stars, falls crashing to earth. Such is the tale of a 17th-century Swedish polymath and gifted eccentric, Olof Rudbeck. Univeristy of Kentucky historian King relates how Rudbeck, trained in his youth as physician (he discovered the lymphatic glands), mastered fields as diverse as architecture, botany, shipbuilding, etymology, musical composition and mythology, among others. It was an ancient Norse saga that set him on the path to what he believed would lead to his greatest triumph. Enchanted by circumstantial evidence and supported by his own breathtakingly inventive archeological and etymological research, Rudbeck in 1679 astonished his Uppsala University colleagues with the announcement that he had discovered Atlantis—in Old Uppsala. Fiercely disputatious and uncompromising when it came to his own genius, Rudbeck had previously poisonously offended many influential colleagues; his work was ridiculed and he died in obscurity. King is marvelous at elaborating Rudbeck’s theories and his heroic defense against charges of forgery and “foul-ugly fraud.” One wishes, however, that King had dealt definitely with the forgery charges. His trust in his own subject despite the evidence is honorable but perhaps misplaced. Still, King tells his tale with the pace and appeal of a classic whodunit. 20 b&w illus. Agent, Suzanne Gluck.(June 14) –This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Center stage in this history of a history book is the rollicking, fantastical figure of Olof Rudbeck (1630-1702). After reading Rudbeck’s monumental Atlantica (1679), historian King unpacks its plausible but reckless chains of reasoning and reassembles the mass into a marvelous account of the Swedish scholar’s obsessions. Rudbeck was a professor of medicine at Uppsala University, and his restless mind seems to have seldom been idle. Rudbeck switched from physiology, in which he made his name as discoverer of the lymphatic system, to the study of the Viking sagas, just then coming to scholarly light. Connecting the sagas with the gods of Norse and Greek mythology, and with Plato’s lost continent of Atlantis, Rudbeck proposed an astounding theory: Atlantis was located in Sweden! Odd though the idea was, King explains that Rudbeck’s protomodern research methods in archaeology and etymology gained acceptance for his theory. Restoring this colorful eccentric to life, King reveals his talent for narrative flow and portraiture in a biography that will thoroughly inveigle history readers. Gilbert Taylor

MATTHEW THE POOR,
Orthodox Prayer Life: The Interior Way

This year for Great Lent, I asked my husband to pick up a book for me to read, and this is the one he chose.
It’s an excellent ook, presenting all facets of prayer, with lots of excerpts of the Fathers at the end of each section.
I loved it a lot, and copied lots of excerpts in my blog, you can find the posts in the 2 previous months.

Product Description

Saints who experience the power of prayer say it gives them wings to fly: wings of elation from being in proximity with Jesus Christ and relief from the burden of a sinful conscience. Once engulfed in the grace of the Holy Spirit, the person in prayer experiences death to sin, resurrection in the Spirit, and mystical ascension to the Father. The visible touches the Invisible, and joy wells up in the human heart. This volume evolved experientially: the fruit of fifty-five years of solitude by a contemporary desert monk besieged by prayer. Father Matta’s prayer life initially was formed under the direction of the sayings of the Russian Fathers, and later expanded under the direction of other Fathers, both Eastern and Western. He spent whole nights in prayer, reciting one or two passages from these luminaries and begging these saints to enlighten his understanding. Father Matta discloses: Whenever physical hunger turned cruel against me, I found my gratification in prayer. Whenever the biting cold of winter was unkind to me, I found my warmth in prayer. Whenever people were harsh to me (and their harshness was severe indeed) I found my comfort in prayer. In short, prayer became my food and my drink, my outfit and my armor, whether by night or by day.

About the Author

Father Matta El-Maskeen (Matthew the Poor) is a monk in the Monastery of St Macarius the Great, Wadi El-Natroun, Egypt.

FICTION:

Philippa GREGORY, The Constant Princess

This is my 2nd or 3rd audiobook by P. Gregory. I thought I would read the whole series, but this time I have enough.
It’s basically always the same thing, same style.
I should really always be careful with popular authors…

Here is a more positive presentation:

From Publishers Weekly

As youngest daughter to the Spanish monarchs and crusaders King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, Catalina, princess of Wales and of Spain, was promised to the English Prince Arthur when she was three. She leaves Spain at 15 to fulfill her destiny as queen of England, where she finds true love with Arthur (after some initial sourness) as they plot the future of their kingdom together. Arthur dies young, however, leaving Catalina a widow and ineligible for the throne. Before his death, he extracts a promise from his wife to marry his younger brother Henry in order to become queen anyway, have children and rule as they had planned, a situation that can only be if Catalina denies that Arthur was ever her lover. Gregory’s latest (after Earthly Joys) compellingly dramatizes how Catalina uses her faith, her cunning and her utter belief in destiny to reclaim her rightful title. By alternating tight third-person narration with Catalina’s unguarded thoughts and gripping dialogue, the author presents a thorough, sympathetic portrait of her heroine and her transformation into Queen Katherine. Gregory’s skill for creating suspense pulls the reader along despite the historical novel’s foregone conclusion.

