2016 In Review

The Distraction (1888)
Jehan Georges Vibert
source Wikiart

2016 Reading Stats:

Number Of Books You Read: 46


Number of Re-Reads: 12 


Genre You Read The Most From: Classics


Best in Books


Best book you read in 2016: Jane Eyre.  A personal favourite.

Book you were excited about & thought you were going to love more but didn’tVillette by Charlotte Brontë.  I could not believe that this was the same author who had written Jane Eyre.  The caustic, critical demeanor of the main character was surprising, but perhaps echoed Brontë’s outlook on life at the time.  Jane Eyre had an innocence to it, yet in Villette, that innocence was stripped away.  It was rather unsettling.

Most surprising (in a good or bad way) book you read in 2015: In a good way, The Home and the World by Rabindranath Tagore.  I read it for Mockingbirds, Looking Glasses and Prejudices read-along and was so impressed with Tagore’s writing and his insight into human nature.  The story was incredibly thought-provoking and effective.  I will definitely read more of his works.  Thanks for introducing me to this wonderful author, Cirtnecce!

Book you “pushed” the most people to read (and they did) in 2016:   The book I hope I pushed some people to read was The Death of Ivan Ilyich.  The message behind it is so powerful and redeeming.  In spite of the theme, truly an inspiring work!

Best series you started in 2016? Best Sequel? Best Series Ender:  I read The Lord of the Rings trilogy with Cirtnecce (did she ever finish?) and thoroughly enjoyed it.  If I had another 8 reading hours in the day, I’d read it every year but since I don’t, once every 5 years or so will have to do.  My favourite book of the three would probably be The Two Towers, followed by The Return of the King.  While I enjoy The Fellowship of the Ring, it tries my patience with the seemingly endless wandering through the forest.

Favorite new author you discovered in 2016:  I can’t believe that I’m going to say this ……. Ovid Some of the content and perceived embellishment in his poetry and stories annoyed me, yet on the other hand, they were very enjoyable and quite fascinating.  I still don’t think that I’d like him as a person, but as a poet, I must admit that he draws you in!

Best book from a genre you don’t typically read/ out of your comfort zone:  The Well at the World’s End.  At the time of its printing, I don’t believe it fit into any genre, being called a precursor of the fantasy novel.  It was indeed a curious story but quite uniquely compelling.  I need to read more by Morris.

Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year: The Moonstone.  Perhaps it was because I read it on vacation and had the time to just sink into it.  I’d read The Woman in White before, and enjoyed it but The Moonstone passed my highest expectations for Collins.  If I ever come across another book like this one, I’ll be a happy reader.  One of the best for 2016!

Book you read in 2016 that you are most likley to reread next year: If I could, I would read To Kill a Mockingbird every year.  

Favorite cover of a book you read in 2016: Oh well, my covers were rather boring this year.  Let me see …… The Well at the World’s End has kind of a funky retro book cover.




Most memorable characters of 2016:  Jane Eyre (Jane Eyre), Jesus (The Man Born to Be King), Thomas Merton (The Seven Storey Mountain), Aslan (The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe) Ivan Ilyich (The Death of Ivan Ilyich), Scout (To Kill A Mockingbird)

Most beautifully written book read in 2016:  Yikes, I can’t say that I truly read a beautifully written book this year.  I was fascinated with the depth of To Kill A Mockingbird; I was enthralled by the unusual style of The Well at the World’s End, and I was impressed with the depth of research and the insightful plot development of The Man Born To Be King.  Sorry, that’s all I’ve got!

Most-thought provoking/ life-changing book of 2016: The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy.  A masterful novella that gives a big picture of life and then distils it down to the meaningful aspects of it.  It makes the reader look at the obvious, the obvious that none of us sees or acknowledges, and prods us to make a change before it’s too late.  Strangely, it reminded me of A Christmas Carol.  The Brothers Karamazov would have fallen into this category, if I had understood even half of it.  Perhaps it will happen with my 10th reading! 🙂

Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2016 to finally read: Metamorphoses


Favorite passage/quote from a book you read in 2016: Ah, so many to choose, from Dostoyevsky to Harper Lee.  However, once again, I’m going with a Thomas Merton quote as I did in 2014.: “…… All men who live only according to their five senses, and seek nothing beyond the gratification of their natural appetites for pleasure and reputation and power, cut themselves off from that charity which is the principle of all spiritual vitality and happiness because it alone saves us from the barren wilderness of our own abominable selfishness.”  ~~ Thomas Merton

Shortest/longest book you read in 2016: Gratitude by Oliver Sacks (64 pgs.) & The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1,013 pgs.) 

Book that shocked you the most: The Autobiography of Malcolm X.  It is astounding and more than a little unsettling that he grew to rule a nation. His delusional hatred of Jews and non-Arians was not cloaked at all.  It made me realize that if it could happen once, it could happened again.

OTP of the year: Oh, this year the couple is easy to choose!!!  Jane and Rochester from Jane Eyre!

Favorite non-romantic relationship: Scout and Atticus from To Kill A Mockingbird.

Favorite book you read in 2016 from an author you’ve read previously:  The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky

Best book you read in 2016 that you read based solely on a recommendation from someone else: The Mountain of Silence: A Search for Orthodox Spirituality by Kyriacos Markides.  Full of wonderful life lessons for a deeper faith.

Best world-building/most vivid setting you read this year: Hmmm ….. I can’t believe that I’m saying this, but the winner is Far from the Madding Crowd.  As much as I disliked his characters, his descriptions of Wessex made you a part of it.  Wonderful!

