Book 6 – 2020 Books of summer

I have been leaning toward reading classics since I finished the first draft of a list of a thousand or so to read for the rest of my life. Probably way too many and the list must be refined, but there’s nothing on it I’ve read that I don’t wish to read again and nothing that I never want to read, as there is on every list I’ve looked at. I had to make my own and I’ve worked on and off at it for years, but never quite could decide on which things and enough of them. So the next book I was going to read was going to be one on both lists – 20 Books of Summer and My Own Personal 1,000 Books I Must Read Before I Die – Greenmantle.

Second in the series of Richard Hannay adventures, Greenmantle follows The 39 Steps. You have more likely heard of The 39 Steps, made into a movie in 1935 by Alfred Hitchcock. Also turned into quite a funny play (all humor added by the adapters) in which all the roles are played by 4 actors. Greenmantle takes place during World War I. Hannay has been injured, but is now almost fully recovered. He’s called in to be given a special assignment. The Germans are up to something. They have a secret weapon – some sort of relic or religious treasure or maybe some sort of new prophet to inspire the Muslims to help the Germans capture the Middle East. The trouble is they don’t know who or what it might be. All they have is three obscure clues and the knowledge that the thing or person is heading toward Constantinople. Will Hannay find out what is happening and stop it? He’s given a free hand to choose his men and do whatever he thinks best to stop whatever it is. Quite a challenge.

Hannay takes it up, along with his friend Sandy, and an American with dyspepsia who plays a lot of solitaire. These adventures are not to modern taste. When I read a book and think there’s not enough violence, something’s wrong. Plot points tend to be based on a tremendous amount of luck – when he arrives in Portugal undercover, who should he meet, but his old friend Peter, a Boer tracker and hunter par excellence. They pair up disguised as men looking to fight for the Germans, but after initial success they run into problems in the form of a German officer called Stumm.

I don’t want to tell you what happens because it’s rather a fun read despite the reliance on massive amounts of luck and Hannay being quite a dope some of the time. It’s entertaining somehow despite the problems with the plot and the writing and Hannay’s (sometimes hilarious) character traits. It’s a quick read and I enjoyed it. I’ll probably try the next Hannay adventure, but I admit, it’s probably not for everyone.

20 Books of Summer 2020 – No. 5

What I started the night of the Reverse Readathon was Lincoln in the Bardo. A strange combination of the historic death of 11 year old Willy Lincoln and the Tibetan Book of the Dead – The Bardo Thodol. The book is supposed to be read to guide the consciousness of the recently deceased between incarnations. Oddly enough I read it many years ago, but don’t remember a darned thing about it, nor why I read it.

The book is entirely composed of quotes from various sources on the Lincolns, Willie’s death, and life in the White House, and the dialogue of various souls who are in possibly the strangest afterlife ever imagined. We are introduced to the two main entities, Bevins and Vollman, who reveal their pasts and their current situation. They believe they are not dead, but sick. Their bodies are in ‘sick boxes’ and they must go back to them every night. Each being has some obsession, some problem, some wish that ties them to their life in the previous place. Their particular issue affects what they do in this afterlife. Looking for love, waiting for their children to visit, everyone has their own thing. Into this weird world, arrives Willie Lincoln, dead at age 11 in 1862. Vollman and Bevins urge him not to stay. Children usually move on. Presumably they don’t have enough baggage to linger there, but Willie is not your ordinary kid. He thinks for himself and he thinks he should wait for his parents.

I don’t think I can do justice to the strangeness of this world into the borders of which Lincoln steps. It is very well written. It draws a remarkable picture of a bizarre and disturbing afterlife, remarkable characters revealed as flawed human beings and how they wound up where they are. A remarkable book well worth your time.

Reverse readathon 2020

Many people have heard of and participated in Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon in April and October, but far fewer know about/participate in the relatively new Reverse Readathon. It starts 12 hours earlier, so if you usually start at 8 AM Eastern Time, you’ll start at 8 PM Friday night. It’s much more casual, not all the hoopla, prizes, contests, etc. Snacks and books for as much of the 24 hours as you can. They don’t care if that’s one hour or 24. The point is that everyone enjoy a day with as much reading as you can put into it and those people who usually start in the morning, start at night and vice versa. I wish there was one in the Winter, too.

I don’t know how much I’ll be able to read as there are things going on, but I will try to do more than usual, which shouldn’t be hard as so many days go by without any reading in them. I’ll be back. It starts in 1:42 from … now!

Opening Survey!

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?

Maryland, U.S.A.


2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?

Stack? Ha! Decided to start Lincoln in the Bardo.


3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?

Tough question. Pistachios? Mint chocolate? Cookies? I’ve already had Americone Dream ice cream. That’s pretty good right there?


4) Tell us a little something about yourself!

I want to do too many things so reading sometimes gets lost in the shuffle.


5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?

Oh, probably nothing. Not read enough. Wish I’d read more. Yeah, Probably that.

Closing

  1. How would you assess your reading overall? Better than usual. Only managed a few hours, but that’s more I think than I have the past few times. If only I can finish a few serious projects, then maybe I can get back to reading more.
  2. Did you have a strategy, and if so, did you stick to it? Um, no.
  3. What was your favorite snack? Garlic parmeson Kettle crisps.
  4. Wanna volunteer for our next event? Stay tuned for the recap post! Sorry, I can’t even read for the day, let alone volunteer.

Book 4 – 20 Books of Summer

You’ll probably think from this burst of posts that I’m a lot closer to the 20 book goal than I am. I am about here, as a matter of sad, sad fact. Four books done. Why yes, it is August. The odds of me finishing 16 books this month are astronomical. But I’ll do what I can. There is at least the reverse readathon tomorrow.