Sharan NEWMAN,  The Devil’s Door

Here is another series I started some time ago.
Also historical novel, this time on the Middle Ages, but at such a better level than Gregory’s books.
Sharan, whom I met at Kalamazoo Medieval International Conference, does really her homework about theological debates of the time.

I was very disappointed when I finished the last book in the Brother Cadfael series, but this one is a very good replacement, with Sr Catherine.

From Publishers Weekly

Countess Alys of Tonnerre, victim of a brutal beating, is barely alive when her husband Raynald brings her to the Abbess Heloise at the convent of the Paraclete in medieval France. Young Catherine LeVendeur, who helps care for Alys, is disturbed by scars that attest to the woman’s prior mistreatment. Upon the Countess’s death, the Paraclete inherits a small piece of unimpressive land, which sets off a furor: Raynald claims the convent stole the property, and the prior of a nearby monastery makes a handsome offer for it. Catherine maintains her intense curiosity about Alys’s unhappy end even through the arrival of her betrothed, Edgar of Wedderlie, with Peter Abelard; after Catherine and Edgar’s wedding, the pair travel to Troyes and, at Heloise’s request, search for information on the mysterious bequest. Catherine soons stumbles on another mystery: the discovery of a headless corpse that may ignite the anti-Semitism that is running high during this Easter season of A.D. 1140. With this meticulously prepared work, Newman ( Death Comes as Epiph any ) adroitly crafts a puzzle in which the intriguing medieval material, providing much more than mere background, informs the entire novel with a vivid sense of past and guides the responses of the engaging, lively cast.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Kirkus Reviews

Fresh from her sleuthing in Death Comes As Epiphany (1993), 12th-century novice nun Catherine LeVendeur will leave the convent of Abbess H‚lo‹se and marry Edgar, student of the now frail Peter Abelard. The pair will take on dangers with derring-do to solve the curious murder of a young countess named Alys, whose death has something to do with property bequeathed to the convent and the tangled fortunes of a particularly nasty family. Among the puzzlements: Alys’s sister, a silent nun presumed dead to the world, and her bitter secret; the death and dismemberment of a mild gossip; an assault on a convent nun; the tangled motives of the dead countess’s horrid mother, who has lethal plans for snooping Catherine. Throughout, there are congenial chats with kin, the like-minded, and the high-minded. Catherine’s father, a “Jewish apostate,” has ongoing problems, as does the beleaguered Abelard, headed for condemnation by the Council of Sens. With richly satisfying settings, this smooth mystery is tight as a tambour. Top-notch sleuthing, classy with Latin saws and observations.


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Books I read in April 2010

In April, I read only 3 books, but one them was 22 CDs long…

FICTION:

I finally read Foulcault’s Pendulum, by Umberto Ecco.
This guys know how to write. It was helpful though to know some Latin, Hebrew, Greek, and a few other things. Sometimes it was kind of reading Ulysses.
here is a review posted on amazon:

Student of philology in 1970s Milan, Casaubon is completing a thesis on the Templars, a monastic knighthood disbanded in the 1300s for questionable practices. At Pilades Bar, he meets up with Jacopo Belbo, an editor of obscure texts at Garamond Press. Together with Belbo’s colleague Diotallevi, they scrutinize the fantastic theories of a prospective author, Colonel Ardenti, who claims that for seven centuries the Templars have been carrying out a complex scheme of revenge. When Ardenti disappears mysteriously, the three begin using their detailed knowledge of the occult sciences to construct a Plan for the Templars[…] In his compulsively readable new novel, Eco plays with “the notion that everything might be mysteriously related to everything else,” suggesting that we ourselves create the connections that make up reality. As in his best-selling The Name of the Rose, he relies on abstruse reasoning without losing the reader, for he knows how to use “the polyphony of ideas” as much for effect as for content. Indeed, with its investigation of the ever-popular occult, this highly entertaining novel should be every bit as successful as its predecessor. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/89. — Barbara Hoffert, “Library Journal”

The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova
I actually listened to it, 22 CDs, not boring one second.
She writes so well, and have you travel all over the world, in time and space. fascinating, very well researched.
I rigth away read her other available novel in English, see in the upcoming post of books read in May.

Here is an excerpt of a review posted on amazon. I don’t think any of their reviews really honor this book enough though.

The marketing campaign is underway and Elizabeth Kostova’s debut novel is already being hyped as the “Dracula Code” or some similar slogan. I disagree with that approach, not just because they are quite different in more ways than just storyline, but because “The Da Vinci Code” was a good thriller with elements of history mixed in, but it is not even in the same league with this book.