Book that put a smile on your face/was the most fun to read: Metamorphoses by Ovid.  His tales were shocking at times but very engaging.  I wouldn’t say it put a smile on my face, but it was fun!

Book that made you cry or nearly cry in 2016: The Man Born To Be King by Dorothy Sayers, but also was uplifting.  A spiritual paradox and she conveyed it beautifully.

Hidden gem of the year:  The Home and the World by Radbindranath Tagore.  A million thanks to Cirtnecce for hosting this read-along.  She’s exposed me, not only to a wonderful writer of whose works I’ll read more, but also gave me an extensive lesson on Indian history.  Thanks dearest friend!  

Most unique book you read in 2016: The Well at the World’s End by William Morris.  It was sort of an odd read, really, kind of like reading Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, a Howard Pyle book, and Le Morte d’Arthur rolled into one.  It’s rather unexplainable, so it’s best to just read it!

Book that made you the most mad: Victory Over Verbal Abuse by Patricia Evans.  One of those random books that I sometimes read to discover what new philosophies abound.  I was rather shocked by this one.  Of course, I know verbal abuse exists and the damage it does to relationships and there should be some sort of therapy to deal with it and support for the victim.  But if someone doesn’t answer your questions, you’re abused?  If someone doesn’t talk to you, you’re abused?  There was even an example in the book where I couldn’t even tell which person was the abuser as which the abused.  It made me angry because I felt by including such minor treatment under the umbrella of abuse, it decreased the impact of the problem of true verbal abuse.  

Your Blogging/Bookish Life


New favorite book blog you discovered in 2016:  He’s not new, but I don’t think I’ve listed his blog before and he has some wonderfully insightful commentary:  Books on Trial.  If I could express my thoughts as concisely and effectively has he does, I’d be happy ….

Favorite review that you wrote in 2016: Ecce Homo by Friedrich Nietzsche because I became very satirical and somewhat silly when I wrote it.


Best discussion/non-review post you had on your blog: The Autobiography of Malcolm X.  In spite of its disturbing content, it certainly stimulated conversation.

Best event that you participated in: Both The Home and the World Read-Along and the Jane Eyre Read-Along.  I will even give an honourable mention to The Faerie Queene Read-Along which I believe O is the only one finished, as the rest of us keep going and going and going and going ……

Best moment of bookish/blogging life in 2016:  Finishing my The Well-Educated Mind biographies and completing my reading of Aeschylus’ dramas (except for Prometheus Bound which is suspected to be the work of his grandson) And again, having lots of reading fun with my blogging buddies!

Most popular post this year on your blog: My Hamlet, the Prince or the Poem? an essay by C.S. Lewis has gone crazy with hits, being the leader with 565 views. Second is Ecce Homo by Friedrich Nietzsche with 548 views. 

Post you wished got a little more love:  None really.

Best bookish discovery:  Sadly, I didn’t buy nearly as many books as I normally purchase during the year.  I found two editions of The Man Born to Be King, both hardcovers, one dated 1946 and the other dated 1969.

Did you complete any reading challenges or goals that you had set for yourself at the beginning of this year: Nooooo!! I completed Reading England 2016, Ancient Greek Classics Challenge, and Books in Translation Challenge, as well as finishing up my Well-Educated Mind Biographies Project that I began two years ago.  I failed to complete the Back to the Classics Challenge, 52 Books in 52 Weeks, Deal Me In Challenge, and the 2016 Bardathon Challenge.  As for my on-going challenges, I read no new C.S. Lewis books, Framely Parsonage for my Barsetshire Chronicles read, read a Shakespeare play and poem for my Shakespeare Challenge, no books for my Non-Fiction Adventure Book List  and added a How To Think About the Great Ideas Project. Enough said!

Looking Ahead


One book you didn’t get to in 2016 but will be your number 1 priority in 2017: A Small House at Allington by Anthony Trollope.  Good grief, this is ridiculous!  I really love Trollope when I read him, but for some reason it’s been difficult to pick up his books and start.

Book you are most anticipating for 2017 (non-debut): The Histories by Herodotus, and Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Series ending/a sequel you are most anticipating in 2017: The Last Chronicles of Barset by Anthony Trollope.  No, you’re not seeing triple from last year or the year before.  Will I ever finish this series?  Stay tuned.  I also have The Gormenghast trilogy on the slate for 2017 — that is if I don’t get distracted.  It’s been known to happen …. 😉

One thing you hope to accomplish or do in your reading/blogging life in 2017:  To attempt to read fewer books at a time and therefore have more systematic reviews.  No one else, I’m sure, notices my madness, but I do.  A post at a time would be much more sane!

Wishing everyone happy reading days and lots of them in 2017!!

A River Meander (1899)
Thomas J. Yarwood
source ArtUK

This survey is brought to you by Jamie at The Perpetual Page Turner!

Top Ten Books of 2016

Todd’s Warehouse, Stonegate, York
Henry Cave
source ArtUK

The last Top Ten Tuesday of the year from The Broke and the Bookish asks us to name our top ten favourite reads for 2016.  Of course, I thought I’d participated in this end-of-year meme every year but when I looked back, I could only find a post for my Top Books From The Last Three Years.  Sigh!  I guess it’s better late than never to start!

Reading A Book
James Tissot
source Wikiart

Sadly, I did not meet my reading goal of 60 books this year, reading only 45.  However, there is a silver lining in the cloud; I read more pages than last year and I have a number of HUGE books that I’m still working on (think, The Faerie Queene, Don Quixote, The Gulag Archipelago, etc.) so no, I’m not weeping tears of regret.

