Monday, May 22, 2017

10 Books I Have Read...or have I?

#10Books is a meme, I first saw at Brona's Books. In fact, if you hurry over there you still have a chance to get a guess in.

How well do you know my reading habits?

1.  Lost Horizon
2.  The Covenant
3.  The Hunt for Red October
4.  The Alchemist
5.  Inca Gold
6.  The Elegance of the Hedgehog
7.  Lassie Come Home
8.  Something Wicked This Way Comes
9. The Fall of the House of Usher
10. The Valachi Papers

Feel free to join in and leave a link to your list. I'll be sure to venture a guess.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Move the Stars to Pity - NOVA this week (May 20, 2017)

Observations from my weekly wanderings, usually in Northern Virginia (NOVA).

I seldom watch awards shows, but for reasons that I’ve long since forgotten, on 3 March 1993, I watched the First-Ever ESPY Awards; I will always be glad I did.

I was privileged to watch possibly the best speech I’ve ever heard. Jim Valvano was awarded the first ever Arthur Ashe Award for Courage. Valvano was the legendary basketball coach of the North Carolina State Wolfpack. He had retired from coaching three years earlier and was dying of cancer. He was helped to the stage by his good friend Dick Vitale, and then gave the following speech.

It’s eleven minutes; trust me, you’ll be glad you watched it.

Coach Valvano died less than two months later.

The reason for my reference to this speech – NOVA this week, Part II.

In my quest to read the greatest novels of all time – and blog about my experience, I’ve often struggled to find the correct word to describe a book. The urge is to say “I liked” or “disliked” it. These work in some instances, but not in others.

There are books filled with injustice, inhumanity, violence, despair, death, destruction, and the like, that I can’t really say I enjoyed.

And yet, I have given some of these 5 Stars.

What does that mean? if not that I liked it?

It means, I thought it was a great book.

And then you should ask, but what does THAT mean?

And to THAT – I have an answer. And THAT is why I began this post with Coach Valvano’s speech.

Coach V or Jimmy V as he was affectionately known, says that we should do three things every day: Laugh, Think, and Cry. Coach V asserts that if we do these three things, we will lead a full life.

I agree.

So I want a book to make me THINK or FEEL. A great book will make me do both.

A fellow book blogger recently pointed out the difference between book reviews and book journaling. I’d not made the distinction before, but I realized I am more interested in journaling than reviewing. My blog entries about the books I’ve read are a journal of what the author made me think and feel.

In my opinion, reviewing art is largely a futile effort to evaluate the skill of the artist. If not futile, it is undeniably never definitive. (Which is very close to the definition of futile.)

But when I journal my thoughts and feelings of a written work – it is quite definitive. Someone else may have very different thoughts and feelings about the same written work – and by the way – isn’t that grand! But my thoughts and feelings are indisputably my thoughts and feelings.

This is not to say, unchangeable. I love to hear from others who felt or thought the same. But I love to hear from those who felt or thought differently as well. They’ve altered my perception on more than one occasion.

I must note however the distinction between: I felt (or thought) differently, here’s why and No, no, no…you have it all wrong. Here’s what you failed to comprehend. Semantics? Since you asked…No.

In my day job, I’m an intelligence analyst and I do a lot of writing. It is imperative that my writing be as free from subjective interpretation as possible. This day job imperative runs contrary to my book journaling pastime and caused me some exasperation in the past. I want to classify things nicely and neatly, such as my book ratings:

5 Stars = LOVED IT!
4 ½ Stars = Loved it
4 Stars = Liked it a lot
3 ½ Stars = Liked it
3 Stars = Ambivalent
2 ½ Stars = Not a fan
2 Stars = Disliked it
1 ½ Stars = Hated it
1 Star = Hated it a lot

But this no longer works. Actually, I was never quite happy with it, but I hadn’t put my finger on precisely why. It isn’t about how much I liked a book. It’s about how powerful a book was intellectually or emotionally. I’m keeping the 5 Star rating, but scrapping the definitions. 5 Stars means simply the book is among the most intellectually and emotionally powerful books I’ve read. 4 ½ Stars is just slightly less so, and so on.

