Month in Review: September 2015

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This month, I’m gearing up for the second annual Witch Week. I hope you’ll join us in some fashion…and please be sure to cast your vote in the readalong poll.

I’m also pleased to be joining in with Nicole’s Monthly Wrap-up Round-up as a giveaway host! Please visit the link-up to check out all the participating blogs, and then come back here on October 6 for the giveaway post. I’m excited to be offering what I think is one of the best ways out there to “wrap up” your books, and there will be not one but three winners. Do have a go at it.

You’ll notice that I didn’t read quite as many books as usual this month. I attribute that in part to the fact that I spent many hours scaling one of the peaks of world literature, which I hereby name my first Book of the Month (see below). It was long, but worth it; further thoughts to come.

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Book of the Month: Anna Karenina

Reviews

Other Books Read

  • Symphony for the City of the Dead by MT Anderson – Review to come
  • The Stolen Lake and Dangerous Games by Joan Aiken – Ongoing reread of the Wolves Chronicles, review to come
  • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy – Review to come
  • The Serial Garden by Joan Aiken – Review to come in Shiny New Books
  • The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife, and the Missing Corpse by Piu Marie Eatwell – Review to come

Other Features and Events

  • I’m joining in the R.I.P. (Readers Imbibing Peril) challenge for the first time. So far I’ve enjoyed Girl Waits With Gun and The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife, and the Missing Corpse. How about you?
  • The Nonfiction Book Club this month is reading The Sixth Extinction. I got a late start and have just dipped into it, but the discussion is very interesting (not to mention sobering).

Favorite Posts from Other Bloggers

I’ve moved this topic to my new monthly “Link Love” post. Here I hope to highlight some of the great bookish links I’ve come across lately, as well as my favorite blog posts. Check it out!

Shared in the Sunday Post hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer and the Monthly Wrap-up Round-up hosted by Feed Your Fiction Addiction

Found in Translation: Is That a Fish in Your Ear?

David Bellos, Is That a Fish in Your Ear? Translation and the Meaning of Everything (2011)

FishinEarTranslation between languages is an enterprise that has variously been seen as impossible, unreliable, unnecessary, or not cost-effective enough. In our English-dominated culture, it’s something of an endangered species. Princeton professor David Bellos, on the other hand, believes that far from being a sort of awkward linguistic appendage we might better do without, translation is central to how we think and experience the world as human beings. And after reading Is That a Fish in Your Ear? you’ll most likely agree.

Don’t worry about the topic being too dry or erudite. Bellos is clearly no literary snob (his title is a quotation from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, after all) and the book’s 32 short chapters are witty, playful, and endlessly thought-provoking. Did you know that in Russian there is no word for “blue”? (If you’re going to translate that word, you first have to decide whether it’s dark or light blue.) Did you realize that the work of simultaneous interpreters at the UN is as stressful as that of air traffic controllers? Have you wondered how the Bible can be translated into languages that have no way to express the concept of a person’s thoughts being different from his outer actions? Do you understand how Google Translate actually works, or why legalese really is a separate language?

All of these fascinating questions and many others are explored, with the overarching aim of illuminating what translation does. Even if you were never to read or listen to a word of a translation from another language, this would be relevant to you, because translation is part of what makes us human. As Bellos puts it in his conclusion:

…[T]he practice of translation rests on two presuppositions. The first is that we are all different — we speak different tongues and see the world in ways that are deeply influenced by the particular features of the tongue that we speak. The second is that we are all the same — that we can share the same broad and narrow kinds of feelings, informations, understandings, and so forth. Without both of these suppositions, translation could not exist.

Nor could anything we would like to call social life.

Translation is another name for the human condition.

Far from deploring the different ways we have of expressing ourselves and finding them a source of confusion, Bellos encourages us to celebrate them, and to embrace the activity of bridging them through translation. As Bellos argues, “The diversity of language is a treasure and a resource for thinking new thoughts.” So, I would say, is this book. It’s certainly one I’ll treasure and return to, as a deeply enjoyable and stimulating read.

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Link Love: September 2015

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I have so many bookish links from around the web that I’d love to share with you, that I’ve decided to make this a new recurring feature. Along with random news that’s caught my eye recently, I’ll also be putting my list of favorite posts from other bloggers here, rather than in my monthly round-up post. Please let me know if you find this a helpful format!

Just Browsing

 

List Love

 

Favorite Posts from Other Bloggers

 

Better Blogging

 

Image of the Month

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Source: Library of Congress, found here.

Shared in the Sunday Post hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer

 

New Release Review: Girl Waits with Gun

Amy Stewart, Girl Waits with Gun (2015)

GirlWaitsBestselling nonfiction writer Stewart (The Drunken Botanist) hits all the high notes in her fiction debut, Girl Waits with Gun. She gives us a meticulously researched historical setting (the factory district of New Jersey in 1914), a trio of gloriously unconventional and independent female protagonists, a tone that effortlessly ranges from wry humor to suspense to drama, and a first-person narrative voice that vividly evokes a personality and a period. What more could you want? If you’re wise, you’ll stop reading this review right now and go track down a copy.

But if you need more convincing, I’ll tell you that the premise — sisters Constance, Norma, and Fleurette Kopp, after their horse-drawn buggy is wantonly destroyed by factory-owner-cum-thug Henry Kaufman’s automobile, find themselves unlikely assistants in the local sheriff’s crime-fighting efforts against Kaufman and his gang — is not only brilliant, but absolutely true. Kaufman and the Kopps really existed, as did Sheriff Heath of Hackensack. Stewart based her story on records and news articles of the time, which, incredibly, have been completely overlooked and forgotten since. The title, to begin with, is an actual headline referring to the formidable six-foot-tall Constance, who along with her sisters was issued firearms as protection against Kaufman’s reprisal attempts. Other actual documents have been worked into the narrative, adding to its authentic period flavor.