So without further ado, here is my top ten list for 2016, set up as Brona did, to build the suspense.

10.
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien

I think I’ve read this trilogy about 8 times.  I just love it!

or
The Man Born to Be King by Dorothy Sayers

I had to include this play and what better place than with Tolkien, Sayers friend and contemporary.  Her impeccable research into the life and times of Jesus, along with her detailed direction for this play was amazing.  An excellent read!

9.

While not technically a book, but a lecture, C.S. Lewis brings to light some unique ideas and questions with regard to a play that has been studied to death.  It’s also the top viewed post on my blog, quite a feat considering I only read it this year.
8.
The Home and the World by Rabindranath Tagore

Thanks to Cirtnecce for introducing me to Indian history and this most wonderful writer during her read-along.  I will definitely search out more of Tagore’s works.

7.
The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton

I’ve read this biography now twice and loved it equally each time.  I’m continually blown away by Merton’s insight into life and the human condition.  Yes, I’ll read it again!
6.
The Oresteia by Aeschylus

Adultery, murder, betrayal, power, oppression, escape, judgement …..  What more could one ask for in a book?  The Oresteia delivers it all, yet with many lessons that are as applicable today as then.  Aeschylus is one of my new favourites.
5.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Ah, I just love this book!  Read for Hamlette’s read-along my enjoyment of it was stretched out over months and I enjoyed reading it so much as this measured pace.  My fifth read of it and just as good as my first!

4.

I don’t know why the brilliancy of Tolstoy amazes me.  I didn’t expect much of this short novella, but Tolstoy managed to capture the last days of Ivan with such poignancy …. his thoughts, dreams and regrets.  The message was universal with many insightful ideas to ponder, as well as touching the heart.  Tolstoy is a genius!
3.
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

I hadn’t read this novel for decades and with this re-read I wondered how I could have been so short-sighted.  I absolutely loved it.  My wish is to read it every year.  Lee captured her characters, life experiences and the effects on their development so brilliantly.  I don’t think I could ever read Go Set A Watchman after this.

2.
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Wow, I struggled while reading this book.  I felt like I was swimming in a maze of ideas and philosophies that were quite over my head.  Luckily I just kept reading.  It was only when I finished that everything started to come together and I could appreciate what a masterpiece this book is.  I know that I still haven’t grasped even half of what’s there, and I can’t wait to read it again …… and again, and again, and ……

1.

I almost gave The Brothers Karamazov number one position but surpisingly, even to me, I chose to give it to Ovid.  While Metamorphoses was shocking and at times gross, the effort and aptitude of Ovid’s work couldn’t be ignored.  His stories stick with you and somehow get into your soul.  Bravo, Ovid.  I wouldn’t want to know you, but your poetry is sublime!

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

“There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.”

An orphan child badly treated by rich relatives.  A grim and lonely school for girls where pestilence hangs in the air.  A Gothic mansion that houses a she-demon and a brooding and sardonic man who, underneath his caustic demeanor, hides a heart that waits to be awakened.  Who could resist such a story?

Well, not I, that’s for sure, and I jumped right into Hamlette’s Jane Eyre read-along that began in June 2016.  It was probably my fifth read of this enduring story, and this time it particularly captured my imagination and heart.  A tale of enduring love and a crossing of the class boundaries was particularly compelling in a time when no one seems to be getting along and division is rife between those would could easily be friends given more tolerance and grace for each other.

Richmond, Yorkshire
Edmund John Niemann
source ArtUK

My read along posts follow:

The Governess (1739)
Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin
source Wikiart

Chapters I & II
Chapters III & VI
Chapters V – VII
Chapters VIII – X
Chapters XI – XIII
Chapters XIV – XVI
Chapters XVII – XIX
Chapters XX – XXII
Chapters XXIII – XXV
Chapters XXVI – XXVIII
Chapters XXIX – XXXI
Chapters XXXII – XXXIV
Chapters XXXV – XXXVIII

We first meet Jane as an orphaned child, living on the charity of her relatives who heap upon her verbal abuse.  Finally, she is shipped off to a disreputable girls school, Lowood, and though the abuse continues from the head administrator, Mr. Brocklehurst, Jane forms a dear friendship with another girl, Helen, who teaches her quiet perseverance, mercy and forgiveness, while exemplifying a steadfast faith in God.  Upon reaching womanhood and taking a post as a governess at Thornfield, Jane encounters the master, a dark, taciturn, mysterious man, Edward Rochester.  Although her heart is awakened, Jane does not waver from her ideals, knowing with a certain wisdom that behaving with dignity and moral principles is the only way to inner peace and true happiness.

While the beginning of the book, chronicling Jane’s childhood, appears to have little to do with the later plot, it plays an important role in understanding the development of her character and her place in society.  As a reader, we are always reminded of her struggles to be treated with respect and dignity, to be treated as an equal, as a soul created by God instead of as a product of a social hierarchy.

“Do you think I am an automaton? — a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and drop of living water dashed from my cup?  Do you think because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless?  You think wrong!  — I have as much soul as you —- and full as much heart!  And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you.  I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh: it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet equal — as we are!”

