Germinal – Emile Zola (1897)

In the fiery rays of the sun on this youthful morning the country seemed full of that sound. Men were springing forth, a black avenging army, germinating slowly in the furrows, growing towards the harvests of the next century, and their germination would soon overturn the earth.

I’ve finally finished up a never-ending read of Zola’s Germinal and in honor of this experience, I thought I’d show the review-related haiku that I made up:

“There is a lot of mining.

It is cold and dark.

Things don’t go well for anyone.”

Crikey. This was a dark book – and “dark” in several different ways as well. It follows the lives and times of a village whose livelihood revolves around a company mine, and in so doing, Zola integrates his (many many MANY) thoughts on politics and socialism and the rights of workers.

It’s well written, that’s for sure, but from my own readerly perspective, the man really needs an editor to cut some text for him in the long run. (I am certain that he could have said the same thing but in fewer words.)

So, although I can’t say that I actually enjoyed this read, I am glad that I’ve read some more Zola now. (I enjoyed his other read, The Ladies Paradise here.)

More of a [raw] broccoli book than anything but glad I read it. Probably won’t read it again. 😉

New TBR Shelf: March 2021

The new TBR shelf for March 2021.

(Left to right on the shelf):

  • In Search of London – H.V. Morton. (Loved his In Search of England not too long ago so hoping for more of the same.)
  • From Holmes to Sherlock – Mattias Bostrom (NF). A deeper dive into the world of Sherlock Holmes and the fans worldwide.
  • Notes from Walnut Tree Farm – Roger Deakin. (NF/nature writing.)
  • The Happiness Project – Gretchen Rubin. (NF/aspirational.) (Read in progress.)
  • Journal of a Solitude – May Sarton (NF/memoir.)
  • Republic of Lies – Anna Merlan (NF/current events.)
  • The Iceman Cometh – Eugene O’Neill. (Play.) (Tried to read it but yowzer. So much whining so it was a DNF. Still, gone and out of the house now.)
  • Cranford – Elizabeth Gaskell. (F.)
  • The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, A Detective and a World of Literary Obsession – Allison Hoover Bartlett. (NF/history.)
  • Microbe Hunters – Paul de Kiruif. (NF/science.)
  • Londoners – Craig Taylor. (NF/travel.) (Read this. Enjoyed it. Review here.)
  • Outrageous Acts and everyday Rebellions – Gloria Steinham. (NF/autobio.)
  • What Every Body is Saying – Joe Navarro. (NF/social sci.)
  • Freddie & Me – Mike Dawson. (GN/bio.)
  • Tales of a Female Nomad – Rita Golden Gaiman. (NF/travel.)
  • The Best American Travel Writing 2020 – Robert McFarlane. (NF/travel.) (DNF. For some reason, McFarlane and I didn’t see eye-to-eye on “good writing”.)
  • The Winds of War – Herman Wouk. (F.)
  • The Crow Trap – Anne Cleeves. (F.)

The usual rules and guidelines apply: I don’t have to stick this list of titles if I find another title to look at and these are just suggestions. Other plans: read more from my TBR and continue to read a wide range of topics and authors (including a push for POC/BAME authors/topics).

The Invisible Man – H. G. Wells (1897)

Having a hankering for some more classics reading and wanting something that wasn’t a huge long commitment, I found “The Invisible Man” by H. G. Wells on the library shelves. I noticed that the edition was a special commemorative 100-year anniversary edition as well (with great production values) so it jumped into my hands. And goodness me – it was a good read.

I would imagine that there are many readers out there familiar with at least the general idea of this story: a man invents a way to control the field of optics (in physics) and then becomes invisible. Imagine the power and the glory for someone who can’t be seen by others…

This science fiction story was originally published as a serial in 1897, although Wells expanded it into a novel that was published later on that same year.

The protagonist, the invisible man in question, was a man called Griffin who was, incidentally, an “albino” medical student (along with the challenges inherent in having that condition) so when he started messing around with light refraction in the human body, he was very focused on making his own life easier (as well as changing the scientific world around him.) He has designs on power for when he had his invisibility and tries the initial experiment on a cat, who actually does become invisible (except for its spooky eyes). 

(And this is a real physics thing, apparently – not the making-yourself-invisible in real-life just yet but if everything else in the human body is invisible and can’t be seen, theorists think that the only thing that can’t be invisible would be the retinas of the eye. Fascinating if off-putting to think about.)