…the human word is like a cracked cauldron upon which we beat out melodies fit for making bears dance when we are trying to move the stars to pity. ~ Gustave Flaubert

Friday, May 19, 2017

A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle 

The proper study of mankind is man, you know. ~ Dr. Watson on his initial fascination with Sherlock Holmes

A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is the first appearance of the world’s most famous detective, Sherlock Holmes.

It is often called a novel, but I personally think it is more accurately described as a novella: 43,000 words, right in the middle of the 30-60 thousand word definition. It is definitely NOT a short story, which was the most common venue for the exploits of Sherlock Holmes.

It also introduces Holmes’ chronicler, companion, cohabitant, and colleague, Dr. Watson who has recently returned to England from Afghanistan where he was injured and medically retired from the Army. Dr. Watson finds London expensive on his pension, and therefore seeks a roommate. Fortunately for us all, he is introduced to Sherlock Holmes.

Watson is fascinated by Holmes – as a study of mankind, and their legendary partnership develops. Watson accompanies Holmes on the case in question:

The corpse of an American found in an abandoned house, with no wounds, valuables intact, and a look of apparent dying agony on the face. Fresh blood, apparently not that of the deceased’s, is also discovered at the scene along with the word "rache" written on the wall in blood. The police of course – are baffled.

The police being, Inspectors Gregson and Lestrade of Scotland Yard, who will be recurring characters in the Sherlock Holmes canon. Gregson and Lestrade are professional rivals in the police force, but either are willing to accept credit that the reader knows is due to Sherlock Holmes.

In short – A Study in Scarlet – is FUN, grim subject notwithstanding, which is precisely what I would expect.

I’m not an all-in fan of the Detective genre, but Sherlock Holmes is so much more than a detective series. The dynamic between Holmes and Watson is – well, I’ve already said it, fun: great fun! Similarly, Holmes relationship with Lestrade and Gregson is marvelous, and I have yet to experience the Sherlock and Mycroft familial banter, or the epic contest between Holmes and Moriarty.


The proper study of mankind is man, you know. ~ Dr. Watson on his initial fascination with Holmes

There is no satisfaction in vengeance unless the offender has time to realize who it is that strikes him, and why the retribution has come upon him. I had my plans arranged by which I should have the opportunity of making the man who had wronged me understand that his old sin had found him out. ~ the perpetrator in this case

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Top Ten Mothers from Literature - Top Ten Tuesday (May, 16, 2017)

Top Ten Favorite Mothers from Literature

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish

Unfortunately, I don’t have 10 favorite mothers from my classics list. So, this is actually 4 favorites, 3 I’m ambivalent about, 2 I disliked, and Melanie Hamilton is a class by herself.


Ma Joad from The Grapes of Wrath for her tireless devotion to her family.

Lady Jessica from Dune

Fantine from Les Mis

Amelia Osbourne from Vanity Fair – I’m judging this from memory, and I might change my mind later (this is my current read – a reread). Amelia has her flaws, but as I remember her devotion as a mother brings her to a terrible sacrifice. I’m not even sure I agree with her decision, but have no doubt about the purity of her motive.

Ambivalent – There were some things I liked about these mothers, but then there were other moments – not so much:

Sethe from Beloved

Hester Prynne from The Scarlet Letter

Dishonorable mention:

Antonia (mother of Claudius) from I, Claudius

Livia (Wife of Caesar Augustus) also from I, Claudius

Those last two are particularly awful.

Finally, there are other female characters whom I liked and/or admired, who happened to be mothers, but my opinion of them had little to do with their role as mothers, such as: Melanie Hamilton from Gone with the Wind. How can you not love Melanie? and although I find no fault with her as a mother, neither did I find anything especially commendable in that regard.