My most treasured memories of Jane Eyre is Brontë’s amazing ability to make the characters so intrinsically human, instead of perfect, implausible characters.  While Rochester’s machinations can be rather shocking, you can understand how a man who has had little chance to develop a good steady character and is used to giving free reign to his passions could end up a slave to them.  His emotions drive him without finer moral values to guide him.  Jane, on the other hand, while falling deeply in love with the man she sees he can become, can clearly recognize the pitfalls of ungoverned behaviour. While her heart cries out for him, she is mature and sensible enough to see where wrong actions would take them.  Instead of increasing their love, they would be left with nothing but emptiness.  She would rather remember the depths of the love that they shared in its purest form than degrade herself by being guided solely by passion.

Once again, thanks to Hamlette for this most excellent and measured read-along that allowed me to soak up the story and to spend time with two of my most favourite characters in the pages of literature!

Deal-Me-In Challenge 2017

Woo hoo!  Jay at Bibliophilopolis has launched the 7th annual Deal Me In Challenge for 2017 and I’m can hardly contain myself!  It is one of my favourite challenges of the year. Why, you say, when I barely seem to be able to complete 25% of it? Well, it “encourages” me to read works that I otherwise would never get to, so even if I complete 10 off the list, I’m happy.

Holding the Cards (1876)
Mary Cassatt
source Wikiart

Of course, I change the challenge up to include short stories and essays, poetry and children’s classics to give me a smorgasbord of choices.

Last year, I compiled a new list with only a few of the works I didn’t complete in the previous year, but this year I’ll be boring and simply keep my old unfinished list, adding new titles in the open spaces.

Clubs – Short Stories
A –  Cabbages and Kings – O’Henry
2 –  Excellent People – Anton Chekhov
3 –  The Queen of Spades – Alexander Pushkin
4 –  Le Horla – Guy de Maupassant
5 –  The Tell-Tale Heart – Edgar Allan Poe
6 –  The Life You Save Might Be Your Own- Flannery O’Connor
7 –  The Honest Thief – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
8 –  A Little Woman – Franz Kafka
9 –  A Haunted House – Virginia Woolf
10 – The Birds – Anton Chekhov
J –  The Yellow Wallpaper – Charlotte Gilman
Q –  Love – Leo Tolstoy 
K –  Signs and Symbols – Vladimir Nabakov
Spades – Essays
A – Milton – Charles Williams
2 – Doodles in the Dictionary – Aldous Huxley
3 – A Midsummer Night’s Dream – G.K. Chesterton
4 – On A Faithful Friend – Virginia Woolf
5 – A Note on Jane Austen – C.S. Lewis
6 –  In Defence of Literacy – Wendell Berry
7 –  The Tyranny of Bad Journalism – G.K. Chesterton
8 – Politics and the English Language – George Orwell
9 –  An Apology for Idlers – Robert Louis Stevenson
10 – Sense – C.S. Lewis
J – Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community – Wendell Berry
Q – What I Demand of Life – Frank Swinnerton
K – Vulgarity – G.K. Chesterton
Diamonds – Poetry
A – A Sea Dirge – Lewis Carroll
2 –  Gesang Der Geister Über Den Wassern – Johann Wolfgang
               von Goethe
3 – Nothing But Death – Pablo Neruda (from Poetry Soup)
4 – Sonnett XXIII – Garcilaso de la Vega
5 – Love Sonnet XIII – Pablo Neruda
6 – Resolution and Independence – William Wordsworth
7 – Ode III – Fray Luis de León
8 – Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night – Dylan Thomas
9 – To A Mouse – Robert Burns
10 – Tears, Idle Tears – Alfred LordTennyson
J –  Easter Wings – George Hebert
Q – On His Blindness – John Milton
K – Phoenix and the Turtle – William Shakespeare
Hearts – Children’s Classic
A – A Triumph for Flavius – Caroline Dale Snedeker
2 – Three Greek Children – Alfred Church
3 –  The Story of the Treasure Seekers – E. Nesbit
4 – Detectives in Togas – Henry Winterfeld
5 – Finn Family Moomintroll – Tove Jansson
6 – The Tanglewood’s Secret – Patricia St. John
7 – The Wolves of Willoughy Chase – Joan Aiken
8 – Red Sails to Capri – Ann Weil
9 – Sprig of Broom – Barbara Willard
10 – Teddy’s Button – Amy LeFeuvre
J –  Call It Courage – Armstrong Sperry
Q – Just David – Eleanor H. Porter
K – Beyond the Desert Gate – Mary Ray 


A Young Man and a Girl Playing Cards
Rembrandt
source Wikiart

Can I make a confession?  The problem I have is that when I draw a card during the year, sometimes I can’t find the book that contains the short story, poem, or essay. Does anyone else have this problem, or it is just me?  Perhaps a more practical resolution is needed for the new year: to be more organized.

In any case, I’m excited to start this challenge and thanks to Jay for hosting again.  This year I’ll try to do better ….. really I will!

Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

“When Farmer Oak smiled, the corners of his mouth spread till they were within an unimportant distance of his ears, his eyes were reduced to chinks, and diverging wrinkles appeared round them, extending upon his countenance like the rays in a rudimentary sketch of the rising sun.”

Would you like to read a book with the setting in southern rural England, populated by stoic farmers, simple and often comical peasants, one that explores complex relationships between men and women of that time?  It sounds like a wonderful beginning doesn’t it?