Wells did a really good job of explaining the physics behind this theory and after reading it carefully, I think I finally understand how it could work, so kudos to Wells for his step-by-step explanation of this. (If I can understand it, so can you.) 

So back to the novel: Griffin arrives as a visiting scientist to the small village of Iping in Sussex. He boards at a small rooming house with an inquisitive landlady and ends up setting up a lab in one of her rooms. (These experiments cause several accidents but Griffin is sanguine about these costs and just instructs the landlady to add it to his bill. Problems arise when she asks Griffin for the money – he doesn’t have it which leads to some of his behavioural choices later.)

What takes this plot up a notch is that Griffin quickly learns that life is lot more complicated when you are invisible. It’s starts off all fun and games (and power) but quickly becomes pockmarked with issues. 

If you are invisible and eat your lunch, your food is visible in your stomach until it is absorbed into your body. If you get cold, you will want to put clothes on (and who wants to be naked?) so once you are wearing these items, you’ll be visible again (through the outline of the clothing). What about sleeping? Where will you go? And can you manage your new life alone or will you need help?

And as life changes for Griffin in his new form, he gradually becomes more and more unstable and more and more violent. He has a quick temper anyway, but the frustrations of living as an invisible man are overwhelming and he starts to fight and physically hurt people.

Others in the village learn of his situation but start to view him as a scary bogeyman-type of person, more of an urban legend than a human… The chase is afoot. 🙂

He gets scared and hungry, and so he travels to a nearby town with a man called Marvel who Griffin enlists to help him. Griffin had burned down his original bed-and-breakfast home (to spite the landlady) but in doing so, he had burned down his laboratory. Only his three notebooks had survived so he asked Marvel, the assistant, to track down these books since they have the solution to how, Griffin believes, that he can get his life back and stop being invisible. 

However, others are also on the case (with evil designs on the info contained therein) and so there is an adventurous chase that occurs – all very Boys’ Annual type of story.

This was fun but I was taken aback by all the violence by the Invisible Man. I had no idea he had these tendencies but it was a hard life, if you’re honest. (He did do it to himself, that’s true, but still…) 

Does Griffin ever get his life back? Does he ever become visible again? Is there happiness for him?

I’m not going to say but rather encourage you to read this novella for yourself. Just steel yourself for the ongoing fights and arguments but they are part of the story and integral to the plot. 

I’m glad that I have read this and now I’m curious about Well’s other works, including “The Time Machine” (1895) (this one is actually on the physical TBR I saw this morning) and “The Island of Doctor Moreau” (1896). Have you read any of these? 

Far from the Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy (1874) – Reread

I was just thinking about doing a classic read of some kind, when it struck me that I was in a rather of a Thomas Hardy mood so dug around and came up with “Far from the Madding Crowd.” 

At the same time, I was also reading “A Country Child” by Alison Uttley (1931), a semi-autobiographical (perhaps) title that includes lots of seasonal rurally-located vignettes of life in an English village through the eyes of this young girl (although the character has a different name than the author – so perhaps not as autobiographical as I thought? No one seems to know. 

So, I had these two rural-focused turn-of-the-century small-village tales going on at the same time and it was a little confusing to keep them straight at times. (My fault.)

They were both individually good solid reads though so all wasn’t lost. I just kept on having to sort out who was whom when I tracked back and forth between the two titles. (But minor problem in the end. I still enjoyed both of the reads!

This will be a short post as it turns out that “Far from the Madding Crowd” was a reread (although it had slipped my mind that I had reviewed it earlier here), and suffice to say, I enjoyed the experience.

Onward, ever onward, my friends. 🙂

Warm books for a cold day…

I was just thinking about an earlier post I had written which listed some cooler book selections for readers who live in a hot climate and since today is a little cool for here, I thought I would flip that script and do warm books for those who live in a cooler climate and are looking to raise their body temps a little!:

What do you think? Do you have any ideas of any other book titles to add that can spirit readers to a warmer place?

The Barrytown Trilogy – Roddy Doyle (1987)

Wanting to join with Cathy’s Reading Ireland 2021 project (which also nicely aligns with my Focus-on-the-TBR project as well), I happened to come across this, the first in what’s called “The Barrytown Trilogy” by Irish writer Roddy Doyle. (The other two titles are “The Snapper” (1990) and “The Van” (1991).)