So, book four was The Golden Box by Frances Crane, second in the Pat and Jean Abbott series which I’m reading somewhat out of order. Jean is still Jean Holly and she and her cat Toby are visiting her sick aunt in her home town in Illinois which she hasn’t been in since she left 8 years ago when her parents died. She barely arrives when the horrible old rich woman who runs the town dies under mysterious circumstances followed quickly by the apparent suicide of a young maid. Jean’s boyfriend Patrick Abbott arrives for a flying visit on his way to Washington – America is just about to get into World War II – but gets involved with the mystery. In both this one and the third one, they are not married yet, not even engaged in this one and Jean is a bit young and somewhat annoying about Patrick. I’m supposed to believe she isn’t sure of him, but it’s a little hard to believe that. She gets mad at him over stupid things. Another thing that’s a bit tough in these is while not a lot of racism, they just can’t help it. Some peoples’ attitudes in 1941 were, well, racist. Still are today, of course, but it’s a hazard of reading old books.

The young maid who probably didn’t hang herself was African American and may have been killed to stop her from talking about the death of her employer, the scroogey rich old lady. She was one of the first to see the body and spoke of a golden box in the dead woman’s hand. A box which has disappeared. It is an entertaining story with a creepy bird watcher, the dead woman’s three daughters each with their own personality, and the mysterious Annie who was a sort of governess to the girls and stayed on afterward. Annie was an orphan who has no second name and may or may not be keeping one of the daughters in a drugged stupor.

I enjoy these books, I like Pat and sometimes I like Jean. I enjoy these mysteries although I think the mysterious title box in this one is kind of lame, the story is interesting and entertaining and I look forward to reading more Abbott mysteries.

20 Books of summer – book 3

Undecided which book to read next I got a random number of the internet which led me to The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. You would never know from this blog that I’m a Neal Stephenson fan. Going back to Snow Crash which was a bit outside my usual sort of read, but it was really good, so I found and read more of him. Now and then he writes with someone else. D.O.D.O. is one of these. He wrote it with a woman named Nicole Galland. I’ve never read anything else by her. But I wasn’t wowed by DODO, so I doubt I will. Not sure who to blame for the okayness. It starts off pretty well, with a young polyglot meeting a military guy and signing on for some project she knows nothing about mainly because it gets her away from her icky boss and this guy is pretty cute. At first she’s just translating old documents that reveal that magic used to exist and that a few centuries prior it became rarer and rarer until it stopped altogether at the moment someone took a photograph of an eclipse in 1853 (or something like that.)

And I’m not really buying this, but all right, go on. They figure out there might be a way to create a small environment in which magic could work. A sort of small clean room in which one witch could work some magic. Only they need a witch. Apparently it’s hereditary so they think maybe they can find the great great granddaughter of a witch when one turns up. She has been waiting for them for 150 years or so having slowed her aging. She is very cranky from having waited so long, which you would be. They’ve also fortunately found a professor who had been working on this special space in which magic can be done. God knows why he was working on this. I can’t remember why, but he’s very excited to be able to work on it again. All of these nice people are blithely working on this project for the good of their country with a rather naive seeming belief that whatever they’re doing is good. Okay, say that it is. They’ve decided to time travel. The witch can send a person back in time. As to what else the witch could do, no one ever seems bothered to find out. They decide to go back and violate what is it — the first commandment? Don’t fuck around with history.

As I write about it, I’m a lot more unsatisfied with the whole thing than I realized. It’s entertaining in parts. It has some good characters. If you had told me there was a Neal Stephenson book partly set in Shakespearean times, I would have thought ‘yeah, baby!’, but I would have been wrong. Our narrator at that point is Grainne, an Irish lady of the evening who is really a witch working for Grace O’Malley, a real figure of history barely touched on, merely the recipient of Grainne’s letters filling in gaps in plot for us in a most annoying style.

Oh, I’ve griped enough. It’s super long and I could gripe a lot more. I’m probably taking it too seriously. After all, their rivals in this business are a banking family named Fugger, pronounced Fucker in Germany where they are from. Hilarious.

Sorry I’m so crabby. Lower your expectations and you’ll probably enjoy it and wonder what the heck I’m on about.

20 Books of 2020 – Book 2

Okay, it’s been a sad long while since I last wrote, but at least I didn’t just finish book 2. I finished it some time in June, but haven’t gotten around to writing about it which I don’t really have an explanation for. The second book was A Hoarse, Half-Human Cheer by X.J. Kennedy. I’ve been meaning to read it for years. Usually a poet, he’s also written books for children both poetry and prose, but this is his only novel for adults. I wasn’t too sure I would like it as the blurb compares it to Elmore Leonard and Janet Evanovich who I’m sure are good writers, but just not my kind of thing. However, I enjoyed it. The main character Moon, is a young man in New Jersey just after World War II. He’s 17 so he didn’t fight in the war, so he’s one of the few people to go to St. Cassian of Imola who hasn’t. The previously very small Catholic college has almost overnight become huge, packed with thousands of vets getting an education on the G.I. Bill. The administration is also packed with people who are corruptly dealing in war surplus or turning a blind eye to it. Moon makes friends with the guys in his tent – there was no time to build dorms; Father Knox, the basketball coach; and his gorgeous and very available biology professor, Aisling Vastasi. The school was so desperate for professors they even hired a woman. Vastasi is not her real name. She is pretending to be married to a mobster named Vastasi, though she feels no great loyalty to him.

I really enjoyed this book. Good characters and an interesting situation – a tiny college trying to become a large university instantly, the mob and some other shady characters causing trouble. There’s some violence, but not too much. Definitely more comic than tragic, I wish it weren’t his only novel.