Set in the fictional English county of Wessex, Gabriel Oak is a respectable and reliable farmer who loves the unreachable Bathsheba Everdene, a woman who disparages his hard-working, yet common lifestyle and refuses his proposal of marriage.  When Oak finds himself ruined financially, he must depend upon Bathsheba to give him work and a way to reclaim his reputation.  A thoughtless whim on the part of Bathsheba leads to an obsession in the case of Mr. Boldwood, a neighbouring landowner, and Sergent Troy, a jaunty philanderer, seduces Bathsheba’s servant, Fanny, without much remorse, then deliberately bewitches Bathsheba with his rakish manner and manipulative personality, not to mention his unparalleled swordsmanship.  After a fling in the town of Bath, they marry and he sets himself up at the farm as a rather lazy landowner, but lo!, Fanny Robin returns and Troy decides that he has never loved anyone as much as Fanny, and Bathsheba is as interesting as dirt to him.  His heart is loyal, his mind is captivated by only one and no other.  Tragedy devastates Troy causing him to wander senselessly until it is thought that he is drown in the sea.  But no!, another dramatic twist; he returns, wonders why he ever left Bathsheba and appears to want to re-enter her life.  Sound rather nutty?  It is.

A Mill at Gillingham in Dorset (1826)
John Constable
source Wikiart

Yet amongst the dramatic scenes and the emotional mood swings of the characters, Hardy manages to convey a bold impression of the area and a deep understanding of the characters.  And I can’t quite figure out how he does it.  If I examine the characters and their actions individually, I have all sorts of criticisms about their development and plausibility.  However, if I take the book as a whole, I feel that I have inhabited the county of Wessex with a familiarity that is startling; I recognize the types of characters who reside there, their passions and motivations.  Instead of painting a classical picture with bold lines, bright colour, and detail, Hardy has given us an impressionist canvas perhaps from which up close, is muddy and obscure, yet when one steps back, the big picture comes into focus.

Sheep
Charles Jones
source ArtUK

As for the strong and spirited Bathsheba, while on the surface Hardy appears to elevate her to function adeptly in a man’s world, nevertheless there is an underlying feeling of mockery in his treatment of her.  Although she runs a farm with men subservient to her direction, she is often needing the advice of the stoic, yet devoted, Gabriel Oak, and in the end, her feelings and passions are captured by Troy, a man who, to any astute and respectable woman, should be recognized as a charlatan and a gambler.  Instead of showing good sense and integrity, Bathsheba allows herself to be enslaved by him.

I’ve been a die-hard Hardy-avoider for years, not wanting to partake in the depressed nature of his stories, but I’m glad I’ve chosen to dip my toes into his narrative, exploring his richly created world.  A close inspection of the characters and the period drama shows an imbalance within the work, but nevertheless his prose shines with rich descriptions and elaborate detail.  Hardy shows man in his paradoxical state, both in harmony and conflict with nature, and in sympathy and enmity with each other and himself.

Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife
Their sober wishes never learn’d to stray;
Along the cool sequester’d vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.

From Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard (1751)

2016 Challenge Wrap-Up

Medusa (1597)
Caravaggio
source Wikiart

Yes, the look on Medusa’s face pretty much sums up how I feel about my challenges for 2016.  I was not as focused as I usually am, I didn’t read as many books as I wanted to read, and so, I don’t feel nearly as satisfied and accomplished as I’d hoped.  But honestly, I don’t actually know how I did because I’ve been afraid to assess my progress lately, so let’s take a look:

  1. A 19th century classic:  The Death of Ivan Ilyich
  2. A 20th century classic:  Nightingale Wood
  3. A classic by a woman author:  The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas
  4. A classic in translation:  The Brothers Karamazov
  5. A classic by a non-white author:  Autobiography of Malcolm X
  6. An adventure classic:  The Persians
  7. A fantasy, science ficiton, or dystopian classic:  The Time Machine
  8. A classic detective novel:  The Moonstone
  9. A classic which includes the name of a place in the title:  Villette
  10. A classic which as been banned or censored:  Metamorphoses
  11. Re-read a classic you read in school:  To Kill A Mockingbird
  12. A volume of classic short stories:

Completed: 11 books & 10 reviews out of 12


Reading England 2016:

London
Wessex
  • Far From the Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy

Yorkshire

Fictional Barsetshire

  • Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope


Northern England

  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë


Rural England



Completed:  9 Books; 6 counties – Level 3


Aeschylus
Aristophanes

Completed:  7 texts – Level 3

  1. A Lover’s Complaint
  2. Henry V

Completed:  1 poem and 1 play (terrible!  I reached no level!)

German/French/Other?
Completed:  11 books – Linguist (top level – yay!)

Clubs – Short Stories

2 – The Runaway – Anton Chekhov

Spades – Essays
5 – Shooting An Elephant – George Orwell
6 – Hamlet : The Prince or the Poem – C.S. Lewis
8 – The World of Tomorrow – E.B. White
9 – Out of Your Car, Off Your Horse – Wendell Berry
Q – Different Tastes in Literature – C.S. Lewis


Diamonds – Poetry

A – A Man’s A Man For A’ That – Robert Burns
3  – Le Voile du Matin – Victor Hugo
5  – A Lover’s Complaint – William Shakespeare

Hearts – Children’s Classic Novels

5 – Big John’s Secret – Eleanore Jewett

Completed:  10 of 52 items (not good, but again, I read writings that I otherwise wouldn’t have, so in a way, it’s a small success)




Completed:  47 out of 52 books

On another note, as I complete my read of The Gulag Archipelago, my The Well-Educated Mind Biography Project that I began in May 2014 will be finished.  It was a fun, and at times challenging, project and as much as I enjoyed it, I’m excited to be starting The Well-Educated Mind History Project on January 1, 2017.  Finally, something about which to feel accomplished!