“The Historian” is an epic work of historical fiction that sweeps across Europe during the four decades between 1930 and the mid 1970s. It just also happens to involve the Dracula myth and a good dose of suspense. Now, some people may object to me calling this novel a work of historical fiction because it is mostly fiction and contains very few real characters. That is true, but Kostova does such an amazing job of making the Dracula myths come alive that you can’t help feeling that the legends and the story are real. Her research is stunning in its attention to detail and the wide range of topics Kostova must’ve studied. A previous reviewer slightly criticizes Kostova for spending too many pages describing the pilgrimage routes of monks hundreds of years ago. While sections like that do slow down the pace of the novel somewhat, they don’t distract from it.

NON FICTION:

Now, I start hearing so much about 2012 that I wanted to read something about it, to have an idea what this Mayan calendar was about.
So I read:

The Everything Guide to 2012, by Mark Heley
I think the author does a great job of presenting things impartially, at all levels, and telling you when some ideas are honestly gooffy.
The Mayan calendar explanation was inofrmative, but that was not at all the scary part of the book, rather it’s all the more natural events in our planet system, current and supposedly upcoming. Not to read if you are depressed!

Here is amazon presentation:

The winter solstice in 2012 is the end of the current Mayan calendar cycle. There are lots of theories about what will happen on this date. Will all life on Earth end? Will humans reach a higher spiritual plane? Will visitors from another planet arrive? Noted Mayan expert Mark Heley leads you through all the theories and debates surrounding this mysterious event. He takes a reasoned approach to the subject, relying on astronomy and climate changes, rather than myths and stories.

This book features fascinating information, including:

  • The Mayan cyclical view of time
  • Modern interpretations of prophecies and predictions of rapid change
  • Galactic alignment and Mayan theories on the origin of the universe
  • Earth changes, the fall of civilizations, and apocalyptic theories

You will learn about the possible cultural and social impacts of the predicted events. The author also shares his ideas on what life might be like around and after 12/21/2012. This guide also includes an easy-to-use Mayan calendar date conversion chart. With this chart, you can use the calendar as a personal predictive and astrological tool as you prepare for the quickly approaching date.

About the Author

Mark Heley (Glastonbury, England) has been a pioneering researcher of Mayan culture and the theories surrounding 2012 for nearly a decade. He is the producer and director of the 2012 documentary called Frequency Shift and has spoken at events and conferences across the United Kingdom, Canada, Europe, and the United States on the subject. He has been a professional journalist for twenty years and has an honors degree in philosophy from Cambridge University.

 

Books I read in February 2010

 5 books read in February, 3 non-fiction, 2 fiction

NON-FICTION 

Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters

 “A collection of meditations like polished stones–painstakingly worded, tough-minded, yet partial to mystery, and peerless when it comes to injecting larger resonances into the natural world.” — –Kirkus Reviews

“Teaching a Stone to Talk is superb. As with the flying fish, Annie Dillard doesn’t do it often, but when she does she silver-streaks out of the blue and archingly transcends all other writers of our day in all the simple, intimate, and beautiful ways of the natural master.” — — R. Buckminster Fuller

“The natural world is ignited by her prose and we see the world as an incandescent metaphor of the spirit…Few writers evoke better than she the emotion of awe, and few have ever conveyed more graphically the weight of silence, the force of the immaterial.” — — Robert Taylor, Boston Globe

“This little book is haloed and informed throughout by Dillard’s distinctive passion and intensity, a sort of intellectual radiance that reminds me both Thoreau and Emily Dickinson.” — — Edward Abbey, Chicago Sun-Times

Here, in this compelling assembly of writings, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Annie Dillard explores the world of natural facts and human meanings.

I had not read that classic yet. Very good, very poetic, deep, prompts reflection. Gives me the desire to read more by her.

 

Noel Riley Fitch, Appetite for Life: Biography of  Julia Child

Noel Riley Fitch’s savory new biography, Appetite for Life, reveals a woman as appealing as the good food and serious cooking she popularized. As a California girl and Smith College undergraduate, Fitch writes, Julia McWilliams was notable for her high spirits and voracious appetite. Performing intelligence work in Asia during World War II, she met Paul Child, and their marriage of mutual devotion and affection endured until his death in 1994. His postwar assignment took them to France, where she discovered her true calling.Fitch reminds us that Child championed fresh ingredients at a time when frozen foods and TV dinners dominated American supermarket shelves, and that she demystified haute cuisine with her earthy humor and casual attitude toward mistakes. This affectionate portrait of the remarkable Julia Child reflects her fervent belief that the pleasures of the table are a natural accompaniment to the pleasures of life.