As described by the publisher’s blurb: Roddy Doyle’s winning trio of comic novels depicting the daily life and times of the Rabbitte family in working-class Dublin… 

“The Commitments” is the first one in the list. And you know: I loved it. I think it was a reread (but only one that happened years ago pre-blog) but I know I loved the 1991 movie and its accompanying soundtrack. (I even dug up the soundtrack to remind myself of the group’s music. SO good.) 

The plot features a small and scrappy group of young teenaged boys growing up in lower-class Dublin who join together to form a band focused on bringing soul music back to the city. They are led by Joey “The Lips” Fagan, who may (or may not) have a professional music background with Otis Redding and co., and who calls everyone his “brothers and sisters”. Regardless of his true experience, Fagan is the glue on the band (although not without some attitude from his younger charges). 

And basically, this novel just tracks the life history of the young musicians. It’s written in 100 percent dialect and is heavily dependent upon a strongly-Irish accent delivering music lyrics but once I got into the read, the dialect ceased to be an impediment. I could just “hear” the boys as they bonded together (or not) working on their music and this was a great summary of the 1980s’ music scene for these kids. 

Special note must go to three girls who are the back-up singers: they are hilarious and have the patience of saints to put up with these lads. 

A very fast and enjoyable read.

Next: “The Snapper”, book two in the Doyle’s trilogy and a narrative arc that continues with some of the characters who starred in the first book. In the first volume, one of the girls (Sharon although her stage name is different) becomes pregnant and refuses to give up who the father is. Seeing as the story is set in Dublin, there is a big to-do about Sharon being young and unmarried/unattached and this volume tracks how the unintended pregnancy impacts her life and that of her family (especially her father, her “da”).

It’s a gritty and really-well-done close look at a Catholic family just trying to do their best with the situation, and although this volume is not quite as packed with such a heavy dialect as the first title, it’s still very Irish in how it sounds. I just loved getting a different perspective of some of the characters mentioned in the first volume and couldn’t put this book down.

And then, since I couldn’t stop reading this, I moved on to the final volume: “The Van”. I had no idea what this narrative plot would follow and learned that it’s an (even) closer look at Sharon’s Da and how, even though it might not turn out that great, the poor guy really does his best at being a good man for his family and for his friends.

“The Van” was also really funny in places and reminded me in some ways of Hardy’s “Under the Greenwood Tree” (review here) which also follows a middle-aging man and his friends as they live their lives and have their adventures. (It also made me crave some English chips since there is a lot involved with a local chip shop.) Honestly, I laughed out loud at this volume… Just loved it.

Thanks to Cathy for hosting the month!

Library Loot: March 04 2021

I’ve been busy at the library lately so thought I’d update my stash of interesting titles:

  • The Colorado Kid – Stephen King (F) – was looking for another read by King since I loved his Misery title… (This edition actually has what I consider to be the WORST cover art in the world. I’ll get you a pic…)
  • The Water Museum – Luis Alberto Urrea (F/short stories). Love Urrea’s other work
  • Hitting a Straight Lick with a Stick – Zora Neale Hurston (F/short stories). Other Hurston reviews here: Barracoon (NF), Their Eyes were Watching God (1937)…
  • Mrs. Malory Wonders – Hazel Holt. (F/mystery). Just was looking for a cozy murder book and this title came up…
  • Bookmarks: Reading in Black and White: A Memoir – Karla F. C. Holloway (NF). I ILL’d this title but it looks rather different inside than I was expecting. We’ll see how it goes.
  • Around the World in 80 Days with Micheal Palin – Michael Palin. (Loved his travel book on the Himalaya mountains and wanted to read some more good travel writing.)

And more titles… (Told you I might have got carried away… 😉 )

  • The Sittaford Mystery – Agatha Christie (F/mystery). Already finished this – good fun.
  • My Cousin Rachel – Daphne du Maurier (F/thriller/mystery). Was looking for a Gothic thriller type of read… (Just realized that I’ve already read this. Sigh. No worries. Moving on…)
  • Ice: The Antarctic Diary of Charles E. Passel – Charles E. Passel (NF/travel/adventure).
  • The Round House – Louise Erdrich (F/Native American).
  • Queenie – Candice Carty-Williams (F).
  • A Traveller’s Life – Eric Newby (NF/travel).
  • DK Eyewitness Books: Astronomy. (NF). Just looked interesting.

Which one to read first?…. I know I’m going to read the astronomy Eyewitness book this weekend for starters and make a start on “The Commitments” by Roddy Doyle for Cathy’s Reading Ireland 2020 project.