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Russian Literature Challenge 2017

Keely at We Went Outside and Saw The Stars is hosting a Russian Literature Challenge for 2017 about which I’m very excited!  In the past couple of years, I’ve continued reading Tolstoy, have begun to delve into Dostoyevsky, have explored some of Chekhov’s works, and have aspirations to read more Pushkin. What better way to accomplish my plans than the Russian Literature Challenge?

Here are the levels to aim for:

  • Level One (Tolstoy): 1-3 books 
  • Level Two (Chekov): 4-6 books 
  • Level Three (Dostoevsky): 7-11 books
  • Level Four (Turgenev): 12+ books

You can count short stories, poetry, novels, novellas and plays in your book count.

As for my planned reads?  Ugh, I don’t really like plans because for me they always change, but I’ll list a few possibilities I might chose:

  1. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky and a short story or two (my annoyance with D is turning into fascination)
  2. The Kreutzer Sonata by Leo Tolstoy & a short story or two
  3. Anna Akhmatova (poetry)
  4. The Diary of A Superfluous Man by Ivan Turgenev
  5. The Queen of Spades by Alexander Pushkin and others
  6. A Hero of Our Time by Mikhail Lermontov
  7. Dead Souls by Nikolia Gogol
  8. Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov
  9. Chekhov’s works
  10. Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
  11. Heart of A Dog by Mikhail Bulgakov
  12. something by Vladimir Nabokov
  13. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch by Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn
  14. The Gulag Archipelago by Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn
  15. We by Yevgeny Zamyatin

Before I start, I’d also love to read Lectures on Russian Literature by Vladimir Nabokov.

I’m having many wishful thoughts, I know.  For someone who was complaining about not having enough challenges for 2017, my slate seems to be filling up rapidly.  I just hope I can keep up!

Back to the Classics Challenge 2017

One challenge I participate in every year is the Back to the Classics Challenge hosted by Karen at Books and Chocolate.  I’m under the mistaken impression that because I read mainly classics, that this challenge will be easy to complete.  Ha!  My 2016 challenge is still lacking three books and one extra review.  I’ll have to go back through my reads and do some fill-ins.  Whether I achieve successful completion is anyone’s guess.

The 2017 challenge has familiar categorizes and those which have been changed up. Here are the guidelines and rules:

The challenge will be exactly the same as last year, 12 classic books, but with slightly different categories. You do not have to read 12 books to participate in this.

  • Complete six categories, and you get one entry in the drawing
  • Complete nine categories, and you get two entries in the drawing
  • Complete all twelve categories, and you get three entries in the drawing

And here are the categories for the 2016 Back to the Classics Challenge:

1.  A 19th Century Classic – any book published between 1800 and 1899.


2.  A 20th Century Classic – any book published between 1900 and 1967. Just like last year, all books MUST have been published at least 50 years ago to qualify. The only exception is books written at least 50 years ago, but published later, such as posthumous publications.


3.  A classic by a woman author


4.  A classic in translation.  Any book originally written published in a language other than your native language. Feel free to read the book in your language or the original language. (You can also read books in translation for any of the other categories).


5.  A classic published before 1800. Plays and epic poems are acceptable in this category also.


6.  
An romance classic. I’m pretty flexible here about the definition of romance. It can have a happy ending or a sad ending, as long as there is a strong romantic element to the plot.


7.  A Gothic or horror classic. For a good definition of what makes a book Gothic, and an excellent list of possible reads, please see this list on Goodreads

8.  A classic with a number in the title. Examples include A Tale of Two CitiesThree Men in a Boat, Slaughterhouse Five, Fahrenheit 451, etc.


9.  A classic about an animal or which includes the name of an animal in the title.  It an actual animal or a metaphor, or just the name. Examples include To Kill a Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men, The Metamorphosis, White Fang, etc. 


10. A classic set in a place you’d like to visit. It can be real or imaginary: The Wizard of Oz, Down and Out in Paris and London, Death on the Nile, etc.

11. An award-winning classic. It could be the Newbery award, the Prix Goncourt, the Pulitzer Prize, the James Tait Award, etc. Any award, just mention in your blog post what award your choice received.


12. A Russian Classic2017 will be the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, so read a classic by any Russian author. 

And now, the rest of the rules:

  • All books must be read in 2017. Books started before January 1, 2017 do not qualify. All reviews must be linked to this challenge by December 31, 2017. I’ll post links each category the first week of January which will be featured on a sidebar on this blog for the entire year. 
  • You must also post a wrap-up review and link it to the challenge no later than December 31, 2017. Please include links within your final wrap-up to that I can easily confirm all your categories. 
  • All books must have been written at least 50 years ago; therefore, books must have been written by 1967 to qualify for this challenge. The ONLY exceptions are books published posthumously.
  • E-books and audiobooks are eligible! You may also count books that you read for other challenges.
  • Books may NOT cross over within this challenge. You must read a different book for EACH category, or it doesn’t count.
  • Children’s classics are acceptable, but please, no more than 3 total for the challenge.
  • If you do not have a blog, you may link to reviews on Goodreads or any other publicly accessible online format. 
  • The deadline to sign up for the challenge is March 1, 2017. After that, I will close the link and you’ll have to wait until the next year! Please include a link to your original sign-up post, not your blog URL. 
  • You do NOT have to list all the books you’re going to read for the challenge in your sign-up post, but it’s more fun if you do! Of course, you can change your list any time. Books may also be read in any order. 
  • The winner will be announced on this blog the first week of January, 2018. All qualifying participants will receive one or more entries, depending on the number of categories completed. One winner will be selected at random for all qualifying entries. The winner will receive a gift certificate in the amount of $30 (US currency) from either Amazon.com OR $30 worth of books from The Book Depository. The winner MUST live in a country that will receive shipments from one or the other. For a list of countries that receive shipments from The Book Depository, click here