Well, it all started when a friend posted on her Facebook wall that she wanted to watch Julie and Julia. I joined her to watch it at some common friends. I enjoyed VERY much that movie, and after I checked out books by Julia and started following some delicious recipes. My husband then had the great idea to check out this FANTASTIC book on her life. what a woman! and so wild as a kid! excellent book, with all the background of what she changed in the American relation to food. Well, it didn’t end up here for me: I just received the 2 volumes of Mastering the Art of French cooking for my upcoming birthday!

Randal Stross, Planet Google: One Company’s Audacious Plan to Organize Everything We Know

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In this spellbinding behind-the-scenes look at Google, New York Times columnist Stross (The Microsoft Way) provides an intimate portrait of the company’s massively ambitious aim to organize the world’s information. Drawing on extensive interviews with top management and his astonishingly open access to the famed Googleplex, Stross leads readers through Google’s evolution from its humble beginnings as the decidedly nonbusiness-oriented brainchild of Stanford Ph.D. students Sergey Brin and Larry Page, through the company’s early growing pains and multiple acquisitions, on to its current position as global digital behemoth. Tech lovers will devour the pages of discussion about the Algorithm; business folk will enjoy the accounts of how company after company, including Microsoft and Yahoo, underestimated Google’s technology, advertising model and ability to solve problems like scanning library collections; and general readers will find the sheer scale and scope of Google’s progress in just a decade astounding. The unfolding narrative of Google’s journey reads like a suspense novel. Brin, Page and CEO Eric [Schmidt] battle competitors and struggle to emerge victorious in their quest to index all the information in the world. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.

I enjoyed this audiobook, explaining all the intricacies of google

FICTION 

Maggie Anton, Rashi’s Daughters, Book II: Miriam: A Novel of Love and the Talmud in Medieval France

The engrossing historical series of three sisters in eleventh-century France continues with the tale of Miriam, the lively and daring middle child of Salomon Ben Isaac, today known as “Rashi”. Having no sons, he continues to teach his daughters the intricacies of the Talmud in an era when educating women in Jewish scholarship was unheard of.
Miriam, emboldened by her knowledge and mourning the death of her betrothed, is determined to become not only the community’s midwife, but also their mohel–performing circumcisions. As devoted as she is to her chosen path, she cannot foresee the ways in which she will be tested and how heavily she will need to rely on her faith. And when a shadowy new suitor arrives in Troyes, an exceptionally learned and handsome young scholar who struggles with a secret that, if revealed, would expose them both to ruin. Somehow the formidable and independent Miriam must decide if they can forge a life together.

Author Maggie Anton brings the 11th century to vivid life with MIRIAM, which poignantly captures the struggles and triumphs of this strong Jewish woman.

I enjoy Maggie Anton’s books, though this second volume had less interesting passages on the Talmud than the first volume, and a bit too much on issues related to sexuality in the Medieval Jewish world> I hope I won’t be disappointed by the last volume.

  

Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake

From Publishers Weekly

Atwood has visited the future before, in her dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale. In her latest, the future is even bleaker. The triple whammy of runaway social inequality, genetic technology and catastrophic climate change, has finally culminated in some apocalyptic event. As Jimmy, apparently the last human being on earth, makes his way back to the RejoovenEsencecompound for supplies, the reader is transported backwards toward that cataclysmic event, its full dimensions gradually revealed. Jimmy grew up in a world split between corporate compounds (gated communities metastasized into city-states) and pleeblands (unsafe, populous and polluted urban centers). His best friend was “Crake,” the name originally his handle in an interactive Net game, Extinctathon. Even Jimmy’s mother-who ran off and joined an ecology guerrilla group when Jimmy was an adolescent-respected Crake, already a budding genius. The two friends first encountered Oryx on the Net; she was the eight-year-old star of a pedophilic film on a site called HottTotts. Oryx’s story is a counterpoint to Jimmy and Crake’s affluent adolescence. She was sold by her Southeast Asian parents, taken to the city and eventually made into a sex “pixie” in some distant country. Jimmy meets Oryx much later-after college, after Crake gets Jimmy a job with ReJoovenEsence. Crake is designing the Crakers-a new, multicolored placid race of human beings, smelling vaguely of citron. He’s procured Oryx to be his personal assistant. She teaches the Crakers how to cope in the world and goes out on secret missions. The mystery on which this riveting, disturbing tale hinges is how Crake and Oryx and civilization vanished, and how Jimmy-who also calls himself “the Snowman,” after that other rare, hunted specimen, the Abominable Snowman-survived. Chesterton once wrote of the “thousand romances that lie secreted in The Origin of Species.” Atwood has extracted one of the most hair-raising of them, and one of the most brilliant.

This sounded to me like Margaret Atwood at her scariest. It was an audiobook, and even the reader’s voice was creepy. I enjoy her books very much but at the same time wonder if I should go on reading her – so bleak and scary stuff

BEAUTY

WILL SAVE

THE WORLD