The Country Child – Alison Uttley (1931)

I’m quite sure that I must have read this in the distant days as an early reader, and this time, it was a charming interlude of an early childhood during the late Victorian time. Alison Uttley was born in 1884 and this story details a year of life as an only child in her rural upbringing at Castle Top Farm (here called Windystone Hall)  near Cromford in Derbyshire. 

It’s more of a collection of vignettes and scenes from the POV of Susan Garland (the titular character) than an actual narrative plot, and so this made it perfect to have as a “pick-up-put-down” read just before bedtime. (It’s also very calming to read just before you go to bed and so I thoroughly enjoyed this read.)

Is it autobiographical? Is it semi-autobiographical? No one seems to know, but it doesn’t matter, really, because the descriptions of rural life are just charming. (They are realistic and show it’s not all roses and sunshine, but it’s still a good read.)

It’s also a history (in some ways) of country life long gone now: of servants and farmhands, of ploughmen and horses and larders full of home-made and home-grown food and drink. The weather plays a leading role as well, since the family lead a very outdoor life. Some of the winter descriptions made me shiver! 🙂

This was a sweet read of times long past and was reminiscent of both “Cider with Rosie” (pre-blog) and “Lark Rise to Candleford” (pre-blog). Thoroughly enjoyable all the same.

ETA: Just learned about the author here. She was one of the first women to ever earn a degree from Oxbridge in Physics and went on to become a physics instructor. PLUS she wrote a zillion children’s books as well. Amazing story.

Review Roundup

I’ve been reading quite a bit lately, so instead of individual reviews, I thought I’d do them in a combined post, just for a change.

The Weight of Heaven – Thrity Umrigar (2009) .

From Amazon: When Frank and Ellie Benton lose their only child, seven-year-old Benny, to a sudden illness, the perfect life they built is shattered. Filled with wrenching memories, their Ann Arbor home becomes unbearable, and their marriage founders. Then an unexpected job half a world away in Girbaugh, India, offers them an opportunity to start again. But Frank’s befriending of Ramesh – a bright curious boy who quickly becomes the focus of his attentions – will lead the grieving man down an ever-darkening path with start repercussions.

A title pulled off my TBR shelves, this novel follows an American family who are of Indian descent and how a significant event impacts all of their lives.

This was a pretty good read, but I find myself struggling to say anything of substance about it now that I’ve finished it. That’s not to say it was a poor reading experience in any way. Just not much to add to it!

The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll Through the Hidden Connections of the English Language – Mark Forsyth (2011).

From Amazon: This perfect gift for readers, writers, and literature majors alike unearths the quirks of the English language. For example,do you know why a mortgage is literally a “death pledge”? Why guns have girls’ names? Why “salt” is related to “soldier”? Discover the answers to all of these etymological questions and more in this fascinating book for fans of of Eats, Shoots & Leaves.

A fun read of a shortish book about various words and their histories and etymological background plus how they might to link to (unexpected) other words. Good for a palate cleanser… Off the TBR as well.

Mariana (Persephone Classics): Dickens, Monica, Lane, Harriet:  9781906462048: Amazon.com: Books

Mariana – Monica Dickens (1940).

From Amazon: A lively young woman who has no idea what to do with her life, Mary is often at loose but happy ends: going to school and vacationing in Kensington; a hilarious failed attempt at drama school; a year in Paris learning dressmaking and getting engaged to the wrong man; and finally her romance with the right man.

Another read of which I have not much to say… (What kind of book blogger am I??) This was good but not deep in any way. Another palate cleanser, if you will. Glad I read it though. Anther off the old TBR pile.

So three quite chunky books off the TBR pile is good progress, I think. I’m reading another novel (also from the TBR) but I’m betting that I have more to say about this. It’s pretty complex…

February 2021: Reading Review

The reads for February 2021 included:

So to the numbers:

  • Total number of books read in February 202110.
  • Total number of pages read 3,056 pages (av. 306). 
  • Fiction/Non-Fictionfiction / non-fiction.
  • Diversity 4 BIPOC. books by women.
  • Library books vs. books I owned (and thus removed from the home abode): library books, owned books (whee!) and e-books.

Plans for March 2021 include a long weekend off for Spring Break (abbreviated due to COVID). Finish up my ongoing read of “Far From the Madding Crowd” by Thomas Hardy. I also want to continue to include more BIPOC writing on my list. Continue this pace of reading and continue this streak of reading more from my own TBR as opposed to those titles from the library.