Possible choices could be:

  • The Histories
  • City of God
  • The Taming of the Shrew
  • Travels with a Donkey in Cevennes
  • Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
  • The Twelve Caesars
  • Shirley
  • The Mill on the Floss
  • O Pioneers!
  • The Merchant of Venice
  • A Small House at Allington
  • The Last Chronicle of Barset
  • 1984
  • Dr. Zhivago
  • One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
  • We
  • Crime and Punishment
  • Dead Souls

With a dearth of challenges that have been catching my eye for 2017, this one should get some particular focus.  Wish me luck and if you’d like to participate, pop over to Karen’s blog and join the fun!

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

“Alexey Fyodorovich Karamazov was the third son of Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov, a landowner of our district, who became notorious in his own day (and is still remembered among us) because of his tragic and mysterious death, which occurred exactly thirteen years ago and which I shall relate in its proper place.”

What a marvellously mysterious first sentence which brings all sorts of questions to mind.  Why was the Karamazov father only remembered because of his horrific death?  What else did he do in life?  Why has the narrator waited thirteen years to tell the story?  And why does it need to be told in its “proper place”?

The Brothers Karamazov centers around three brothers, Dmitry, Ivan and Alyosha, each of whom appear to represent different aspects of human beliefs: sensual materialism, rational nihilism and faith.  Within the framework of their relationships with their father, Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov a harsh and unyielding man, their characters are illuminated and these philosophies highlighted. In the case of Ivan Karamazov, his worldview has been formed through the legends and mystery plays of the Middle Ages, the Spanish Inquisition, and Christ’s return to earth and his temptations by Satan.  On the other hand, Dimitry Karamazov is wrapped in the atmosphere of the Hellenism of Schiller and the struggles of the Olympian gods with the dark forces that proceeded them.  Father Zosimas embodies the beliefs and rituals of the Eastern Church, and likewise Alyosha Karamazov his protégé, yet doubt creeps into Alyosha’s faith and is only overcome by his realization of earth being linked to heaven.

The author brings into relief the struggle of reconciling a just God with a fallen and depraved world.  With Ivan, we see a mutiny against a Christian ideology that allows free will to cause suffering, and with the speech of the Grand Inquisitor, even an indictment against Christ.  Father Zosima answers Ivan’s torment with his insistence on a faith in God being the only way to express an active love for humanity.  We see each character struggling to make a leap of faith in consequence of their actions, a putting aside of “self” for something greater, a struggle for each to interact with his conscience in spite of outside influences. 

Dostoyevsky’s notes for Chapter 5
of The Brothers Karamazov
source Wikipedia

With his sparse expository setting and minimal action, Dostoyevsky’s story unfolds mainly through his characters and their thoughts, their internal monologues often being more revealing than any physical action.  With great acumen, he examines the breakdown of a Russian family from a social-psychological level, which itself points to a breakdown of moral values of society as a whole and the consequences arising from this underlying issue.  Values within the construct of faith are what make a healthy society and without them, a sickness pervades, culminating in tragedy.

Reason is set against the intangible mystery of human behaviour and an inexorable conflict is evaluated as reason encounters Christian faith.  Dostoyevsky sets about illustrating the limitations of reason.  At the end of the novel, even though reason points to an inevitable conclusion, it does not allow the people in judgement to discover the truth, and its failure is effectively apparent.

Sketch of a Russian Village
Konstantin Alexseevich Korovin
source ArtUK

While the book is rife with questions about faith, strife, family disharmony and moral failings in a most human form, it also has echoes of positive aspects of life.  The monastery is a fortress of true faith and hope, and even the children in this story are able to overcome prejudices and act in a manner of love and reconciliation. Unlike some of his other novels, the author leaves us with a hope for humanity.

Dostoyevsky is a master of the psychological novel and I suspect that I still have not come close to penetrating the fascinating workings of his unique mind.  One finishes his novels, sits down to review them, and then wonders “where on earth do I start?”  The minute psychological details that embellish each character’s thoughts kept me in mental gymnastics from beginning to end.  His novels are not easy reads and the first read through it seems as if you only peal off a layer at a time, however the deeper that you slide into them, you find that they change you in a way that you never expected.

I’ve seen some reviews that express frustration with this book and Dostoyevsky’s treatment of the themes but I wonder if its presentation, to a certain extent, mirrors life with its disjointed narrative and its sometimes apparent dead ends which pick up later and lead to something revelatory.  The author presents mystery …. both the mystery of God and the mystery of human psychology —- and as 21st century intellectually influenced moderns, we simply have difficulty understanding this approach.  His works are certainly challenging, but as I sit with them and let Dostoyevsky’s narrative percolate within me, I know that I have much more to discover about, not only the novels but life itself.  I will, without a doubt, read this particular book again!

A View of the Solevyetski Monastery with its Founders
Saints. Zossim and Savatti
unknown artist
source ArtUK

Some favourite quotes:

We are responsible for everyone else in this world, apart from their sins.