There are blanks in the record, which is why Stewart decided to present her story as fiction, and sees her characters as living a fictional existence parallel to the real ones. She’s invented a subplot that allows Constance to try out her detective skills and also reflect on the secrets of her past, and given Norma a rather noticeable hobby (raising carrier pigeons) that isn’t mentioned anywhere in the historical record. Some of the most astonishing details were drawn from life, though, according to an afterword that helps to sort out fact from fiction. It all merges together seamlessly in the reading, though, and storytelling is the focus rather than research.

This is definitely a character-driven mystery, not one with an elaborate or twisty plot, and though there are lots of threats there’s little on-stage violence. The pleasure is in getting to know tart-tongued Norma, flamboyant Fleurette, and especially Constance, whose search for a place and a purpose in life is tantalizingly given a direction at the very end. I’ve no doubt that readers will be begging for a sequel, and Stewart seems inclined to oblige us. I’ll be eagerly waiting for another installment in the story of the Kopp sisters.

Counted for the Readers Imbibing Peril (RIP X) challenge, hosted by The Estella Society

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In Brief: New Releases for Young Readers

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This fall, three of today’s brightest names in writing for children and young adults have new titles out. Even if you haven’t read their previous award-winning works, and whatever your age, these are all worth a look.

Goodbye, Stranger by Rebecca Stead (When You Reach Me; Liar and Spy)
With its mature themes of social media abuse and sexual teasing, along with fluctuating viewpoints and jumps in time, Stead’s latest may be a challenging read for the middle-school age group it’s aimed at. But it’s a challenge that could be well worth taking, as at the heart of this story are genuine, relatable, questioning young characters who in their varying ways are searching for the meaning of selfhood. They make mistakes, sometimes serious ones, but find the courage to try again and re-forge broken relationships. Some of the solutions seemed a bit pat to me, but the quietly eloquent writing carried me along and the hopeful, sweet ending made me smile.
August 4, 2015 from Wendy Lamb

The Marvels by Brian Selznick (The Invention of Hugo Cabret; Wonderstruck)
Author-illustrator Selznick starts his story with (mostly) wordless pictures — nearly 400 pages of them, creating a historical-theatrical extravaganza that intrigued me greatly. I wasn’t as enamored of the second, narrative part of the book, which seems to go initially in a completely different direction before returning to the image-story with a twist of perspective. Ironically enough, the “real story” rang less true to me than the fantasy, too heavy with Meaningful Issues and forced connections that didn’t feel genuine. An interesting experiment that fell somewhat flat.
September 15, 2015 from Scholastic

The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz (A Drowned Maiden’s Hair, Splendors and Glooms)
This was far and away my favorite of the three, a historical novel in diary form written by a fourteen-year-old Joan, a farm girl in 1911 Pennsylvania who hopes for a better life. As articulated by Schlitz, Joan’s voice is alternately funny, fierce, and vulnerable, as she bravely — but very naively — makes her way from an oppressive family to employment that has its own risks and challenges. The unusual exploration of clashing minority religions (Joan is Catholic; her employers are Jewish) is sensitively done, and the historical setting is fully and convincingly realized. Many facets of history and culture are seamlessly integrated, from the chapter titles taken from real works of art that Joan might have seen, to the origins of the Baltimore school founded by progressive Jews where Schlitz works today as a librarian. A pleasure from beginning to end.
September 8, 2015 from Candlewick

Advance reading copies were received from the publishers for review consideration. No other compensation was received, and all opinions expressed are my own.

 

What would you like to read for Witch Week?

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Today I’m cheating a bit by focusing my monthly discussion on an upcoming event here at ECBR: Witch Week. From October 31 to November 5, we’ll be celebrating our favorite fantasy books and authors. Last year we focused on the wonderful world of Diana Wynne Jones, and it was a terrific week! This year the theme is “New Tales from Old,” and I want to know what you think about this genre — fiction derived from fairy tales, folklore or myth, or other old stories (actual witches need not be involved). Is it one of your favorites, or does the appeal of such tales escape you? What are your favorite titles, past and present? Is there anything you’ve been meaning to read for ages, or a recent release that’s caught your eye?

The week will conclude with a readalong and I’m looking for some suggestions for what we should read together. I’d also love to hear about any ideas you have for your own posts: lists, cross-genre reflections, thoughts about a favorite story, single-book reviews… the possibilities are endless. Let me know what you’re up to, and I’ll be sure to feature you in my own posts about the week.

Here are some of the possibilities I’ve already thought about:

  • The Homeward Bounders by Diana Wynne Jones (guest appearances by Prometheus, the Flying Dutchman, and the Wandering Jew)
  • Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis (based on the myth of Cupid and Psyche)
  • The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Adhieh (Thousand and One Nights retelling)
  • Sword at Sunset by Rosemary Sutcliff (Arthurian historical fiction)
  • The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter (dark, feminist fairy tale retellings)

Besides the readalong, the week will start off on Halloween with a post from me on the campus landmarks of “Blackstock College” from Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin (IRL Carleton College, my alma mater). There will also be an author interview, a giveaway, a Top Ten list, guest posts, and more — with opportunities for participants to link up their own posts as well. I do hope you will join us, and please help spread the word. #WitchWeekECBR is the tag to use on Twitter.

What “new tales from old” are you itching to read, either on your own or as a readalong? Do you have any plans for posts on your own blog? How else would you like to participate in Witch Week?

Shared in the Book Blogger Discussion Challenge hosted by Feed Your Fiction Addiction and It Starts at Midnight.