” …. but first the period of human isolation will have to come to an end …….  the sort of isolation  that exists everywhere now, and especially in our age, but which hasn’t reached its final development …. For today everyone is still striving to keep his individuality as far apart as possible, everyone still wishes to experience the fullness of life in himself alone, and yet instead of achieving the fullness of life, all his efforts merely lead to the fullness of self-destruction, for instead of full self-realization they relapse into complete isolation.  For in our age all men are separated into self-contained units, everyone crawls into his own hole, and hides away everything he possesses, and ends up by keeping himself at a distance from people and keeping other people at a distance from him.  He accumulates riches by himself and thinks how strong he is now and how secure, and does not realize, madman that he is, that the more he accumulates the more deeply does he sink into self-destroying impotence.  For he is used to relying on himself alone and has separated himself as a self-contained unit from the whole.  He has trained his mind not to believe in the help of other people, in men and mankind, and is in constant fear of losing his money and the rights he has won for himself.  Everywhere today the mind of man has ceased, ironically, to understand that true security of the individual does not lie in isolated personal efforts but in general human solidarity …..  a man has to set an example at least once and draw his soul out of its isolation and work for some great act of human intercourse based on brotherly love, even if he is to be regarded as a saintly fool for his pains.  He has to do so that the great idea may not die ……”

I was quite surprised by the mysterious visitor’s revelation, as my thoughts had been percolating on the same ideas for a week or so before I read it.  Still in somewhat of a pensive, philosophical mood left over from my summer vacation, I wondered why we appear so engaged with people, when, if you truly gaze into people’s hearts, we are really very alone.  Why, when we think someone is suffering, do we feel sympathy for them and wish them well in our minds, yet walk away because we either do not have the time, or don’t honestly want to become involved in something that might require effort, or compassion, or sacrifice for someone other than ourselves?  We’re more connected with our work, or our possessions, or our own perceived needs than we are with people, blind to the personal connections and the deeper caring that will truly make us happy …. truly make us human.  It’s all very sad ….

“And what’s strange, what would be marvellous, is not that God should really exist; the marvel is that such an idea, the idea of the necessity of God, could enter the head of such a savage, vicious beast as man.” 


“Above all, don’t lie to yourself.  The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others.  And having no respect he ceases to love, and in order to occupy and distract himself without love he gives way to passions and coarse pleasures, and sinks to bestiality in his vices, all from continual lying to other men and to himself” 


“What is hell?  I maintain that it is the suffering of being unable to love.” 


“Be not forgetful of prayer.  Every time you pray, if your prayer is sincere, there will be new feeling and new meaning in it, which will give you fresh courage, and you will understand that prayer is an education.” 


“Life is paradise, and we are all in paradise, but we refuse to see it.” 


“Love is a teacher, but one must know how to acquire it, for it is difficult to acquire, it is dearly bought, by long work over a long time, for one ought to love not for a chance moment but for all time.  Anyone, even a wicked man, can love by chance.” 


“The awful thing is that beauty is mysterious as well as terrible.  God and the devil are fighting there and the battlefield is the heart of man.” 


“They have succeeded in accumulating a greater mass of objects, but the joy in the world has grown less.” 


“Love all God’s creation, both the whole and every grain of sand.  Love every leaf, every ray of light. Love the animals, love the plants, love each separate thing.  If thou love each thing, thou wilt perceive the mystery of God in all; and when once thou perceive this, thou wilt thenceforward grow every day to a fuller understanding of it; until thou come at last to love the whole world with a love that will then be all-embracing and universal.” 


“Love is such a priceless treasure that you can buy the whole world with it, and redeem not only your own but other people’s sins.  Go, and do not be afraid.”

Further Reading:
The Mantle of the Prophet, 1871-1881 by Joseph Frank

The Well-Educated Mind: Reading The Histories

Ruth at A Great Book Study is beginning to read through The Well-Educated Mind Histories beginning January 1, 2017 and I’m going to join her on the journey.  We read through the Biographies together (or almost. I still have The Gulag Archipelago to finish up) and while it took two and a half years, it seems just like yesterday that we began.

Now, I’m under no illusions; the histories are going to take longer, especially if one wants to really absorb them.  Here is the list:

  • The Histories by Herodotus
  • The Peloponnesian War by Thucydides
  • The Republic by Plato
  • Plutarch’s Lives
  • The City of God by St. Augustine
  • The Ecclesiastical History of the English People by Bede
  • The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli
  • Utopia by Sir Thomas More
  • The True End of Civil Government by John Locke
  • The History of England, Vol. V by David Hume
  • The Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau
  • Common Sense by Thomas Paine
  • The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon
  • A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft
  • Democracy in America by Alexis De Tocqueville
  • The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels
  • The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy by Jacob Burckhardt
  • The Souls of Black Folk by W.E. B. Du Bois
  • The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism by Max Weber
  • Queen Victoria by Lytton Strachey
  • The Road to Wigan Pier by George Orwell
  • The New England Mind by Perry Miller
  • The Great Crash 1929 by John Kenneth Galbraith
  • The Longest Day by Cornelius Ryan
  • The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan
  • Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made by Eugene D. Genovese
  • A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous Fourteenth Century by Barbara Tuchman
  • All the President’s Men by Bob Woodward & Carl Bernstein
  • Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era by James M. McPherson
  • A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
  • The End of History and the Last Man by Francis Fukuyama

Some of these I’m so excited to read, such as The Histories, The Republic, The Prince, The Social Contract, and A Distant Mirror; others leave me rather unmoved, for example, The True End of Civil Government (big yawn!), Common Sense and The Feminine Mystique.  I expect to have some surprise favourite and flops before the read is over.

There is also a Reading the Histories group on Goodreads where we’ll be able to discuss as we go.  So please join us if you feel so inclined and we can read the histories together.  You never know where they may take us!